The argument for barring immigrants is often an economic one. Trump's supporters argued that immigrants were flooding into less-skilled jobs, working for cheaper wages and putting native workers out of a job — including the white male working-class voters who turned out strongly in favor of Trump.
But new research suggests that picture of U.S. immigration may be changing fast. Analysis from Jed Kolko, chief economist at job search site Indeed, shows that recent immigrants are much more likely to be highly educated and to have found jobs in industries involving computers, mathematics and science than the immigrants who came before them. If these immigrants are taking jobs from natives, those jobs are increasingly likely to be highly skilled and highly paid ones.
Economists debate just how much effect immigration has on local labor markets. Most economists believe that immigration stimulates growth and ends up creating more jobs overall. But some, like George Borjas of Harvard, have argued that immigration does hurt workers in the industries that immigrants tend to enter, especially in times of recession.
If that is the case, then more trends are telling. The U.S. still has a lot of immigrant workers in blue-collar industries, including farming, construction, maintenance and transportation. But the country’s most recent immigrants are more likely to compete with doctors, mathematicians, architects, scientists and computer technicians.
The research uses data from the Census’ American Community Survey, which looks at immigrants who had been in the country for less than five years.
Kolko finds that recent immigrants are much more likely to have a bachelor’s degree than previous generations of immigrants. About half of the immigrants 25 and older in 2015 who arrived in the U.S. in the last five years had a bachelor’s degree, up from roughly one-third of those who arrived between 2006 and 2010 and 27 percent of those who arrived in 2005 or earlier.
That means recent immigrants are more educated overall than native-born U.S. adults, only 31 percent of whom have a bachelor’s degree.
Recent immigrants are also much more likely to come from Asia compared with previous waves. Among immigrants who came to the U.S. in the past five years, one-third were born in Latin America, and 12 percent in Mexico. That's down from previous years: Looking at the U.S. immigrant population overall, half of those 25 and older were born in Latin America and 27 percent were born in Mexico, Kolko says.
The decline in immigrants from Latin America has been offset by a surge from Asia. In the past five years, 45 percent of immigrants to the U.S. were born in Asia, especially India, China and the Philippines. Among the overall U.S. immigrant population, those born in Asia make up only 30 percent.
Immigrants with more education naturally end up doing very different kinds of work. The occupations in which recent immigrants are more prevalent include medical scientists, software developers, physical scientists, economists and market researchers, followed by personal appearance workers like manicurists and agricultural workers, the report says.
They also settle in different places. More immigrants have flooded into cities like San Jose, New York, San Francisco, Washington, Boston, Seattle and Dallas, relatively expensive cities that offer more professional jobs.
Overall, immigrants still account for about half of all farming, forestry and fishing jobs, about a third of all buildings and grounds cleaning and maintenance workers, and 28 percent of construction workers. In manufacturing, immigrants make up 23 percent of workers. But increasingly immigrants also make up a high share of workers in computer and mathematical industries, as well as life, physical and social sciences.
The Indeed research doesn’t explore exactly why this has happened, but other publications and papers point to a variety of factors.
Under the Obama administration, authorities moved toward a deportation system that focused on formal removals and immigration-related criminal charges, which likely had more serious consequences on those who were sent back than the informal returns that were used before, according to a report by the Migration Policy Institute. The U.S. government also greatly expanded expedited removal by enforcement officers, rather than waiting for immigration judges to make the decision.
At the same time, the U.S. has seen a massive influx in immigrants from China, India and other Asian countries. Marc Rosenblum, deputy director of U.S. immigration policy at MPI, has attributed the change to rising income from Asian countries. In recent years, booming economies in China, India and elsewhere have given people the means to immigrate to the U.S., either legally or illegally.
On top of that, the U.S. tech sector has boomed, attracting more highly skilled workers from around the globe. These highly educated workers are less likely to have come to the U.S. illegally, and more likely to have taken advantage of temporary work programs like the H1-B visa.
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