Labor force characteristics
- While immigrants make up 13% of the overall immigrant population (41.3 million), immigrant workers comprise 17% of the American workforce. (National Skills Coalition and Workforce Data Quality Campaign, Workforce Program Data & Immigrants FAQs, 2016)
- About 13.7 million LEP (Limited English Proficient) individuals participate annually in four federal workforce programs programs: Dept. of Labor’s Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Title I, Dept. of Education’s WIOA title II, Dept. of Education’s Career and Technical Education, and Dept. of Health and Human Services’ Refugee Matching Grant Program (National Skills Coalition and Workforce Data Quality Campaign, Workforce Program Data & Immigrants FAQs, 2016)
- Nearly 81% of about 1,800 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients surveyed in 2015 were employed, and 80% reported that they’re more likely to reach career goals since DACA’s implementation. 76% of respondents had obtained a new job since DACA’s enactment, and 52% had secured a higher-paying job since then. (United We Dream, A Portrait of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Recipients: Challenges and Opportunities Three Years Later, 2015)
- In 2007, 15 percent of all college graduates in the U.S. labor force were immigrants. Of the 41.8 million college educated in the labor force age 25 and older, 15.4% or 6.5 million were immigrants. (US Census Bureau’s 2007 American Community Survey, Migration Policy Institute’s Migration Information Source)
- In 2007, one in four of the 6.5 million college-educated immigrants in the U.S. labor force was limited English proficient (LEP), reporting that they speak English less than “very well.” (U.S. Census Bureau’s 2007 American Community Survey, Migration Policy Institute’s Migration Information Source).
Labor force growth—past and projected
- Between 1970 and 2008, the percentage of foreign-born workers in the U.S. civilian labor force nearly tripled, from 5.3% to 15.7%. Over the same period, the percent of foreign born in the total population grew from 4.8% to 12.5%. (U.S. Census Bureau’s 2008 American Community Survey, Migration Policy Institute’s Migration Information Source)
- Immigrants constituted virtually half of the net increase in the size of the American workforce in the 1990s, and they are expected to constitute most of the net growth in the next few decades. (Background Briefing Prepared for Taskforce on Immigration and America’s Future, Pew Hispanic Center, 2005; 2004 Census 2004 Current Population Survey data, as cited in Passing the Torch: Strategies for Innovation in Community College ESL, Council for Advancement of Adult Literacy, 2007)
- During the next decade, one out of every four new workers in the United States will be an immigrant from Latin America. (Calculated from U.S. Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates, from Building Tomorrow’s Workforce Fact Sheet, Corporation for a Skilled Workforce, 2007)
- Of the 23.1 million civilian employed foreign born age 16 and older in 2008, 28.1% worked in management, professional, and related occupations; 23.4% worked in service occupations; 18.0% worked in sales and office occupations; 1.9% worked in farming, fishing, and forestry occupations; and 12.5% worked in construction, extraction, and maintenance occupations. (U.S. Census Bureau’s 2008 American Community Survey, Migration Policy Institute’s Migration Information Source)
- While immigrants accounted for 15 percent of the entire US college-educated labor force in 2007, their numbers were much higher among workers in certain occupations. Immigrants represented nearly 27 percent of physicians, more than 34 percent of computer software engineers, and over 42 percent of medical scientists. (U.S. Census Bureau’s 2007 American Community Survey, Migration Policy Institute’s Migration Information Source)
Underutilization of skills in the U.S. labor market
Research from the Migration Policy Institute documents the “brain waste”—unrealized returns not only to immigrants and their families but to the nation as a whole—when the skills and talents of college-educated immigrants are underutilized in the U.S. labor market. The following data points, from MPI’s 2008 report Uneven Progress: The Employment Pathways of Skilled Immigrants in the United States by Jeanne Batalova and Michael Fix, with Peter A. Creticos, illustrate that highly skilled immigrants’ occupational experiences in this country vary, depending on English language ability, place of education, time spent in the United States, and immigrants’ country of origin:
- More than 1.3 million highly skilled immigrants are unemployed or working in unskilled jobs such as dishwashers, security guards, and taxi drivers—representing one of every five highly skilled immigrants in the U.S. labor force.
- Highly skilled immigrants (defined as immigrant adults with at least a bachelor’s degree) who were limited English proficient were twice as likely to work in unskilled jobs in 2005-06 than those who were proficient.
- Legal permanent residents with U.S. college degrees were three times more likely to work in high-skilled jobs than those with a foreign degree.
- Longer residence in the United States was associated with improved labor market outcomes for all immigrant groups. In nearly all instances, long-term immigrants were less likely to be in low-skilled jobs than their recently arrived counterparts. Nevertheless, about 35 percent of Latin Americans who had been in the United States for 11 or more years were still working in unskilled jobs.
- Highly skilled European and Asian immigrants’ rates of underutilization were about the same as those of natives. However, highly skilled Latin American and African immigrants fared worse. About 44% of recent immigrants from Latin America and about a third (33%) of African foreign-educated immigrants were working in unskilled jobs in 2005-06. In addition, African-born immigrants had the highest unemployment rates of all foreign-born groups.