The Saga of An Underemployed Immigrant: An Update


Ana, who used to be my mentee in one of the non profit organizations based in NYC is no longer among the more than 10 million jobless Americans (BLS data shows a 6.7% unemployment rate as of April 2014). While she had learned to accept the stark reality that her acquired professional designation in her home country and the high-profile nature of her career did not open a wide range of career opportunities for her in the city like NYC, she did not rest and quit.  Instead, she shared her knowledge by teaching special kids while doing her career exploration.

Due to hard work and extremely positive attitude, she recently managed to get the job of a Mathematics professor in one of NYC’s universities, which she considered a blessing as the subject matter is what she truly loves!

To Ana, I wish you success  in your chosen career and definitely there will be more wonderful adventures in your life.


I met Ana from Bulgaria in one of the mentor-mentee training sessions organized by a non-profit organization dealing with employment related issues. Ana has been in the U.S. as an immigrant for 4 years now and is still looking for a “good” job in a dynamic city like NYC. I would say Ana is both academically competent and functionally well-equipped. She obtained her PhD in engineering and held senior technical job positions in the same and related fields in her homeland for many years. Her work experience is exceptional and she speaks German, English and her native language fluently.

Ana embarked on a trip to US, leaving her native land  to pursue her lucrative career with the end goal of becoming a successful engineer in the U.S. someday. She was convinced that the U.S. is the place flowing with “milk and honey” and where she could hone more her talent and expertise and eventually realize her dreams. As soon as she arrived, she started scouting for jobs, applying for various positions at different offices, sending out resumes and joining in social networking clubs. She managed to grab a couple of interviews but the agony of counting the days, months, and years passing by with no positive results was too frustrating and demoralizing on her part. As a matter of fact, she even took the advice to diversify, develop her other skills, explore all possible options to the extent of investing money and time to expand her horizons and to spruce it all up, so to speak. She undertook preliminary licensure examinations for teachers, so she can land in a teaching job as an option, regardless of education level, particularly in math related subjects. She came to a point where she thought her identity was in crisis, began to lose hope on her engineering career and had even contemplated to stop sending out CVs to prospective employers. But she’s not a full blown loser, she still believes that she’ll get what she desires in due time. I don’t have to elaborate on how she’s managing  to survive with NY’s high standard of living, particularly in the Manhattan area where rental fees for a one bedroom cramped apartment is relatively exorbitant. One could only surmise that what she’s doing now for a living may  be considered “odd” but dignified, however not the kind of job she’s dreaming for and definitely not the job that’s commensurate to her qualifications.

So, what’s wrong? Where did she get wrong? Why can’t she find a good job with all the stellar qualifications and glowing references on hand? Believe me, these could also be the series of questions boggling the minds of thousands of competent and bright “unemployed”/ “underemployed” immigrants originating from all corners of the globe who are trying to penetrate and understand the upper U.S. labor market.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with Ana. I told her, “it’s the economy” chummy! She could just be one of the victims of the economic recession in the U.S. which started a couple of years back. It was just unfortunate that she came to the U.S. at a time when recession was budding, about few months upon her arrival. As such, her great professional track record guaranteed her nothing during those times. It  is no longer a brain race anymore, the real score is that most of the financial and multinational institutions and high paying companies are stocked in trade: it’s either they were obligated not to get new entrants under the stimulus act or they have adopted the so-called wait-and-see attitude, which is taking long years already, and that’s the bad news.

Specifically for U.S. immigrants, underemployment and unemployment are mounting concerns during economic hard times. Jobs aren’t offered to applicants on a silver platter; it doesn’t come easily especially during recession when companies are edgy about their ROIs which made them decide to freeze hiring and stop recruiting new faces. Job hunting activities for immigrants are no funny as well. Competition is stiff as they have to contend with the American citizens who are equally qualified as they are but are also struggling to get their means of living in these difficult times. Hence, this situation adds more to the emotional, physical and financial stresses which some immigrants are facing nowadays. So, is there still hope for underemployed and unemployed professional immigrants like Ana to get a decent high paying job in the future?

