A woman holding an umbrella appears to float through the air in front of a wooden wall as she smiles and looks to the future.

2023 Predictions: What’s on the Horizon for Language Access and Interpreting Services

Right now we’re wishing we had a crystal ball to help us forecast 2023. Instead, we’ll have to rely on our industry data and expertise to predict what’s ahead for the language industry. 

So we asked CLI pros in Interpreter Services, Interpreter Recruitment, Operations . . . all the way up to our CEO.

Here’s what they’re thinking about for 2023: 

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Which Languages Will Be in Higher Demand in 2023

CLI expects 2023 to be busier than ever, and our Interpreter Recruitment Department is ramping up our pool of interpreters to make sure we’re prepared. As businesses find new markets, and as the number of new refugees continues to rise, the need to connect with residents, customers, and patients in more languages will soar. 

“We watch world events very closely and plan ahead in case there’s a world crisis.”

— Harry Hyun, Interpreter Recruiting Manager

For example, we continue to see increases in requests for Russian and Ukrainian since the conflict broke out in Europe. So we’re always recruiting in those languages to make sure we have plenty of interpreters available.

In addition to Russian and Ukrainian, for our main language groups, we’re focusing our interpreter recruitment on:

  • Arabic 
  • Amharic
  • Cantonese
  • Haitian Creole
  • Mandarin
  • French
  • Portuguese
  • Spanish
  • Tigrinya

See also: All 230+ available languages for telephone interpreting

To support our growing demand for video interpreting services, we’ll be adding video interpreters, particularly in Spanish and American Sign Language (ASL), our two most frequently requested languages. 

Refugee Resettlement Efforts Will Predict Language Demand

A professor and five students with big smiles and thumbs up stand in front of a chalkboard full of resettlement calculations.

In September, President Biden signed the Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2023. In it, he set a target of 125,000 refugee admissions, with the following breakdown:

  •  Africa: 40,000 refugees
  •  East Asia: 15,000 refugees
  •  Europe and Central Asia: 15,000 refugees
  •  Latin America/Caribbean: 15,000 refugees
  •  Near East/South Asia: 35,000 refugees
  •  Unallocated Reserve: 5,000 refugees

It’s worth noting that this reflects the same target previously set for 2022. Last year, the U.S. didn’t even come close to meeting it. According to the Refugee Processing Center (RPC), the U.S. only admitted 25,465 refugees during FY 2022. We hope to see the country welcoming refugees at much higher rates in the coming year. 

If that happens, we expect to see many more refugees from the following countries:

  • Afghanistan
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Ethiopia
  • Guatemala
  • Myanmar
  • Sudan
  • Syria
  • Ukraine
  • Venezuela

In preparation, we’re increasing interpreters in languages spoken by individuals from those countries. We want to make sure they can get the language support they’ll need when they arrive. If Title 42 is lifted, we also expect the U.S. will see more asylum seekers from Haiti, Honduras, and El Salvador. We’ll continue to track those developments.

Programs Bringing Refugees into the U.S.

Also important to consider: Refugee data from the RPC only includes individuals who arrived through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). A few other programs bring in additional populations of refugees. For example, Operation Allies Welcome (OAW) welcomed thousands more Afghans via the Afghan Placement and Assistance (APA) program

The Uniting for Ukraine (U4U) program supports Ukrainians who have been displaced from their homes due to the war. It provides a pathway for Ukrainian citizens to come to the U.S. and stay for a temporary 2-year period. The APA and U4U programs mean that the number of Afghan and Ukrainian refugees was significantly higher than what was reported through the RPC.

Read more: CLI’s Monthly Language & Immigration Trends

The Future of Technology in Language Services

Like it or not, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) is going to expand.

“Analyzing data quickly to identify trends is the key. That way we can have interpreters at the ready when they’re needed.”

— Jacob Dillon, Chief Operations Officer

Jacob expects AI tools to play a growing role in predictive analytics — and that includes in the language industry. The translation sector already embraces computer-assisted translation. We’ll likely see more AI tools assisting with behind-the-scenes support for things like complex data projections and more efficiently routing connections to remote interpreters. 

Video Interpreting Will See Growth Outside of Healthcare 

A banker holds a virtual meeting with a client through a laptop with the help of a video interpreter.

In 2023, we expect to see broader adoption of video interpreting, and not only in the healthcare sector. Other industries like banks and retail stores are beginning to seize the chance to improve customer service by offering face-to-face interactions with video interpreters. 

And within healthcare, we anticipate that video interpreting will be integrated more widely with telemedicine platforms. 

