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Newly proposed immigration "public charge" rule would harm immigrant workers and US businesses

  ·   By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock,
Newly proposed immigration

NSC's template comments are now available. Please modify this template with information specific to your organization and submit on Regulations.gov by December 10. Also send a copy of your comments to amandabs@nationalskillscoalition.org so we can track them!

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This week, the US Department of Homeland Security proposed a rule that would make it significantly harder for many immigrants who are here legally to stay in the country. Under this new "public charge" rule, immigration officials could deny green cards or visa changes for individuals who get any of a number of public benefits or are deemed likely to receive benefits in the future. 

NSC opposes this rule, which would hurt our nation's efforts to build a skilled workforce. With record low unemployment, businesses are struggling to fill open positions, particularly for middle-skill jobs. Immigrants, who account for one in six U.S. workers, are essential to closing this skill gap. But the proposed rule would undercut immigrants’ ability to access training for middle-skill jobs.

Although the new rule does not include education and workforce programs in the list of public benefits, it's expected to have a chilling effect as immigrants withdraw from a wide array of publicly funded programs, from community college to adult education, out of confusion and fear. In addition, immigrants in job training programs who rely on key public benefits like SNAP or Medicaid will have to choose between dropping out of benefits programs that provide crucially needed support, or staying in and potentially jeopardizing their immigration status. The new rule would also create challenges for community colleges and other adult education and workforce development providers that would have to quickly build capacity to accurately advise immigrants about this complicated new rule. 

To learn more about the proposed rule, read NSC's analysis below and register for our upcoming October 24 webinar. NSC will also provide template comments next week that organizations may use as a basis for submitting their own comments by December 10, 2018.

NSC’s analysis of this complex, 450-page proposal focuses specifically on issues relevant to skills advocates. For broader analysis, we recommend materials from the National Immigration Law Center and its partners in the Protecting Immigrant Families campaign.

What is the public charge?

Public charge is the standard by which individuals can be denied permanent resident (green card) status or otherwise forbidden from extending or changing their visas if they are determined to be dependent on the government for support, or likely to be dependent in the future. The public charge is a totality of circumstances test, in which federal officials weigh the positive and negative factors in an individual immigrant’s application and determine whether they are at risk of becoming a public charge. The current public charge policy has been in place for decades, and was most recently affirmed in 1999 policy guidance from the federal government.

Relatively few immigrants are currently eligible for cash assistance or related public benefits, in part due to the 1996 welfare-reform law. But the new proposal would also require federal officials to predict whether the immigrant might receive benefits in the future. Given that immigrants who are granted green cards are then eligible to apply for US citizenship, and that US citizens are eligible for a wide range of public benefits, the rule would have sweeping implications. Ultimately, the proposed changes would affect millions of legally authorized immigrants and prospective immigrants.

Understanding the major changes proposed by the administration

DHS is proposing to make significant changes to the existing public charge policy. Among the key changes:

1. More people would be subject to the public charge test. Right now, individuals are subject to the public charge determination when applying for lawful permanent resident (“green card”) status, or when existing green card holders are being readmitted to the US after more than six months outside the country. DHS is now proposing that people would be subject to the public charge test in those cases, and that individuals face a similar test when they apply for or extend any one of a long list of nonimmigrant visas. This also means that the same person might be subject to the public charge test on several occasions, as it is very common for individuals to extend or change their status repeatedly. For example, someone might arrive in the US on a student visa, then later change to an employment visa, and eventually become a permanent resident.

2. More kinds of benefits would be counted as negative factors in the public charge test. Under current policy, only two types of public benefits usage count against immigrants: receiving cash assistance (such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or Supplemental Security Insurance), or receiving long-term institutional care at public expense. DHS is proposing that this list be significantly expanded to include:

    • Medicaid (with limited exceptions for emergency Medicaid and certain school-based disability services for children)
    • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
    • Medicare Part D financial assistance
    • Subsidized public housing (federal public housing, Section 8 housing vouchers and Section 8 project-based rental assistance)

      DHS is also asking for public comments about whether Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) benefits should be counted as a negative factor. If included, this would consider whether the immigrant applicant had received CHIP him- or herself, not whether their children had done so.

3. The process of calculating public benefits usage would become much more complicated. DHS’s proposal divides the above list into monetizable and non-monetizable benefits – that is, those to which DHS can easily assign a monetary value and those to which it cannot. For any individual immigrant, receiving monetizable benefits that total more than 15 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines for a household of one (about $1800) would count as a negative factor in the public charge totality of circumstances test. (This is a substantial change from current guidance, which examines whether a person is receiving cash benefits that form 51 percent or more of their income.)

Similarly, receiving non-monetizable benefits that last for more than 12 out of the preceding 36 months would also count as a negative factor. Additional calculations would apply if an individual was receiving both monetizable and non-monetizable benefits or more than one non-monetizable benefit in a given month.

(Benefits received by family members of the immigrant applicant would not count. However, the size of an immigrant’s household – including people who may not be physically living with but are financially dependent on the immigrant – would still influence many of the calculations for the public charge test.)

