Why Georgia Should Harness the Capacity of the State's Global Talent | The Center for Victims of Torture

Why Georgia Should Harness the Capacity of the State's Global Talent

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Shelleyan Lewars, social media consultant, CVT Georgia

The State of Georgia can safely be ascribed the label of ‘a welcoming state.’ After all, it is home to the City of Clarkston, often called the most diverse square mile in America. Clarkston, however, might be just one of the feathers in the state’s proverbial hat when it comes to its foreign-born population, as Georgia also has the distinction of having a highly effective refugee resettlement program, said to be among the most successful models nationwide. At a glance, one could conclude that the state is the ideal place for foreign-born individuals to assimilate and become fully integrated and productive members of the society.

But unfortunately, the path to integration is a challenging one for many of the state’s new Americans. Georgia has yet to fully maximize the invaluable capacity of its foreign-born population, which comprises 10 percent of the state’s total population, roughly 1.1 million people. Could Georgia, then, be missing out on opportunities to vastly improve its economy and produce a viable workforce with the right talents and skillsets to maintain its distinction as the top state in the nation for doing business? Should Georgia look to its global talent to better maximize its growth potential?

In a study on the state’s education reform agenda targeting immigrant youths, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) contends that Georgia faces a critical shortage of highly skilled workers, requiring an additional 250,000 college-educated workers by 2020 to keep up with employer demands, and notes that first- and second-generation immigrant youths stand to play a decisive role in filling this gap. However, the data still shows glaring gaps in the state’s labor force.

For instance, the Georgia Board of Health Care Workforce has reported significant labor shortages in key areas of medical practices throughout the state: 60 of Georgia’s 159 counties have no pediatrician; 76 counties have no obstetrician or gynecologist; 18 counties have no physicians practicing family medicine; 74 counties have no general surgeons; and nine counties do not have a doctor at all. Even more alarming is the news that the U.S overall is in a physician shortage that is expected to balloon to up to 120,000 physicians by 2030. It is obvious that Georgia is already experiencing this dearth of medical professionals, but could this be resolved if the state was more amenable to foreign-born medical practitioners? According to the American Immigration Council, roughly 17 percent of doctors practicing in Georgia were born in another country, but they face high barriers to entry into the U.S., including underfunded residency programs, which are an integral step towards becoming a doctor here. Unsurprisingly, there also remain thousands of unfulfilled nursing and other healthcare positions within the state.

On the economic front, estimated losses from the foregone wages of underemployed college-educated immigrants in the country amounted to approximately $40 billion, and when combined at the federal, state and local levels, losses in tax revenue are said to be around $10 billion annually. Overall, MPI determines that “highly skilled immigrants face a range of barriers to employment at their skill levels, among them: difficulty getting foreign credentials recognized, unfamiliarity with the U.S. labor market, employers’ negative perceptions of the quality of foreign education and work experience, limited English skills and a shortage of education programs to bridge skills deficits.” These are among the barriers that could be addressed or alleviated through targeted programs and policies.

The Center for Victims of Torture Georgia is a member of the Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies (CRSA), which works to “engage a broad coalition to highlight the cultural, social and economic contributions of refugees and immigrant in Georgia.” In 2020, CVT Georgia helped CRSA broaden its mission by establishing a statewide partnership of over 30 Georgia business and civic leaders committed to strengthening Georgia’s economy by harnessing the untapped potential of Georgia’s new Americans.

The aptly named BIG (Business and Immigration for Georgia) Partnership does have some big ideas to address the larger issues surrounding integrating Georgia immigrants and boosting the state’s economy. Darlene Lynch, head of external relations at CVT Georgia and chairperson for the BIG Partnership, states that the BIG Partnership is looking at three barriers in particular: education, employment and entrepreneurship are cited as the three most common obstacles for foreign-born Georgians when seeking “the American dream.” Some of the things that the BIG Partnership is earnestly advocating for are “in-state tuition, immediately upon arrival for refugees and Special Immigrant Visa-holders, in-state tuition for DACA recipients and simple changes to licensing” as these changes would redound significant long-term economic growth and indeed, the realization of the American dream for foreign-born individuals.

Already there is a strong indication that Georgia lawmakers are beginning to take notice of the need to fully utilize the skills and talents of Georgia's new Americans. In the 2021 legislative session, the House of Representatives unanimously passed House Resolution 11,establishing a groundbreaking bipartisan study committee to maximize the economic contributions and workforce participation of the State’s foreign-born residents. The BIG Partnership was instrumental in this breakthrough, and with the inaugural meeting already convened on August 19, 2021, the stage is being set for Georgia and foreign-born Georgians to both maximize their full potential.

There really is no better time than now. The state stands to benefit from the various ways foreign-born Georgians can participate in the economy and labor force and should do all it can to harness the capacity of its global talent. Indeed, our foreign-born counterparts are an integral part of Georgia’s diverse and thriving communities, and should, by all means, be treated with the dignity, equity and respect they deserve.


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