Immigration surge creates opportunity for employers

Jan 15, 2024Articles

By Nicole Mannino Johnson, Special Projects Manager, Literacy Pittsburgh

With 9.5 million job openings in the U.S. but only 6.5 million unemployed workers1, companies of every size and industry face hiring challenges. Recruitment and retention are a never-ending cycle.

At the same time, the Pittsburgh region has been experiencing a significant increase in immigration during the past few years. Between October 2021 and October 2022, resettlement agencies in the region helped relocate more than 1,000 people fleeing conflict, persecution, and disaster.2 More than 2,600 new immigration proceedings have been filed in Allegheny County as of December 2023, a 121% increase over 2022.3 

These newcomers to our region represent an eager talent pool, but it is often difficult for immigrants to transition into the American workforce. They may experience challenges with credential recognition, the American job-seeking process, or English language proficiency. Additionally, as Upwardly Global describes it, “brain waste” – the non-recognition of the skills and qualifications acquired by a refugee or immigrant professional outside of the U.S. – may prevent them from finding work that aligns with their skills and experience.4  At Literacy Pittsburgh, 59% of our students have post-secondary education, but language barriers or credentialing hinder them from working in their field of experience.

The consequences of this skills mismatch are far-reaching, prohibiting immigrants from reaching their full income potential and creating financial hardship for their families. This is also a missed opportunity for the U.S. economy. “If we could fill labor gaps with this untapped talent, we could alleviate the strain on the labor market, boost productivity, and ultimately promote great prosperity,” explains Jina Krause-Vilmar, President and CEO of Upwardly Global.4

When considering recruitment and retention of immigrant populations, it is important to keep diversity and inclusion principles in mind.

Be mindful of using AI (Artificial Intelligence) for screening applicants. In one test, AI-powered tools identified 98% of essays written by non-English speakers, or new English speakers, as being written by AI. In contrast, only 10% of essays written by native English speakers were misidentified as being AI-generated.5

Be aware of cultural differences during interviewing. For example, body language can vary across cultures. Some candidates may give a weak handshake or avoid eye contact because that is culturally appropriate for them. Ask clear, concise questions and give the candidate time to think and respond. Best practice is to ensure your interview panel is diverse to promote understanding of these cultural differences.

Become familiar with who is eligible to work in the U.S. Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs), or individuals who hold a green card, are automatically eligible to work. From fiscal year 2020 – 2022 more than 7,000 immigrants obtained legal permanent resident status in the Pittsburgh area, with most hailing from India, China, Nepal, Mexico and Canada.6 Refugees and asylees are eligible for employment due to their immigration status and are authorized to work indefinitely because their immigration status does not expire. Immigrants who do not have a green card but who are eligible for work must apply for an employment authorization document.

Implement diversity and inclusion policies and practices. A written DEIA (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility Plan) creates a welcoming environment for immigrant candidates. Most important, however, is that this plan permeates your company’s vision, mission, values, and day-to-day operations.

Invest in customized employee training. Offering training specifically geared toward immigrants can boost employee morale and increase retention. Literacy Pittsburgh provides customized English language, computer skills, and cross-cultural communication courses. Local employers that invest in employee training have seen positive results.

“We’ve seen a significant increase in our core behaviors survey, which is based on engagement. We’ve also seen a shift in retention, where employee turnover has really decreased. And we’ve also seen patient satisfaction scores increase because of the communication improvement amongst our team members,” explains William Dilla of Crothall Healthcare.

Over the past two years, Literacy Pittsburgh has served English Language Learners from 114 countries. Most of our students come from Afghanistan, Ukraine, Venezuela, Mexico, Turkey, and China. Our core program offerings of English language learning, reading, writing, math, computer skills, GED preparation, and career preparation equip students for success in the workplace.

We are working hard to create services and partnerships that bridge the path between education and employment or job training. Our workforce development department offers classes in workforce readiness, English for Housekeeping Careers, and Microsoft Office Specialist Certification preparation in addition to our general English language courses. Students can take advantage of resume prep, job-seeking skills, workshops on the American workforce culture, and opportunities to connect with local employers at job fairs, resource fairs, and mock interviews conducted during career-centered classes.  

At Literacy Pittsburgh, we believe that our collective well-being depends on welcoming diverse cultures and perspectives. We agree with the George W. Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative study7 in December 2022:

Immigrants make America’s cities more innovative and enterprising, fill essential jobs, and enrich local communities, increasing opportunity for other people living there.

This article is part one of a series created by Literacy Pittsburgh for the Pittsburgh Human Resources Association offering tips on hiring and retaining immigrant talent.











Literacy Pittsburgh (formerly Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council) helps create better lives through learning. Recognized as a national leader in adult and family literacy, Literacy Pittsburgh is the largest provider of adult basic education in Allegheny and Beaver Counties. Last year, Literacy Pittsburgh helped more than 4,000 individuals acquire the skills needed to reach their fullest potential in life and participate productively in their communities. Literacy Pittsburgh provides free, personalized instruction in workforce readiness, high school diploma test preparation, digital literacy, English language learning, math, reading, and family literacy through one-to-one and small class instruction. Founded in 1982, it serves local adults through numerous neighborhood locations and its Downtown Pittsburgh Learning Center.       

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