The Immigrant Workforce

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Applicants at a HUF Job Fair  

The Urban Institute recently released a research report titled Upskilling the Immigrant Workforce to Meet Employer Demand for Skilled Workers.

The report – and its two page factsheet – provide guidance for policy makers, workforce organizations – both public and private – employers and funders (such as the ones that support the work of organizations such as HUF’s.)

The report takes a look at the whole US but supplements its findings through site visits and interviews with a variety of stakeholders in three metro areas, Seattle, Dallas and Miami-Fort Lauderdale.

Hispanic Unity of Florida (HUF) participated in the study and shared with the researchers our own insights into the work we do assisting immigrants who are both unemployed as well as, underemployed.

The report’s tables and appendices include information on the top 100 US metro markets. These provide a broad lens through which we can compare and contrast our own situation in South Florida. And although we work with the immigrant community every day, two of the items in the research report particularly resonated for us:

48% Foreign born

South Florida, along with Los Angeles, have the highest number of foreign born residents – 48% and 43% respectively – of any of the top metro markets in the US.  (San Jose’s population also is 48% foreign born but unlike South Florida, 53% of those immigrants have college or advanced degrees. It’s a tech hub, after all.)

How many of us know that Broward County’s percentage of foreign-born residents is nearly 33% – or 3 out every 10 residents?

The implications are significant for our community. Our immigrant population is mostly first generation. And the needs of this population are different then communities where the immigrants are second or third generation or where the immigrants are English literate and highly educated.

Local communities with large foreign born residents must invest in foundational resources to assist these immigrants in their integration – which in turn – benefits the whole community.

At HUF where we serve immigrants from 30 different nations, our work is focused on English language instruction, education (for both parents and children), economic development (employment, small business creation, asset building, health and child care supports) and civic engagement.

Diversity of the Immigrant Community

This from the research report: This diversity within the immigrant workforce—with high numbers at both ends of the educational spectrum—is important context for our focus in this report on opportunities for immigrants employed in lower- and middle-skilled jobs.

At HUF, we simultaneously work with former professionals such as doctors, dentists, lawyers, etc.  as well as individuals who never completed high school. This diversity within the immigrant community requires different approaches to the work community organizations such as HUF undertakes. For us, it means providing core services that are fundamental to all clients while providing “add-ons” such as information on how to have educational credentials certified for immigrants with college or advanced degrees.


“One out of every six workers in the US are immigrants.” The research report’s conclusions offers guidance for all our community’s stakeholders: state and local policy makers, workforce development service providers, funders and employers. Woven throughout the report are the community based organizations that are often at the frontlines of the work with immigrants.

I recently re-read GCIR’s Toolkit on immigrant integration. And the authors said this: “… immigrant integration engages and transforms all community stakeholders, reaping shared benefits and creating a new whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.”

South Florida is at full employment. Now is the time to support and address the needs of our whole community including communities of color and the immigrant community.

(Josie Bacallao, President/CEO of Hispanic Unity of Florida, also is a board member of CareerSource Broward and Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance. She was formerly on the board of the Fort Lauderdale Chamber.)

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