The job scenario continues to be bleak based on recounts of U.S.-based economists. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) latest data shows an unemployment rate of 9.5% (2010 data)  which means that it hasn’t change much, indicative that the recession in the US has never really ended. Even for the American youths (16 to 24 year olds) , BLS data showed a 19.1% , the highest unemployment rate on record since 1948. One economist even emphasized in a forum that the end of recession in the U.S. is not in the offing. She further mentioned that the U.S. economy could suffer slow growth and high unemployment for more long years as a result of the global economic crisis and the collapse of the housing market. Such dismal outlook may not be in consonance with the U.S. Government, specifically the President’s program to create 3.7 million jobs under the American Reconstruction and Reconciliation Act of 2009 or the so-called Stimulus Act. The present Government could have underestimated the problem from the very beginning. The dismal forecast of some of the economists could possibly be valid as based on a report released by a member of the House Committee of the Ways and Means, a total of 2.6 million jobs have been lost from the time the said bill was enacted into law, thereby not meeting the targets of creating million jobs as espoused in the stimulus bill.  Such report does not provide much hopes  to the newly graduates who are very much excited to land in a job and to the laid-off employees who are as desperate to go back into the workforce.

The said unpromising job scenario  hit ordinary immigrants like Ana as she had difficulty in getting better opportunities as far as her career is concerned. While job sites often publish job openings everyday, it is very seldom that one could hear a story about company hiring back workers or getting new applicants on a full-time basis. Rather, what is clear and evident is that there were companies which have been closed and there are companies that are about to close and stop its operations due to the current crisis. Thus, there is no sign that permanent jobs in the U.S. will either pick up soon or in the near future.

However, BLS  projects that total employment will increase by 10% (or will create 15.3 million jobs) within a span of 8 years, until 2018. But the said jobs will not be evenly distributed among the major industries and that  the said job creation is still dependent on various factors (e.g. changes in consumer demand, improvements in technology) which are crucial in the employment structure of the U.S. economy.

I would say, Ana and other similarly situated immigrants should remain hopeful in the U.S. Government. Just like any recessions in the past, it will have its ending- it will be over, hopefully soon. With a Divine miracle perhaps, it is possible. Recent survey of a sample of respondents conducted by an online magazine owned by one of the top search engines reveal a slight improvement, but not bright. Overall, 36% of the respondents have been employed in a job that suits their skills while 22% have been underemployed in a job that neither meet their skills nor salary needs and the rest have been unemployed for a certain period of time.

I spoke with Ana lately and she is definitely not taking a lackadaisical approach on her quest for her American dream, “no matter how hopeless, no matter how far”! As a matter of fact, she has learned to accept the cheerless facts and instead  decided to make use of her talents by volunteering and tutoring ‘special” kids.  According to her, this new endeavor gave her the chance to give back the blessings she received before and a time to appreciate life even more.  She said maybe it will take another time to put everything in place, to have a “good life”. She’s still very much optimistic and confident that she’ll realize her American dream someday!

Note: Please fee free to share your thoughts on this.


8 thoughts on “The Saga of An Underemployed Immigrant: An Update”

  1. I believe that patience and hard work provide good results at the end of the day, just like what Ana did. She got a decent job which she actually loves. I also admire people who served as mentors even to older professional immigrants who face difficulty in looking for the right jobs for them or those who couldn’t find any job at all.So, kudos to you and the rest of the mentors worldwide. Thanks alot : ) for your blog post.

  2. That is correct, there is no wasted time for immigrants who is determined to succeed. Ana’s experience is not an isolated case, many of immigrants have likewise encountered such unfortunate situation, having difficulty in finding the right job for them. But what Ana did volunteering her services to teach American kids is something noble. A very inspiring story of an immigrant, indeed!

  3. Yes, there is always a shining light at the end of the tunnel. Even if it took a long time for Ana to reach what she’d love to do, her patience and hard work were all worth it. Work, work. Work is what each one of us needs regardless of what kind it is as long as it makes us happy. Great job, Ana!

  4. I have been in the U.S. twice and with my short temp stay it was easy for me to look for a decent job and brought home my earnings!

  5. Hi, I think your friend must be choosy as far as job searching. I can understand her frustration because I experienced it myself. But I grabbed whatever was available.

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