4. Factors to be considered in the totality of circumstances assessment would be further codified. While the general list of factors to be considered in the totality of circumstances test is already codified in statute, DHS is proposing to flesh out these factors with substantially more detailed considerations, including a brand-new proposal to consider an immigrant’s credit history and credit score. The proposed considerations would include but not be limited to:

    • Age (between 18 and 61 would be a positive factor; below age 18 or age 62 and over would be a negative factor)
    • Health (a negative factor would be having a health condition that is likely to interfere with the person’s ability to care for him- or herself,  to attend school or work or that is likely to require extensive medical treatment or institutionalization in the future)
    • Family status (i.e., household size)
    • Assets, resources, and financial status (having income below 125 percent of Federal Poverty Guidelines is a negative factor; income above 250 percent of FPG is a heavily weighted positive factor; other considerations include the immigrant applicant’s credit history and credit score; whether they have applied for or received a public benefit; received a fee waiver when applying for an immigration document, and more)
    • Education and skills (considerations include recent history of employment; credential attainment at HS diploma or higher level, occupational licensure, English skills, other language skills)
    • Affidavit of support from a person who is sponsoring the immigrant (if required to be filed)

5. The ripple effect of the new rules would be felt far beyond the immigrants who are personally subject to the public charge test. For example, an individual already living in the US who is applying for a green card may have a US citizen spouse; if federal officials deny the green card application because the applicant is at risk of becoming a public charge, the couple may be faced with a difficult decision about whether they can continue their lives together in the United States, or must move abroad or be separated. 

6. A new “public charge bond” process would be implemented to allow individuals to override their negative public charge determination. DHS is proposing a complex new process to allow individuals who are at risk of becoming a public charge to purchase a bond that will enable them to be admitted to the United States. The minimum cost of the bond would be $10,000 plus fees; the intent would be to provide a mechanism for the US government to be reimbursed if the immigrant goes on to use public benefits in the future. Much remains unknown about the bond process, but its existence would add an additional layer of potential financial pressure for immigrant applicants.

Benefits that would NOT count against immigrants

Under the DHS proposal, some public benefits would not be counted against immigrants in the public charge test. These include:

  • Social Security retirement benefits
  • General Medicare benefits (as opposed to the Part D subsidies described above)
  • Worker’s compensation
  • Non-cash benefits that provide education, child development, and employment and job training
  • Education-related benefits
  • Any exclusively local, state, or tribal public benefit that is not cash assistance for income maintenance, institutionalization for long-term care at government expense, or another public benefit program not specifically listed in the regulation
  • Benefits used by persons other than the applicant, including benefits used by their children


Individuals exempt from the public charge test

Some categories of immigrants are not subject to the public charge test.

  • Active duty and reserve US military service members and their families
  • Refugees, people who have been granted asylum, individuals receiving U visas for crime victims or T visas for trafficking victims
  • Select other categories of vulnerable individuals
  • Family members of the immigrant applicant (unless and until they make their own applications for green-card status, visa extensions, or changes of status)

In addition, individuals are not subject to a public charge test when they apply for US citizenship.

Implications for skills advocates

  1. The biggest concern: A chilling effect far beyond the scope of the rule itself.  The new proposal is expected to have a significant chilling effect on immigrant participation in publicly funded adult education and workforce programs. Even though the public charge proposal does not apply to some categories of immigrants (such as refugees), and even though the proposal does not include education and workforce programs, people are nevertheless expected to withdraw from a wide array of publicly programs out of fear and confusion. There is strong evidence that this chilling effect is already occurring. Given the complexity of the new proposal, skills advocates may find it difficult to give a blanket reassurance to worried adult learners and jobseekers, and may see dips in enrollment, participation, and completion.

  2. New rule will create difficult choices for adult learners and jobseekers. While education and training programs themselves are not included in the list of public benefits that would count against immigrant applicants, many participants in training programs depend on other benefits that would be counted against them -- such as SNAP or Medicaid -- to be able to persist and complete their education. As a result, adult learners and jobseekers will be faced with the difficult decision of whether to dis-enroll from health and nutrition programs and jeopardize their ability to complete their training, or to stay enrolled in the programs and potentially jeopardize their immigration status.

  3. End of “bright line” standard will greatly increase demands on service providers. The new proposal would remove a clear, bright-line standard for when an immigrant may be considered a public charge, and replace it with a highly complex, multi-faceted and subjective test. This increased complexity will make it difficult for education and workforce providers to provide straightforward guidance to frontline staff about how to advise participants on whether using a public benefit may jeopardize their immigration status. Higher education institutions, nonprofit organizations, and state and local agencies will also face the challenge of updating enrollment forms, software programs, and other documentation that currently provides blanket reassurance to participants that enrolling in publicly funded programs will not jeopardize their immigration status, and substituting a much more nuanced and complicated disclaimer. 

  4. Increased confusion about braided funding for workforce and education programs. The public charge test pertains to benefits received by individuals. Funds that are received by institutions – such as community colleges that blend TANF or SNAP dollars with other funds to support an educational program – would not be counted against immigrant participants in those programs. However, the uncertainty created by the new regulations may affect education and workforce program administrators and managers as they seek to clarify the implications of the proposal for their institutions and participants.


National Skills Coalition is extremely concerned about the ripple effects of these proposed changes on education and workforce goals. We urge skills advocates to submit public comments to DHS in advance of the December 10 deadline. Template comments from NSC will be available early next week.  

 

 

Posted In: Immigration

Utah and Idaho explore immigrant career pathways; new fact sheets released

  ·   By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock,
Utah and Idaho explore immigrant career pathways; new fact sheets released

Note: The Idaho and Utah fact sheets linked below are being released in conjunction with Adult Education and Family Literacy Week. See also NSC’s 2016 fact sheet, Adult Education: A Crucial Foundation for Middle-Skill Jobs.

National Skills Coalition Director of Upskilling Policy Amanda Bergson-Shilcock recently traveled to Boise, ID, and Salt Lake City, UT for skills policy events with stakeholders in both cities. The focus: How immigrant advocates can collaborate with adult education and workforce officials to ensure that skills policies provide effective career pathways for workers at all skill levels.

Immigrant populations have more than doubled in both Idaho and Utah in recent years, demonstrating the growing role that immigrant workers can play in helping the states respond to local industries’ talent needs. The issue is of particular importance given the very low unemployment rates in both states.

