The future role of skilled immigrants

Anti-immigration sentiment in the U.S., I believe, feeds off a decaying narrative of immigrants who don’t integrate into the mainstream. Here is the main reason this narrative is on life support: immigrant and U.S. born workforces are rapidly integrating. By 2030, I expect there will be a very close match in skill level.

Immigration during the great wave since the 1970s until the 200os was decidedly hour-glass in profile: some highly skilled, few the average skills, many with no formal education. This has clearly shifted in the past ten years. We will see more consistency in the workforce between U.S. born and foreign-born workers.

Recent immigrants (say, for the past 5 – 10 years) have been more formally educated than those before. This is in large measure due to a surge in immigration from Asia, as immigration from Mexico subsided. This is further confirmation that immigrant workers are matching more closely to the skill profile of U.S. born workers.

In 2018, 34% of immigrants ages 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree or more education, up from 22% in 1995. The share of U.S. born persons 25 years or older with a college degree in 2018 was 33%.

The formal education deficit of immigrants has always been heavily influenced by large numbers of Hispanic immigrants with little formal education. But even that is changing. The total profile of formal education in Latin America has improved.

Pew Research notes that even among Mexicans, formal education of immigrants has sharply improved. Looking at recent (five years) immigrants, in 2010, 9% of Mexicans had at least a college degree but 17% had one in 2018. College education among Central American country immigrants remains very low (for El Salvadorians, 8%). But the distribution of recent Hispanic immigrations has shifted to source countries whose immigrants have higher college attainment (Dominican Republic, 22%; Cuba, 29%).

In 2018, 33% of U.S. adults ages 25 and older had at least a bachelor’s degree, 7 percentage points higher than recently arrived Latino immigrants. In 1990, by comparison, there was an 11-point gap.


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