Making Telehealth Platforms More Accessible with Interpreting Services

There are more than 300 unique telehealth platforms on the market. But we’re not aware of any that were designed with language access in mind from the get-go. Considering that 20% of the population here in the U.S. speaks a language other than English at home, the lack of equitable access to services is a problem. 

While some telehealth platforms have addressed this issue, many haven’t. There’s a lot of work to be done on this front in the new year, and we hope to see more telehealth solutions step up to the challenge. 

Read more: The Importance of Language Access to Telehealth Utilization

State and Federal Language Access Laws to Watch

Two lawmakers smile and shake hands after deciding on a final rule for Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act.

Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)

On a national level, we’re paying close attention to the forthcoming final rule for implementing Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In August 2022, the U.S. Office for Civil Rights issued new proposed regulations. The public was given a chance to submit comments in October about the proposed rule, Nondiscrimination in Health Programs and Activities

Along with other organizations and individuals, CLI submitted recommendations. Given our investment in language access, we focused our comments on those components of the proposed rule.

HHS is currently considering the public comments. They plan to publish the new final rule in what we expect will be early 2023. The rule will then be effective 60 days post-publication, and we do anticipate legal challenges ahead. 

Whatever the outcome, we’ll keep our clients in the loop and help them navigate the new regulations. 

Read more: What You Need to Know about Language Access and Section 1557

Oregon House Bill 2359

2023 will also bring to a head, at least in Oregon, the drive for using state-mandated healthcare certified/qualified interpreters. 

Of course we’re talking about Oregon House Bill 2359.

Simply put: HB 2359 is legislation that requires healthcare interpreters providing their services for Oregon-based medical facilities to be qualified or certified by the state of Oregon. 

The part that applies to interpreters providing services in person went into effect on July 1, 2022. Telephone interpreting and video interpreting are excluded from these requirements for the first year — that is, until July 1, 2023. 

Currently there is a serious shortfall of approved interpreters listed on the Oregon Health Care Interpreter Registry. More than 1 million remote healthcare interpreting encounters take place each year in Oregon — and in more than 120 languages. Thousands of interpreters conduct these sessions from locations across the U.S. and, for some LSPs, from other countries. 

So far, collective efforts have done little to increase the number of Oregon qualified/certified interpreters to a level even close to being able to support the interpreting work presently done in the state. It’s not possible to require that all interpreters providing remote services to Oregon health systems become certified by the state. Interpreters will simply choose not to service Oregon-based healthcare entities.

If HB 2359 becomes law, we believe Oregon’s large population of people with limited English proficiency will lose vital access to interpreters. And other states could follow suit. 

CLI’s CEO, Kristin Quinlan, helped form a coalition of language service providers (LSPs) that provide services in the state. Kristin, along with this coalition, regularly attends Oregon Health Authority (OHA) meetings and has voiced our concerns. Among them: The fact that many of the requirements for the registry are unworkable for indigenous languages.

We’re also working with hospitals and healthcare systems in Oregon to shed light on the reality of mandating all interpreting encounters (regardless of whether they take place in person or remotely) to be conducted by an Oregon qualified or certified interpreter.

As we move towards the July 2023 deadline, we’re doing our best to get remote interpreting removed permanently from this law.

“We see this as essential to improving access to qualified healthcare interpreters for non-English-speaking patients statewide.”

— Kristin Quinlan, CEO

Read more: Answers to Your Top 5 Questions about Oregon House Bill 2359

What Language Advocacy Will Look Like Over the Next Year

Two small children have fun drawing on the pavement with chalk together.

CEO Kristin Quinlan serves as co-chair of the Advocacy and Standards committee in the Association of Language Companies (ALC). 

Some of the initiatives the committee is working on include:

  • Preserving Independent Contractor Status for Interpreters and Translators: The majority of professional interpreters and translators work as independent contractors. They choose to keep this status, which offers them more flexibility, independence, and the ability to work with multiple LSPs. We want to protect their right to choose and ensure they’re being classified accurately. 
  • Gaining More Resources for Language Access Services in Healthcare: Access to interpreters and translated health info is a medical necessity. We’re looking to secure federal funding for language access in healthcare.
  • Better Investment in Language Access Programs in Education: Currently there’s no funding for or standardization of language access programs in education. We’re working to change that, because students and their families should have equal access to education — no matter what language they speak.

In her role, Kristin also oversees the ALC’s Language Access Coalition. This group’s primary initiatives for 2023:

  • Educate and empower various ethnic communities nationwide about their legal rights to language access.
  • Connect with other organizations working on or involved in legislative efforts and the education of service providers in healthcare, courts, schools, etc.

More than anything, CLI believes that access to language services is a basic human right. We’re excited to see what this advocacy will accomplish in 2023! 

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