Two new fact sheets were released in conjunction with the events. Both are part of NSC’s ongoing series on immigrants and middle-skill jobs:


Idaho: Connecting the Dots between Refugee Youth and State Postsecondary Goals

Idaho is home to approximately 98,000 immigrants, who comprise almost 6 percent of state residents. The state has recently set a goal for postsecondary attainment, aiming to increase the percentage of Idaho residents ages 25-34 with a college degree or certificate to 60 percent by 2025. Ensuring that state workforce and education policies are inclusive of immigrant and refugee youth will be important in helping the state meet its ambitious attainment goal.

In Boise, Amanda led two workshops hosted by the nonprofit Neighbors United. The first focused on career pathways for refugee and immigrant jobseekers. The second examined education and workforce issues facing refugee and immigrant young adults in particular. Stakeholders at both workshops included state officials, higher education partners, nonprofit service providers, and refugee youth themselves.

Also participating in the event were staff from the nonprofit Global Talent Idaho. The nonprofit’s collaboration with state refugee and labor department officials was spotlighted in NSC’s recent brief At the Intersection of Immigration and Skills Policy: A Roadmap to Smart Policies for State and Local Leaders.

Utah: A Variety of New Efforts to Boost Skills and Credential Attainment

Immigrants and refugees represent approximately 8 percent of Utah’s population, or 252,000 people. Immigrants in the state are dramatically more likely to be of working age: a full 85 percent are between the ages of 18-64, compared to just 57 percent of native-born residents. Utah immigrants also have a substantially higher labor force participation rate: 71 percent of adult immigrants are in the labor force, compared to 67 percent of native-born adults.

Utah has also established an aspirational goal for postsecondary attainment: By 2020, the state aims to increase the percentage of Utahns between 25-64 years old with a postsecondary degree to 66 percent. Given the relative youth of the state’s foreign-born population, investing in the skills of immigrants and refugees will be an important element of helping the state reach its goal. (Utah is also one of three states selected to participate in a new Task Force on Closing Postsecondary Attainment Gaps, led by the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education.)

In Salt Lake City, Amanda led two discussions in collaboration with the nonprofit One Refugee. The first focused on policies and programs that support career pathways for young adult refugees and immigrants. The second explored strategies for measuring refugee integration using education and workforce data.

Stakeholders participating in the discussions included state and local workforce officials, nonprofit service providers, and faith community leaders. The events were hosted by OC Tanner, a corporate leader that supports refugee integration through employment. 

Separately, Amanda also met with Utah state legislators to brief them on occupational licensing and career pathway issues for immigrants and refugees in the state. Utah is participating in a national initiative on occupational licensing led by the National Conference of State Legislatures, National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, and Council of State Governments.

In addition, both Salt Lake City and Boise, along with partners in Twin Falls, ID, were selected last year to participate in the Skilled Immigrant Integration Program (SIIP), a national technical assistance initiative led by the nonprofit WES Global Talent Bridge. National Skills Coalition served as a technical assistance provider for the SIIP project, and Amanda’s recent trip was conducted as part of the SIIP project.

Posted In: Immigration, Idaho, Utah

How advocates can advance immigrant workforce issues at the state and local level

  ·   By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock,
How advocates can advance immigrant workforce issues at the state and local level

As Welcoming Week (September 14-23) prepares to kick off, with hundreds of events scheduled around the country, National Skills Coalition is releasing a new report that gives state and local advocates fresh ideas for advancing policies to improve immigrant access to workforce and adult education services. At the Intersection of Immigration and Skills Policy: A Roadmap to Smart Policies for State and Local Leaders focuses on the fast-growing phenomenon of state Offices of New Americans and city Offices of Immigrant Affairs, and their intersection with public workforce and education agencies.

The report gives advocates practical examples of how state and local officials have invested in immigrant workers’ skills through programs and policies to date, and offers policy recommendations for how advocates can further advance immigrant workforce issues in their own communities. The report is relevant both for states and localities that have immigrant affairs offices, and those that do not.

Six states and 30 cities now have immigrant affairs offices, while more than 90 communities have launched “welcoming” initiatives, some of which are housed within municipal government. Skills issues are a notable and growing focus for many of these offices, both in response to constituent requests (e.g., for more English classes) and as a result of the overall direction and agenda set by the governor or mayor when establishing the office. Similarly, workforce issues are also on the radar screen for many local welcoming initiatives.

At the Intersection of Immigration and Skills Policy includes select examples of policies advanced by immigrant affairs offices to support the education and workforce goals of state residents, and provides recommendations for those offices to further expand their efforts.

The report also emphasizes the importance of ensuring that state policymakers capitalize on immigrant affairs offices’ expertise as they design and meet overall workforce goals, such as the postsecondary attainment goals that 40 states have established. (National Skills Coalition previously published 10 state-specific fact sheets on the importance of investing in immigrant skill-building to meet the demand for middle-skill workers and help states meet their credential attainment goals. Links to each are available on the immigration page of NSC’s website.)

Among the recommendations included in the At the Intersection report:

  • For established offices of immigrant affairs: 1) designing formal mechanisms for immigrant-affairs offices to participate in workforce and education policy decision making; 2) exploring how non-skills issues can be a gateway to foster connections with other public agencies; 3) capitalizing on the convening power of public agencies; and more.
  • For newly created offices of immigrant affairs: 1) Consider housing the office within a labor, education, or economic development agency; 2) build inclusion of US-born community members in from the beginning; 3) rather than fighting for a programmatic budget, fight for a seat at the table and ability to be a creative policy entrepreneur; and more.
  • For workforce and education agencies: 1) “Cross-fertilize” business leaders’ input on immigration and skills policy goals; 2) incorporate an immigrant lens into state and local workforce data policy; 3) ensure that immigrant-owned businesses are specifically included in education and workforce policy efforts; and more.


