This month is Immigrant Heritage Month in the United States, and June 20 is World Refugee Day – two internationally recognized dates for promoting global diversity that this year are more important than ever in a world increasingly hostile to people who leave their countries in search of safety or better lives for their families.
As someone who grew up in the U.K. and now lives in the U.S., I see all too clearly how that hostility can play out – and how counterproductive it is to creating socially and economically vibrant communities.
The most recently available U.S. census data, for example, shows that immigrants make up around 25% or more high and low skill health care workers. A similar ratio for imported skilled workforce exists in the U.S. science and technology workforce. I find it difficult to imagine the brain drain on the US if immigrants choose to leave, or never come in the first place.
In Britain, the historian Violet Moller has pointed out that the National Health Service has openings for 10,000 new doctors, the vast majority of whom will need to come from overseas. But why, she asks in the time of Brexit, would highly educated immigrants choose to bring their skills to places where they aren’t wanted?
Once we understand that immigration is not only a net benefit to communities, but also one of the most potent forces shaping worldwide economic development and growth, the question becomes how best to support these indispensable members of the global workforce. Particularly when it comes to giving the initial helping hand that the lower-skilled migrants and their children may need in order to make themselves vital contributors to their new communities.
That is why international non-profit groups like the Western Union Foundation focus on supporting education and skills training for young adults in migrant communities, as well as providing social and psychological support they need to help find and retain good, economically productive jobs.
Such work is important because the children of immigrants too often grow up facing significant barriers to education — even the 88 percent of those children who are U.S. citizens. It’s true that all children—even non-citizens—are guaranteed a public education in the U.S. But many schools are simply not equipped to provide institutional support for immigrants, such as providing family liaisons or other social services.
Education is the universal key to lifting these individuals and their families out of potential poverty. Supporting a family, qualifying for higher-paying jobs and becoming socioeconomically mobile require higher-level skills. Whether through traditional secondary and post-secondary institutions, vocational and technical training, or job placement services, as young people from immigrant families prepare to enter the workforce they can benefit from the outside support that groups like ours provide.
As the Executive Director of the Western Union Foundation, I have witnessed firsthand the transformative power of education on immigrants and their communities. Since 2001, our foundation has given more than $120 million to fund projects in 137 countries – often in support of local non-profits – including a global scholarship program that helps put post-secondary education in reach for low-income students studying STEM subjects or business. Other organizations around the world do similar good work to assist and support migrants building their places in the future.
People have always moved—and will always move – from place to place, whether in search of safety or opportunity or both. The need to support them in their efforts to become productive citizens in their new homes is just as enduring.
Only if we are willing to welcome these newcomers, offering them our compassion and our help as they work to build better lives for themselves and their families, will we be able to count on them in turn to help us build better communities and nations.