A Toolkit for ESL Practitioners: Supporting Skilled Immigrants

The toolkit addresses the challenge of properly serving the skilled immigrant population and introduces solutions to some of the most pressing problems this group experiences; it introduces best practices from the field and a directory of successful programs dedicated to serving the needs of skilled immigrants.

Marilyn Rymniak
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Global Talent Bridge - An Initiative of World Education Services
Publication Year
Resource Type
Informational Material
Number of Pages

Community-based adult programs generally lack the resources to focus on the skilled immigrant population. Despite this, there are some important efforts being made to highlight the issue of “brain waste” and promote targeted and effective interventions that can help educated immigrants find pathways to success in the U.S.

This toolkit provides ESL practitioners – as well other direct service providers such as intake counselors, job developers, counselors and program managers – with strategies, lesson ideas and resources for designing and improving outcomes in improving English language skills.  In addition, the toolkit includes essential information, resources and guidelines they can use to offer more effective support to their skilled immigrant students and clients. It may also prove useful to city, state and federal policy makers interested in immigrant integration.

This manual will help equip practitioners with an understanding of how to more effectively help skilled immigrants navigate the complex educational system and career pathways to success in the U.S. 


Required Training


What the experts say

A Toolkit for ESL Practitioners: Supporting Skilled Immigrants is useful for adult education practitioners who work with highly-skilled immigrants in their programs including program administrators, case managers, career counselors, and all teachers. It could be used as part of a study circle where they discuss and implement its suggestions in their programs and in their individual classrooms, or by individual practitioners. This resource could be a focus of program improvement for an ESL program. It could also be drawn upon by professional development staff for various types of professional development activities offered either face-to-face or online, or planning curricula. The resourceis organized into six chapters which cover a range of issues related to working with this unique population. All of these materials are relevant to adult educators who work with highly-skilled immigrants; some sections will be most relevant to program administrators and career coaches while others will be most relevant to ESL teachers.

In Chapter 1, the author provides statistical information about the numbers of highly-skilled immigrants and the work they are currently engaged in. A chart illustrating how long it can take individuals to enter a career that matches their training and how much it can cost provides practitioners and immigrants with useful information. Importantly, the text emphasizes that highly-skilled immigrants do not need to obtain a high school equivalency diploma (e.g., a GED) nor do they need to start their university training over again. Their credentials are recognized by nearly all institutions of higher education. The four scenarios presented in Chapter 2 illustrate some of the common problems faced by highly-skilled immigrants and suggest some practical ideas for addressing these challenges. The scenarios highlight an Iraqi engineer, an accountant from Guinea, a Cuban doctor, and a diplomat’s daughter from Venezuela. A realistic scenario is presented for each and a set of questions is posed. Practitioners are encouraged to think through how they would advise the particular individual. The guide then highlights what some of the issues are and what advice would be most helpful in each situation.

In Chapter 3, a contextualized approach to instruction is recommended, with English courses designed around adults’ specific career goals. Vocational ESL and English for Specific Purposes are offered as models. The resource suggests that links to curriculum for English for Medical Purposes, English for Law, English for Business and Economics, and English for Science and Technology can be easily found through an internet search. Also useful are the adult ESL classroom strategies and lesson ideas. A Lexical Approach is recommended so that instruction is focused on commonly used language chunks (or phrases) in particular work settings versus a focus on single words. Chapter 4 offers an overview of some of the most successful models from across the United States. The programs featured include the Welcome Back Initiative, which focuses specifically on health careers and offers a curriculum, the English Health Train, some of which is available for free online, and the I-BEST model from Washington state, which pairs an adult educator and a content teacher in community college classrooms. Two curricular resources are highlighted including the Integrating Career Awareness into ABE and ESOL Classrooms and the Spring Institute’s specialized curriculum designed to train visiting professionals from abroad.

Chapter 5 features ideas for how to advocate for highly-skilled immigrants in the classroom, among practitioners as well as in the community at large. The author notes that ESL practitioners are literally on the front lines and are, therefore, most knowledgeable of the issues highly-skilled immigrants face. A list of recommendations is outlined in this chapter, including providing proper guidance and support through case management, and working with employers and other partners in the community as well as with private foundations. In Chapter 6, a list of references and other useful resources related to working with highly-skilled immigrants is provided in this final chapter. Web links to the leading organizations in the field are provided. Other resources featured include information related to educational counseling, employment, professional licensing, credential evaluation, data and research, and a wide range of materials and resources relevant to ESL programming and teaching.

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