View the complete recommendations and an array of examples from Maryland to Michigan and beyond in the full At the Intersection of Immigration and Skills Policy report.

Posted In: Immigration, Adult Basic Education

Michigan releases new materials on determining immigrant eligibility for WIOA Title I services

  ·   By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock,
Michigan releases new materials on determining immigrant eligibility for WIOA Title I services

The Michigan Talent Investment Agency (TIA) and Michigan Office for New Americans (MONA) have collaborated on two new publications intended to support frontline workforce staff in facilitating eligible immigrants’ access to public workforce services.

Both publications focus on how workforce agencies – including local workforce boards, MichiganWorks! American Job Centers, and other stakeholders – should determine immigrant and refugee eligibility for Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Title I services.

Under the WIOA statute, immigrants who are authorized to work legally in the United States are eligible to access Title I services, provided they meet other standard eligibility criteria.

The new Michigan publications include:


Both publications link to the underlying federal legislation, policy guidance, and regulations that dictate WIOA eligibility requirements, as well as the accompanying state guidance from Michigan’s TIA.

Because states are not required to collect data on the nativity of WIOA participants, there is no available information on how many immigrants are currently served under Title I. However, there is data on how many participants have limited English proficiency. National data shows that only 1.5 percent of participants in Title I intensive training services are limited English proficient. In comparison, a full 10 percent of the US workforce has limited English skills.

Michigan is a national leader on immigrant workforce policy issues, with MONA having previously advanced initiatives focusing on innovative adult ESOL, occupational licensing guides, Refugee/Immigrant Navigators, and more. Most recently, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed an executive order transferring authority over much of the state’s refugee resettlement services from its Department of Health and Human Services to MONA.

Michigan was also one of just eight sites selected to participate in the Skilled Immigrant Integration Program (SIIP), a national technical assistance initiative led by the nonprofit WES Global Talent Bridge. The new workforce publications were developed as part of that initiative, and MONA and TIA have also collaborated to provide in-person training to state and local workforce staff on use of the new publications. National Skills Coalition served as a technical assistance provider for the SIIP project, aiding in the development of the publications and participating in the training sessions this summer.

Posted In: Immigration, Data and Credentials, Michigan

New WIOA community engagement guide aims to bolster nonprofit input in planning process

  ·   By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock,
New WIOA community engagement guide aims to bolster nonprofit input in planning process

Note: A webinar about this new guide will be held on August 23, 2018. The webinar is being co-hosted by the International Rescue Committee, Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees, and Workforce Matters. Register here.

A newly released publication is encouraging community-based organizations in California to actively participate in their local Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) planning process and otherwise engage with their local workforce boards.

California Nonprofits and the Public Workforce System: How CBOs Can Make Their Voices Heard in the WIOA Planning Process is a short, readable guide designed for nonprofit advocates. It is being released in anticipation of the upcoming deadline for the required modifications of WIOA plans, which occurs midway through the plans’ four-year timeframe.

The guide was authored by Erica Bouris of the nonprofit International Rescue Committee, which has offices in 26 US locations, including six in California. It was funded by the Grove Foundation and the Walter and Elise Haas Fund. Both foundations are part of the Immigrant Workforce Learning Community, a group co-convened by Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees and Workforce Matters.

Sections of the guide include:

  • What is WIOA planning and why does it matter?
  • Workforce system fundamentals: Understanding the local system and services
  • Who makes decisions about WIOA investments and services locally? 
  • How much funding is at stake?
  • Where do CBOs fit into this?
  • How could your CBO engage in the WIOA planning process?
  • What obligations do Workforce Development Boards have in the WIOA planning process and service delivery?


The publication also provides examples of how California nonprofits have engaged with their local public workforce system, including by informing strategy development for Opportunity Youth, having a seat on the local workforce board, becoming a contracted service provider, winning competitive grants through the state workforce board’s Workforce Accelerator Fund, and participating in the state’s trailblazing English Language Learner (ELL) Navigator program.

Finally, nonprofits are provided with practical suggestions for how to participate, including by making public comments at workforce board meetings, sharing reports and data, inviting workforce staff to witness programs in action, and applying for a seat on the workforce board.

The guide complements more formal guidance previously released by the California Workforce Development Board. That guidance requires local workforce boards to take specific steps to ensure that a diverse range of stakeholders have opportunities to participate in WIOA planning.

Posted In: Immigration, Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act
Business investment in upskilling for incumbent workers: lessons from a Pre-Lean ESOL Program in Massachusetts

In a tight labor market, companies across the United States are mulling how best to upskill their incumbent workforce to meet business needs. A particular challenge is adults with foundational skills gaps in reading, math, or spoken English. These kinds of skill gaps can prevent workers from even being able to participate in occupational training opportunities that can help them improve their earning prospects and better contribute to the business bottom line.

In Massachusetts, one effort is demonstrating the value of employer-informed training approaches that capitalize on strong public policies and partnerships with experienced training providers.

The Pre-Lean English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program was created by the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MassMEP) in collaboration with the nonprofit English for New Bostonians (ENB).

Formally known as Principles of Lean Manufacturing for English Language Learners, the program was sparked by the discovery that businesses eager to realize cost savings by training workers in Lean Manufacturing techniques faced a challenge: Workers who were English learners were not able to participate in the training on an even footing with their English-speaking colleagues.

National Skills Coalition spoke with Jim Gusha of MassMEP, Mark Camus of Russelectric, and Franklin Peralta of English for New Bostonians to learn about the program and the policies that facilitate it.

Why was this an important issue for your organizations to tackle?

