“They said I was going work like a donkey. I was grateful,” Mannan said. “I wanted the work.”
Mannan’s experience is repeated today among the 5.5 million foreign-born workers in the United States who work evenings, overnights, and weekends, accounting for a quarter of the immigrants in the labor force.
Immigrants are 15.7 percent more likely to work these “off” hours than American-born workers, according to a new study to be released this week. They are 25.2 percent more likely to cover weekend shifts — compared with native-born workers with similar demographic characteristics such as education level, location, and whether they are married or have children.
The report by New American Economy, a national business coalition founded by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, used Bureau of Labor Statistics and census data to analyze the working hours of immigrants compared with their U.S.-born counterparts.
Immigrants are considerably more likely to work unusual hours across a variety of occupations at both the low- and high-skilled ends of the labor spectrum, the report found. Whether it’s stocking shelves at a big-box store or treating patients in the emergency room, immigrants are disproportionately working nights and weekends.
Take a manufacturer that operates a factory 24 hours a day, seven days a week, said Jeremy Robbins, executive director of New American Economy.
“You need workers working overnight,” Robbins said. “If you can’t get people to work overnight, those day jobs aren’t going to exist, either.”
The report comes at a politically charged time in the debate over immigration. President Trump has espoused a “Hire American” rhetoric and promised to limit immigration to those who will most boost the American economy. Congress is also reviewing the merits of various visas, from those that favor wealthy foreign investors to importing high-skilled foreigners and low-wage, seasonal workers.
As unemployment rates have dropped in recent years, some of these factories and farms have had trouble staffing their overnight or early-morning shifts. Labor shortages can limit employers’ ability to expand and have a ripple effect on the economy, the report said.
Plenty of American-born workers also work unusual hours. But they tend to gravitate toward sectors that require English fluency and high levels of customer interaction such as restaurant wait staff, retail sales, or bartending, the report said. Immigrants on night or weekend shifts are more likely to work as janitors and maids, or as construction and agricultural laborers.
Among higher-skilled workers, immigrants play a large role in filling odd-hour jobs in health care, education and library services.
That is especially true among women, who are 24.2 percent more likely than similar American-born women to work such hours. In comparison, immigrant men are 9.6 percent more likely than American-born men to do so.
Immigrant health-care practitioners such as physicians, pharmacists and nurse practitioners are 20.6 percent more likely to work nights and weekends, while immigrant health-care support workers such as nursing assistants, home health aides and orderlies are 16.8 percent more likely to take such shifts.
Mannan was 26 when he arrived in the United States. After six months of working overnight as a gas station cashier, he was rewarded with a day schedule but continued working nights for extra pay. Within a year, he was managing three gas stations for his employer, who also trained him as a mechanic and sponsored his work visa.
“They completely relied on me. All day and night, whatever they needed, I was there,” Mannan said. “I was desperate to make enough money. I came from extreme poverty. I wanted to change my situation, and there was no other way to change it but by working.”
Mannan had been working since the age of 12, selling vegetables in the streets of Pakistan. His mother raised cattle and sold milk. His father had gone to Libya in search of construction work.
Once Mannan received his green card and his employer sold the gas stations and moved overseas, Mannan cobbled together a living working three jobs — collecting urine specimens at a medical center, driving an airport shuttle and delivering car parts for Ford.
Eventually he bought a sedan and started driving for an executive car service — making up to $800 a day, enough money to allow him to quit his other jobs.
“I was sleeping in my car and washing up my face at McDonald’s, and just kept going,” he said.
He started his own car service, and in 2013 also opened a Pakistani-Indian restaurant in downtown Washington, Sakina Halal Grill, named after his late mother. His two businesses provide jobs for more than 30 people.
The 47-year-old father of three sons continues working long hours, filling in as chef, waiter, whatever role needs to be filled when his employees quit, fall ill or take vacations.
He said his success has enabled him to start a school for 200 orphans in Pakistan and provide more than 6,000 meals a year to the homeless in Washington. He welcomes any hungry, homeless person to eat free at his restaurant, serving chicken tandoori and lamb karahi half a mile from the White House.
“I am now part of this American society as an immigrant contributing to this country,” Mannan said. “The majority of immigrants have the same goals — to work hard and bring prosperity to their families. Keep immigration if you want to keep America great.”