Immigration and WIOA Graphic

As is the case for many social service agencies in Illinois, many immigrant-serving agencies are finding the need for services is greater than their capacity to serve.

A survey of 200 immigrant-serving organizations reveals important gaps in access to adult education and workforce services—both of which are essential for effective immigration integration efforts. Lack of access to these services can lead to significant economic consequences for both documented and undocumented immigrants.

Many federal immigration policy proposals require immigrant applicants to attain credentials before they are eligible for programs. Legislation like the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minos Act (DREAM Act) require young people to have a high school diploma or GED as well as having them be enrolled in or have completed a 2-4 years degree or military service. The survey highlights the fact that individuals who are undocumented, especially young undocumented immigrants/Dreamers, are unable to obtain Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) benefits due to a lack of capacity in the nation’s adult education system –20% of respondents stated they could not find GED classes or other resources to fit their needs to qualify for DACA; 40% stated they were encountering political barriers preventing them from pursuing their educational goals. In addition, the DREAM Act does not allow middle-skill occupational training as allowable educational pathway—middle-skill certificates which can offer pathways to gainful employment and education opportunities for many individuals.

This limited access to skill development services not only impedes individuals in their personal goals, it serves as a systemic roadblock to all undocumented residents trying to follow the legal pathway to residency, citizenship and ultimately the authorization to work. These gaps cannot be fixed after unauthorized individuals obtain legal status because this gap in access to skill development services hampers efforts to obtain legal status—access to these recourses cannot be given after a person is granted legal status, when access to these same resources actively forms barriers in obtaining legal status.

This scarcity of development opportunities also affects documented individuals and immigrants authorized to work, reducing their economic payoff. Of individuals who are DACA recipients, 33% stated they had difficulties accessing education and training they were eligible for—leaving many unable to fully contribute to their communities and their local economy. Close to 1 million immigrant professionals in the United States have degrees from abroad but are stuck in low-wage, low-skills jobs. Of agencies surveyed who serve immigrant professionals, 75% indicated the need for more and improved services such as higher-level English classes and 78% see a need for bridge coursework to fill small gaps in immigrants’ academic resumes.

When local adult education systems lack the resources to provide training for these credentials, immigrants, and our local economies miss out on important economic opportunities. The absence of immigrants in the workforce could impede the nation’s ability to maintain current productivity ((National Skills Coalition, “Missing in Action”, pp. 2. The fact that credential requirements and poor policy are so out of step with economic trends highlights the ways application fees and paperwork are put ahead of educational, citizenship, and employment pathways for unauthorized youth and adults.

Moving forward, we need to advocate for policies that support demand-driven training and lead to middle-skill credentials so that policy changes can effectively address the middle-skill gap in the labor market. Policy makers need to break the Catch-22 that limits pathways to federal benefits (Citizenship, DACA program, WIOA funded programs) with credential requirements that are most accessible once already in these programs.  As a state, Illinois should pursue authentic stakeholder engagement (including immigration and adult education/ELL stakeholders), and engage in authentic unified planning with these stakeholders or risk missing out on the benefits of immigrant communities fully participating in the workforce.

Find a full report from the National Skills Coalition here.