Jim: Just as context, MassMEP works primarily with small and medium sized manufacturers. We have three different areas of focus: operational excellence, business development and innovation, and workforce development. Often that means moving people from unemployment into a job – helping them build basic skills like math and reading, as well as specific skills like Computer Numeric Control (CNC) operation, metrology, etc. We have strong relationships with local higher education institutions as well as training facilities in our offices.

But now that unemployment level is so low, you’ve got under-employed people. Companies are crying for help. We’re looking to try and bridge that gap, to put together programming to reach those people and get them into the manufacturing workforce, or help them move up in their current roles. This project started off as a way to respond to a need that we were seeing among some of our manufacturers that have high numbers of immigrant workers [who needed to upskill].

Franklin: English for New Bostonians is a nonprofit, but we’re also an activist grantmaking organization that funds 23 programs serving more than 1,100 English learners each year. There is a huge business component to our work, because across Massachusetts, 1 in 5 workers is an immigrant. Many of them are still building their English skills: 439,000 working-age people in our state are English learners.

So businesses are really important partners for us, especially in the manufacturing sector, where a lot of immigrants in our state are employed. We engage with companies through our English Works campaign. We are always trying to think about how to help businesses make the connection between investing in English skills for their employees, and seeing greater productivity and improved safety outcomes.

We don’t just work with individual businesses; we also work with industry associations and groups like MassMEP. So it was natural for us to respond when Jim reached out.

Mark: We are a privately held, family-owned independent company. We have about 325-350 employees in two main facilities – in Massachusetts and Oklahoma. Our products help make sure that companies who can’t afford to lose power, don’t lose power. Like airports, banks, data centers, hospitals. It’s business to business.

It was MassMEP and AIM – Associated Industries of Massachusetts – who came to us initially. They reached out to us regarding a 2-year grant from the Massachusetts Workforce Training Fund Program (WTFP), covering all aspects of Lean manufacturing and related concepts. Based on the composition of our workforce, we identified that ESOL would need to be a component of the training.

What prompted you to think about designing a class specifically for English learners?

Jim: Previously, when MassMEP has done work in areas like Fall River, Lowell, or Boston [that have large immigrant populations] we’ve always had to tap into a [bilingual] person at the company to translate some of the concepts we’re trying to train on. It was cumbersome and I’m not really sure how effective it was. Employers want to have their [English learner] employees involved in training but sometimes they shy away from sending them because they’re not sure the message is getting through.

We were offering this Lean 101 8-hour introductory session. For that training, there was a lot of communication that was necessary: interaction with the instructor, lecture, and so on – and we were just not sure that the message was getting through to the participants who were English learners.

So then we thought about ESOL programming as kind of an on-ramp to the Lean training. In general, ESOL is a time commitment for a company – it can take 6 months to a year for a worker to gain a level in their language skills. While that’s great, it’s also time-consuming if what you want is just for someone to get up to speed enough to be able to understand Lean.

I bounced the idea of a Lean ESOL class off of Franklin and he liked the idea. ENB had a person who they recommended who could help us put it together, and that’s how this whole project got started.

Why were partnerships necessary for Russelectric to engage with this project?

Mark: The partnership with MassMEP is important because we’re a relatively small business.  It’s not practical for us to design and launch entire training programs – that’s just not what we do. We do very much have top-down support for this project, from the CEO and CFO on down. I report directly to the CFO.

In terms of establishing our relationship with English for New Bostonians, I went to the annual awards breakfast that ENB puts on. It was a fantastic event -- very uplifting, inspirational, professionally run. So that made a good impression on me. They had good stories and examples of other companies they’d worked with.

Knowing that we were working with experienced partners helped convince us that this was a good use of company time and resources.

What does the class entail?

Mark: There are about 10 classes, at two hours per class. The classes are held from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., and employees get paid for their time.  The reaction to the class has been quite favorable.

What are the key differences between Pre-Lean ESOL and a regular English class?

Jim: I can’t stress this enough – this is not a replacement for a traditional ESOL program. I don’t want companies to think that. [Rather], it’s a class that makes sense for workers to take before they start their Lean journey. It allows them to conceptually understand the key points of Lean, learn some specialized vocabulary, and participate in the improvement process.

What drives employers to work with you on training?

Jim: Over the years, MassMEP has served thousands of businesses in Massachusetts, of which 80 percent have fewer than 100 employees. These companies aren’t large enough to have [extensive] in-house training resources. MassMEP is an important resource for them because we can look at the training needs across a range of small companies and develop programs that meet their needs.

We’re very fortunate that our state is very supportive of this type of programming. Massachusetts has a fund that is paid for through a tax on unemployment insurance – the Workforce Training Fund. It allows employers to receive grants to support training for incumbent workers, with greater weight given to projects that boost skills and opportunities for lower-skill or low-wage workers. We often work with businesses to design training that can be supported by this fund.

How was this project funded?

Jim: As an organization, we’re set up as a nonprofit, and our funding comes from the US Department of Commerce, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and fee-for-service training programs. For this project, MassMEP funded all of the program development and paid for a curriculum developer to work with ENB.

It took us about a year to develop. It was constantly tweaked. We ran a pilot at a company that was interested in Lean training, but hesitant to begin it, because about 20% of their workforce was not fluent in English. After the ESOL pilot ended, production workers in the pilot class shared valuable feedback with us -- such advising us to use more videos – and were able to successfully move on to the regular Lean training with their native-born co-workers

Franklin: ESOL training for immigrant workers is one of the top priorities for the Workforce Training Fund; that, coupled with the fact that many of these limited English speaking employees are currently in low-skills positions, puts the Pre-Lean ESOL program in total alignment with the mission of the Fund to upskill our state workforce.

How are you measuring success? What’s next for this project?

Mark: At the worker level, it’s primarily observational. We are judging this as part of the overall Lean training. If we see ESOL participants being able to participate on equal footing with their [non-ESOL] coworkers, that’s a good sign.

