Recently announced federal immigration policy changes will have a more powerful economic payoff if policymakers act to address key gaps in the adult education and workforce systems.
That’s the message of NSC’s new report, Missing in Action: Job-Driven Educational Pathways for Unauthorized Youth and Adults. The report focuses on a subset of the more than 40 million immigrants in the US today: Those who are currently unauthorized, and of working age. There are about 7.6 million such individuals in the American labor force.
There have been several federal efforts to address segments of this population. These include:
- The proposed DREAM Act legislation in Congress, which has been repeatedly introduced over the past 13 years but has not yet been enacted
- The Obama administration’s 2012 executive action, known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA)
- The recently announced 2014 executive action, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA)
While each policy proposal has distinctive features, they share a common interest in facilitating the economic contributions of immigrant workers
For example, DACA provides a temporary two-year work authorization for eligible young immigrants. This is a potentially powerful tool in helping formerly unauthorized workers move out of the so-called “informal economy” into formal employment and family-sustaining wages.
However, in order to be granted DACA status, applicants must possess a high school diploma or GED, or be currently enrolled in school or a qualifying educational program. (This latter category typically includes state or federally funded GED, ESL, or vocational training courses, among others.
A full 20% (426,000) of those who were otherwise eligible for DACA did not meet these educational criteria, according to estimates from the Migration Policy Institute.
As a result, both individual immigrants and our broader society aren’t benefitting from the full potential of DACA.
One solution: Increasing federal funding for high quality, employment-focused adult education services, which currently serve only a fraction of low-skilled adults.
There are other policy challenges. Most notable is the fact that individuals are ineligible for federally funded workforce services (known as WIOA Title I) until they are work-authorized. Research indicates that the most effective programs for low-skilled immigrants are those that integrate basic skills and occupational training, such as the well-known I-BEST model.
However, because most integrated programs are funded by braiding together WIOA Title I and Title II funds, they are unable to serve immigrants who do not yet have work authorization. This creates a catch-22 in which unauthorized immigrants – who could contribute substantially more to their families and communities if they had access to skills training – are unable to access the very services that would be most effective.
Check out the full report to read more about these issues, and watch for additional NSC updates on this timely issue in the weeks to come.