Roadblocks to Workforce Inclusion for Young Adult Immigrants

Charting the Path Forward

Posted December 7, 2022
By Upwardly Global
Get the Full Report:
Download Report
Roadblockstoworkforceinclusion cover 2023


Immigrant young adults represent nearly 10% of foreign-born individuals in America. Amid U.S. workforce shortages in high-demand industries, there is a strong case for public and private philanthropic investment to build immigrant workforce equity and economic mobility.

Young adults under 30 with immigrant backgrounds are eager to learn and acquire new skills but face cultural and systemic barriers on the path to quality employment. This report sheds light on the unique challenges and lived experiences of immigrant young adults seeking to attain economic mobility in the United States.


The report, produced with support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, is based on the input of hundreds of immigrants. Researchers collected 207 survey responses and 10 hours of focus group data from 66 participants.

Barriers Facing Young Immigrant Workers

The data shows that young immigrants face five major roadblocks when navigating the U.S. labor market and pathway to self-sufficiency. These are:

  1. Identifying their place in the U.S. market. 71% of participants had difficulty evaluating which career paths, professional courses or credential evaluations were worth pursuing.
  2. Accessing and leveraging professional networks. 85% of all jobs are filled through networking, but only 50% of study respondents used networking as a job search method.
  3. Communicating about work and workplace skills. While only 22% of participants identified English proficiency as a barrier, 43% asked for targeted support on cultural differences, industry lingo and professional communication.
  4. Possessing little U.S. work experience. Only 17% of study respondents had any U.S. work experience in their field of specialization.
  5. Finding the time for a job search. 65% of study respondents reported having less than five hours per week to look for a job.

Connecting Young Immigrants to Career Opportunities

To develop a successful model for immigrant inclusion, the study recommends:

  • developing labor market-aligned career pathways.
  • shifting employer practices and implementing alternative hiring and work-based learning models.
  • creating opportunities for network-building and development of social capital; and
  • promoting systems change through targeted advocacy and storytelling that elevates the lived experiences of this community.

Findings & Stats

Statements & Quotations

Key Takeaway

Young immigrants are an important asset to the U.S. workforce

Programs and policies that enable young immigrants to find quality jobs must be put into practice or risk employers losing hundreds of millions of dollars in underutilized immigrant talent.

The U.S. workforce is facing shortages in high-demand industries while nearly half of all immigrants hold a college degree. Removing barriers to employment for young immigrants creates greater equity while also helping to create a labor market that meets the needs of both employers and employees.