As part of our broader Lean training activities, we do have some specific outcomes we have to report to the state about operational efficiencies and cost savings and so forth.  We are also considering doing individual performance evaluations.

Jim: Since our initial pilot class, we have implemented the curriculum with two other companies, and it’s going well. We’re confident that we can do it well now – it’s not a pilot any more.

We’ve also gotten the support of the Massachusetts Secretary of Labor and the Commonwealth Corporation, which oversees the Workforce Training Fund, which is really helpful as we think about continuing to expand.

Franklin: In terms of measuring success, the first thing we do is to assess the current ESOL level of each potential student. At Russelectric, this evaluation determined that we needed to organize the employees in two groups, low-intermediate and intermediate. This helped the instructor to adjust the curriculum to better serve the two levels.

We also do a general evaluation at the end of the course. At Russelectric, 31 employees participated in the program, and they gave an average score of 4.6 out of 5 to the question: Can I use this knowledge at my job? The bottom line is, you can see how their newly gained confidence enables them to contribute their own ideas to their company’s Lean process improvement.

What lessons does this project have for other employers?

Mark: I would say that the Pre-Lean ESOL class worked because it was fully incorporated into everything else we were trying to do with Lean training. It wasn’t a stand-alone thing.

Plus, we know our workforce. Demographically, we’re diverse – our workers are Hispanic, Southeast Asian, Cape Verdean, and more. We knew that if the Lean training was going to succeed we had to make sure everyone was prepared to participate.

Thinking about other employers, I would say that if you’re a small business and you don’t have time to develop a whole new training curriculum, reaching out to partners like your state’s MEP and organizations like English for New Bostonians can help. This is what they specialize in, and that leaves us free to do our jobs.

What lessons does this project have for other Manufacturing Extension Partnerships?

Jim: Well, of course, while there are MEPs in all fifty states, their local contexts are different. But in general, I think this project demonstrates how good policies like the Workforce Training Fund can be combined with strong partners who have specialized expertise to help small and mid-sized businesses solve their training issues.

As I said, it’s a tight labor market. Everybody’s trying to find good workers.  Sometimes the worker you need is already on your payroll – they just need a little boost, and training can provide that boost.

What lessons does this project have for adult education and workforce policy advocates?

Franklin: It doesn’t matter which end you start with – whether you are thinking about how to help immigrant workers build their skills, or how to help small businesses find the talent they need. In both cases, you can create a win-win. Partnerships are what make it possible.

And then, once you get a good partnership going, you have to tell the story! Policymakers need to hear about how important education and training investments are, especially for small businesses. Whether it is federal policymakers hearing about why MEPs are important, or state policymakers hearing about incumbent worker training funds, you have to show how their ideas are working in the real world. Everybody likes to hear a success story.

Posted In: Adult Basic Education, Immigration, Massachusetts
New Massachusetts and Missouri state fact sheets: Immigrants can help meet demand for middle-skill workers

Two new fact sheets from National Skills Coalition highlight the important role that immigrant workers play in filling middle-skill jobs in Massachusetts and Missouri.

Both states have growing immigrant populations and a high demand for middle skill workers, along with ambitious goals for postsecondary attainment for their residents. Given these growing populations,  immigrants will play a vital role in helping the states meet the demand for middle skill workers and respond to local industries’ talent needs.

In order for both states to achieve their postsecondary goals and to close their middle skill gaps, they will need to ensure that their career pipelines are inclusive of the many immigrants who are poised to benefit from investments in their skills: 24 percent of adult immigrants in Missouri and 22 percent in Massachusetts have not gone beyond high school in their education.

Massachusetts: A Large Immigrant Population is Part of the Middle-Skill Solution  

Massachusetts is home to approximately 1.1 million immigrants, who comprise almost 17 percent of state residents.  As a result, they play a strong role in Massachusetts’ labor market. This role will continue growing as the immigrant population increases; already, the share of immigrants in the state’s population has increased by 74 percent from 10 percent in 1990 to 17 percent today.

Massachusetts has set an ambitious goal for postsecondary attainment, aiming to increase the percentage of Commonwealth residents ages 25-34 years old with a college degree to 60 percent by 2020.  This goal will help focus efforts towards middle-skill opportunities and engagement.

The demand for middle-skill workers is anticipated to remain strong in Massachusetts, with 41 percent of new job openings expected to be at the middle skill level. In order for Massachusetts to capitalize on this demand and draw on the full talents and abilities of their residents, the Bay State will need to invest in the skills of native-born and immigrant workers alike.

Learn more in our new fact sheet: Middle-Skill Credentials and Immigrant Workers: Massachusetts’ Untapped Assets.

Missouri: Investing in Skills Training Will Help Meet the State’s Ambitious Postsecondary Goal

Missouri’s economy has a robust demand for middle skill workers, with more than half of all jobs (53 percent) being middle-skill occupations. This demand is expected to remain strong, with 48 percent of new job openings between 2014-2024 expected to be at the middle skill level.  Yet only 46 percent of Missouri workers have been trained to the middle-skill level. This presents an opportunity for the state to invest in skill building for both native-born and immigrant workers to assist with meeting the middle skill demand.

Missouri has also set an aggressive goal for postsecondary attainment. The state aims to increase the percentage of residents with a degree or high-quality certificate from 46 percent to 60 percent by 2025.  This ambitious attainment goal will help focus state policy and spending decisions towards middle-skill opportunities.

Immigrant workers represent an important element of the state’s labor market, and a potentially responsive pool of candidates for skill-building opportunities. Foreign born residents of the Show-Me State are much more likely to be of working age; over 80 percent are between the ages of 18-64 compared to 61 percent of native-born residents.  Missouri immigrants also have a slightly higher labor-force participation rate, at 66 percent compared to 63 percent of native-born adults. Policymakers can help ensure that these new workers can fully contribute to Missouri’s economy by investing in proven policies that prepare people with the skills local businesses need.

