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Doctors as taxi drivers: Untapped immigrant talent costs U.S. billions: research

By Sebastien Malo

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Nearly 2 million immigrants with college degrees in the United States are out of work or in low-skilled jobs at a cost of billions of dollars in tax revenue every year, researchers said on Wednesday calling for "smarter" immigration policy.

In a report Washington DC-based thinktank Migration Policy Institute (MPI) said college-educated immigrants employed in low-skilled jobs miss out on more than $39 billion in wages.

As a result, government loses out on more than $10 billion in taxes it would have otherwise collected, according to the report which MPI says offers the first-ever estimates of the economic costs of "brain waste".

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"(It's) the old, familiar story of doctors driving taxicabs," said Michael Fix, MPI president and a co-author of the report jointly published by U.S.-based non-profits New American Economy and World Education Services.

Nationwide, the federal government amassed $1.5 trillion from individual income taxes in the 2015 fiscal year, according to the Pew Research Center, a Washington DC-based thinktank.

Fix said "brain waste" was a concern with a rapidly increasing share of immigrants arriving in the United States holding at least a bachelor's degree.

The country attracts the largest number of immigrants in the world but many fail to get employment matching their qualifications due to factors such as a foreign education, the report said.

It also identified ethnicity, country of origin and proficiency in English as issues contributing to "brain waste".

For example, nearly half of foreign-educated Mexican immigrants in the United States are underemployed or unemployed, the report said.

"As the immigrant workforce becomes ever more educated it only makes sense to try to fully leverage their talents," Fix said in a statement.

Immigrants in the United States numbered some 41 million people in 2015, about 13 percent of the country's population of 321 million, according to U.S. Census data.

The report's findings come a month after Donald Trump won the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election, promising mass deportations of undocumented migrants among other issues. [nL1N1DV2A5]

"The economy takes a hit in every case where a high-skilled immigrant is underemployed or can't find work," said John Feinblatt, chairman of New American Economy in a statement.

"Smarter immigration policy can help connect workers of every background to jobs that match their skill sets — and make the economy stronger for all of us."

(Reporting by Sebastien Malo, Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)