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Why refugee doctors become taxi drivers
06:18 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Refugees and immigrants who were doctors in their home countries face barriers to practicing in the US

Advocates worry that restrictions make it hard to address the US regional doctor shortage

CNN  — 

Layla Sulaiman, an Iraqi refugee, didn’t choose to come to the United States. It was chosen for her.

“We applied to United Nations, and we just wanted any place to resettle and to be safe,” she said.

It wasn’t safe for her in Iraq, where there was violence in the streets. Still, she served as a primary care OB/GYN for 17 years before she left in 2007. She now lives in Erie, Pennsylvania, with her husband and the youngest of their three daughters.

In this country, her medical license is no longer valid.

“I miss being a doctor. I miss it so much,” said 51-year-old Sulaiman. “I (was) never meant to be a housewife.”

Sulaiman is one of many refugees – though no one knows exactly how many – who practiced medicine in their home countries. Many are now in low-skilled jobs, driving taxis and working in grocery stores.

Underutilizing the skills of immigrants and refugees amounts to tens of billions of dollars in unearned wages that could be pumped back into the US economy, according to an analysis by the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.