Learn more in our new fact sheet: Middle-Skill Credentials and Immigrant Workers: Missouri’s Untapped Assets.

 

Posted In: Immigration, Adult Basic Education, Missouri, Massachusetts

Anticipated new “Public Charge” rules would undercut skills policies

  ·   By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock,
Anticipated new “Public Charge” rules would undercut skills policies

* This blog post is based on an earlier, leaked draft of the proposed regulations from March 2018, and does NOT contain details of the actual proposal.

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New regulations that are expected to be proposed by the Trump administration shortly would have serious consequences for millions of legally authorized immigrants and their US citizen family members, and would be likely to undercut key adult education and workforce policy goals.

Once the proposed regulations are released, National Skills Coalition will be urging skills advocates to submit public comments opposing the proposed changes. Below, we describe anticipated elements of the administration’s proposal -- based on a leaked version of the draft regulations published by the Washington Post -- and the potential consequences for adult education and workforce issues. 

Understanding the public charge test

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) expected to be published by the Department of Homeland Security would significantly change how the federal government assesses whether an individual is likely to become a “public charge.”

Traditionally, immigrants have been defined as a public charge (that is, dependent on the government for support) only if they require institutionalized care or are receiving cash welfare benefits. People who are found to be a public charge can be denied the opportunity to enter or stay in the United States, or denied permanent resident status, commonly known as a green card.

The public charge assessment is a “totality of circumstances” test, in which an immigration official weighs both positive and negative factors when deciding whether the applicant is at risk of becoming a public charge.

Expected changes would dramatically alter the rules for immigrants

The forthcoming new rules are expected to propose sweeping changes. Most notably, assuming that the proposed rules match the earlier draft leaked to the press, a far greater list of local, state, tribal, and federal benefits would count as negative factors in the public charge test. For example, using a Pell Grant (or other means-tested financial aid in the form of a grant) could be a negative factor.

Participating in English language, job training or workforce programs that are means-tested, such as those funded by SNAP or TANF funds, could be a negative factor. Drawing on supportive services such as childcare, transportation, home heating, or food assistance could also be considered a negative factor, if those services are means-tested and publicly funded.

Additional proposed negative factors are expected to include the use of non-emergency Medicaid benefits, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) benefits, or health insurance subsidized by public dollars, such as under the Affordable Care Act.

Other anticipated changes:

  • More categories of people would be subject to the public charge test.
  • More individuals would be repeatedly subject to the public charge test – for example, once when applying for an initial visa, once when extending their visa, and again when applying for a green card
  • Simply applying for a means-tested benefit (even if the person never received the benefit) would also count as a negative factor
  • Benefits used by other members of the immigrant’s household – including their US citizen children – would be counted as a negative factor if the household member is financially dependent on the immigrant. 


Skills would count as “positive factors,” but there’s a catch

Assuming that the published version of the proposed regulations tracks with the leaked draft, a person’s English skills, educational attainment, and history of employment would count as positive factors in the public charge assessment. However, as detailed above, many of the supportive services that enable people succeed in education and training opportunities would be viewed as negative factors.

Thus, immigrants would need to weigh the potential risks of – for example – drawing on SNAP benefits in order to complete their community college studies. Such calculations would be difficult to assess, both for individual immigrants and for the education and training providers who serve them. Because the public charge assessment is ultimately a subjective decision by an immigration official, it is difficult to predict whether the positive factor of obtaining a college degree would outweigh the negative factor of relying on SNAP benefits.

Potential for chilling effect

Given the difficulty in predicting how immigration officials will weigh the various factors, if the anticipated regulations are actually enacted it is expected that many immigrant students and workers will err on the side of caution in withdrawing from public benefits programs. (Media reports indicate this has already started to occur.)

In addition, while some categories of immigrants are exempt from the public charge test – such as refugees and people who have been granted asylum – it is anticipated that a significant number of these exempt individuals will nevertheless withdraw from public benefits programs out of confusion or fear.

The bottom line: How will this affect adult education and workforce programs?

If the anticipated regulations take effect, there would be significant effects across a wide range of skills policies and programs. Below are some of the potential ramifications:

  • Decrease in enrollment, retention, and success rates in adult education and workforce programs. Immigrants may shy away from participation due to fear of losing their immigration status or facing deportation for accessing means-tested publicly funded services, even if those services are not part of the public charge test
  • Unwillingness by students to access federal Pell Grants or similar state-funded financial aid due to fear of immigration consequences; greater likelihood of student financial instability and increased dropout rates
  • Confusion on the part of community college financial aid advisors, adult education instructors, case managers, navigators, and others about how best to advise immigrant adult learners and workers
  • Need for substantial re-training of frontline staff to ensure accurate advice and information given to education and workforce program participants
  • Need for providers to reassess braided funding strategies in cases where means-tested funding (such as SNAP) is combined with non means-tested funding (such as WIOA Title II), so as not to put immigrant students in unnecessary jeopardy
  • Time-sensitive need to engage in complex process of amending paper forms and online applications for state and local public benefits to adequately warn applicants that receipt of such benefits may expose them to immigration consequences
  • Increase in requests from existing students and workers to dis-enroll themselves or their family members from publicly funded education and workforce programs
  • Requests from current or former program participants for official documentation verifying that they have not received public benefits during a specified time frame


How you can take action

When the anticipated regulations are formally published in the Federal Register, NSC will provide a quick-turnaround analysis focusing on issues of concern to skills advocates. There is expected to be a public comment period of between 30 and 60 days. NSC will also be releasing sample comments that advocates may use as a framework for developing their own comments.

