More than 20 percent of the population of New Jersey is foreign born, and many of these individuals possess in-demand skills. But a significant number of them are stuck in low paying positions that require no skill at all.

As a result of this so-called “brain waste,” the state of New Jersey is losing out on hundreds of millions of dollars in potential tax revenue.

According to Nicholas Montalto, president of Diversity Dynamics and a national expert on immigrant integration, many of the immigrants that used to settle in the Garden State were not well educated but that is no longer the case.

“Over the last 30 years that has changed. We now have more college educated immigrants than we have immigrants without a high school diploma,” he said.

There are many high paying jobs that are not being filled in Jersey because there aren’t enough skilled candidates applying.

"A lot of these high skilled immigrants have training in these fields, science technology, engineering, the health professions. To the extent that these people can be prepared to take jobs that are already available and that are going begging, that would be a gain for them as well as for the overall economy.”

A Migration Policy Institute study finds 23.3 percent of New Jersey’s foreign born professionals, about 111,000 people, are either under- employed or without any kind of job.

So why can’t they manage to get work in their chosen fields?

Montalto said there are a variety of issues and challenges.

“Licensing becomes a barrier, especially if licensing procedures don’t really allow for somebody to be trained in another country.”

He said many states are trying to make their licensing procedures a little more user-friendly, reflective of the fact that there are people from other countries who are trying to seek recognition, and may need a degree of flexibility.

"That doesn’t mean you relax the requirements, but you may need greater flexibility in how you interpret those requirements.”

Montalto noted several states have published licensing guides that are targeted to foreign born populations, “but we haven’t done that in New Jersey.”

He said another problem is licensing requirements here may be different than in other countries, so even if an individual is 95 percent trained for a position here, they may have to go back to school and start from scratch to learn the information they need to be considered proficient.

Jeanne Batalova, a senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, said the expertise may be there but not the language and, unfortunately, there are very few programs “that are designed for highly skilled, college educated immigrants who can learn English language in the professional capacity.”

She said people will often spend a tremendous amount of time trying to figure out the steps they need to take “in order to get a license in engineering or become a nurse, or become a teacher.”

“Another problem for immigrants is mentoring. People don’t have the same kind of networks than they have in their home countries. Brain waste is a complex issue that needs to be addressed.”

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