By the MIRA Coalition
“My job is to be a good closer and just bring the game home,” said Ron Marlow, Assistant Secretary of the Massachusetts Office of Access and Opportunities, as he began his closing remarks on Friday at a symposium on immigrant professionals organized by the MIRA Coalition and partners. Of course, baseball analogies in April sprout as fast and wide as dandelions, but the Assistant Secretary covered multiple bases with his pitch at this wide-ranging and energized gathering at The Boston Foundation.
Marlow’s baseball analogy applied not only to the symposium’s impressive array of demographic analysis, practical lessons and personal testimonials, but also to the Patrick Administration’s long-standing commitment to better integrate immigrants and refugees into the fabric of the Commonwealth. As the administration winds down its game in the next few months, Marlow announced, one of the team’s closing projects would be a task force “that will produce a set of recommendations to serve high-skilled immigrants” in the critical health care and life sciences sectors. Set to be co-chaired by Marlow and symposium participant Josiane Martinez, Executive Director of the Office of Refugees and Immigrants, the task force will seek “to compile information produced by [the symposium's] hard-working individuals,” with the goal of providing “a blueprint for action” for the next governor to better utilize immigrant professionals’ skills and talents.
Certainly the symposium showed how greatly such a blueprint is needed. Entitled “Breaking Barriers, Expanding Opportunity: Tapping the Potential of Immigrant Professionals in Massachusetts,” the meeting opened with remarks from the non-profit sector, the state, and the federal government, delivered in turn by Eva Millona, Executive Director of the MIRA Coalition; Kathleen Betts, Assistant Secretary in the Massachusetts Office of Children, Youth and Families; and Johan Ulvin, Deputy Assistant Secretary in the U.S. Department of Education. These were followed by a research overview that demonstrated both the tremendous successes of some immigrant professionals, and also some persistent shortfalls, including lags in earning potential, the inability of nearly a quarter of high-skilled immigrants to leave low-skilled jobs in the U.S, and the fact that even “high skilled” jobs sometimes result in unsustainable pay, as the plight of so many teaching assistants demonstrate. New census analysis by Alvaro Lima, Director of Research at the Boston Redevelopment Authority, parsed these statistics more closely for Massachusetts residents than ever before, offering a prelude to his presentation of a BRA paper on the issue. Lima’s work was supported by further analysis by Nicole Kreisberg, Senior Research Analyst at the American Institute for Economic Research, Navjeet Singh, Deputy Director of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, and Nancy Snyder, President and CEO of the Commonwealth Corporation, who showed how almost all the growth in the Massachusetts labor market over the past decade has been in jobs requiring a college degree or better.
Some of the stories behind the statistics were recounted by academic and non-profit practitioners who work directly with immigrant professionals, and by immigrant professionals themselves. Jerry Rubin, President and CEO of Jewish Vocational Services, spoke about the difficulties immigrants experience moving beyond learning English and basic skills into professional development. Kelly Aiken, of the Hampden County Regional Employment Board, added a plea for more research and resources in areas outside Greater Boston. And Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, of the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, struck a positive note for building support among legislators and private partners.
But it was in the medical field where much of the conference’s most pointed testimonials were offered. Joyce Sackey, Dean for Multicultural Affairs and Global Health at the Tufts University School of Medicine, described the tensions in trying to meet the coming shortage for physicians in a system with severely limited space for residents. And Loh-Sze Leung, Executive Director of SkillWorks, facilitated discussions with the three immigrant healthcare professionals, who offered both moving and hopeful stories of professional struggle and achievement. The audience heard from Iman Hassan, a primary care physician from Egypt; Cristy Samonte, a physician from the Philippines currently working as an EEG tech at Children’s Hospital and aspiring to take the Medical Licensing Exam; and Anna Lecticia Pinto, a Brazilian MD/PhD who has earned an appointment at Boston Children’s Hospital.
Dr. Pinto described working through a residency in the U.S. years after she had completed the same work in Brazil, and taking orders from doctors young enough to be her children. “You have to reach for your goal, even through lots of hard work and challenges,” she concluded.
In that spirit, Ron Marlow noted the importance of making the coming task force’s work as inclusive as possible. ‘We must not make speed the enemy of comprehensiveness,” the Assistant Secretary said. “All of you in this room are invited to be our partners, and to oversee our work in the months ahead.”
Friday’s gathering was sponsored by The Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), the JM Kaplan Fund, the Governor’s Advisory Council for Refugees and Immigrants, Boston College, The Boston Foundation, and the Massachusetts Office for Refugees and Immigrants (ORI).