Posted In: Immigration
Maryland uses nearly $1 million in WIOA discretionary funds to support career pathways via co-enrollment

The Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (DLLR) recently announced the award of nearly $1 million in discretionary Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) funds, also known as Governor’s Reserve funds. The awards will support local workforce boards and their partners in implementing innovative career pathways programs.

Workforce boards were able to apply for up to $250,000 in funding to develop innovative demonstration projects with a consortium of local partners, including adult education providers and business partners. Eligible applicants were provided with a menu of potential interventions that had been identified by the state as best practices.

The focus of this first round of awards is on career pathways that use an integrated approach that combines foundational skills and occupational or industry-specific training. The target population is adults who have foundational skills gaps in literacy, numeracy, or spoken English.

While co-enrollment in WIOA Title I workforce and Title II adult education services has long been a goal for the public workforce system, national numbers have remained stubbornly low. Maryland’s use of discretionary funds to foster connections between Title I and Title II providers represents a notable step towards better coordination. It comes on the heels of the state’s earlier efforts to facilitate joint assessment across WIOA partners.

Specific areas of focus for the newly funded projects are as follows:

  • Mid-Maryland (Howard and Carroll Counties) will use a multi-pronged approach to connect English Language Learners with careers in allied healthcare, starting with training to become a Certified Nursing Assistant. The partners will implement Integrated Education and Training, Integrated English Literacy and Civics Education, English Language Acquisition, and distance learning activities, create a Transition Specialist staff position, and provide a bridge class to help participants make the leap.

  • Prince George's County will create career pathways in construction for English Language Learners through the development of pre-apprenticeship programs and a registered apprenticeship. Occupational focus areas are commercial painting, facilities maintenance, and trowel/block masonry. 

  • Baltimore City will utilize Integrated Education and Training via the I-BEST model to connect adult learners enrolled in WIOA Title II programming with a healthcare career pathway. The project will train individuals to become Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) in partnership with the Baltimore City Fire Department.


Notably, two of the three projects respond to the sizeable role played by English Language Learners in Maryland’s workforce, and the importance of ensuring that such workers have effective on-ramps to occupational training opportunities. National Skills Coalition previously highlighted this issue in our Immigrants and Middle-Skill Jobs in Maryland fact sheet.

While the use of Integrated Education and Training approaches is mandated by WIOA, states and localities have relatively wide latitude in determining the extent to which this model is adopted, the particular type(s) of IET to be implemented, and the number of individuals participating in such programs. The best-known version of IET remains the Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) model developed in Washington State.

(National Skills Coalition has previously documented a range of efforts by state policymakers to support IET that goes beyond what is required under WIOA. Our 50-state scan details the status of such policies in each state, while our state policy toolkit highlights the key elements of a robust IET policy and provides model language that advocates can use in their own states.)

Posted In: Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, Adult Basic Education, Immigration, Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act Implementation, Maryland
New Indiana and Washington state fact sheets: immigrants can help meet demand for middle-skill workers

Two new fact sheets from National Skills Coalition highlight the important role that immigrant workers play in filling middle-skill jobs in Indiana and Washington State.

Since 1990, immigrant populations have more than doubled in both states, demonstrating the growing role that immigrant workers can play in helping the states meet the demand for middle skill workers and respond to local industries’ talent needs.

To meet these demands, states will need to ensure that their talent-development pipelines are inclusive of the many immigrants who are poised to benefit from investments in their skills: 54 percent of adult immigrants in Indiana and 43 percent in Washington have not gone beyond high school in their education.

Indiana: A strong and growing immigrant population presents an opportunity to meet an ambitious postsecondary goal

Indiana has a steadily growing immigrant population.  The state has seen its foreign-born population more than double from 2 percent in 1990 to 5 percent today.

Immigrants in Indiana are much more likely to be of working age:  82 percent are between the ages of 18-64, compared to just 61 percent of native-born residents. Indiana immigrants also have a higher labor force participation rate: 65.2 percent of adult immigrants in Indiana are in the labor force, compared to 63.4 percent of native-born adults.

The state has recently established an ambitious goal for postsecondary attainment: By 2025, Indiana aims to increase the percentage of state residents with a postsecondary degree to 60 percent. Meeting this goal will require investments in skill-building for all Hoosiers, including those born abroad. Indiana has already begun to make such investments through its innovative WorkINdiana program and related activities. NSC’s new fact sheet outlines additional opportunities for the state to consider.  See the fact sheet: Middle-Skill Credentials and Immigrant Workers: Indiana’s Untapped Assets

Washington: A trailblazing state sets an aspirational goal

Washington State is home to a sizeable population of 1 million immigrants, who comprise almost 14 percent of state residents.  As a result, they make up a vital role in Washington’s labor market. This role will continue growing as the immigrant population increases; already, the share of immigrants in the state’s population has had a 100 percent increase – going from 7 percent in 1990 to 14 percent today.

Washington has also set an aggressive goal for postsecondary attainment, aiming to increase the percentage of state residents ages 25-44 with a postsecondary credential to 70 percent by 2023.  This goal will help focus state policy and spending decisions towards middle-skill opportunities.

The demand for middle-skill workers is anticipated to remain strong in Washington, with 42 percent of new job openings expected to be at the middle skill-level. In order for Washington to capitalize on this demand and draw on the full talents and abilities of their residents, the state will need to invest in the skills of native-born and immigrant workers alike.

Already, the state has been a trailblazer in skill-building investments, while at the local level the Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs represents an important partner.  Learn more in our new fact sheet: Middle-Skill Credentials and Immigrant Workers: Washington State’s Untapped Assets.

 

Posted In: Adult Basic Education, Immigration, Indiana, Washington
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