Highly Skilled Workers Now Dominate Immigrant Labor, Study Finds

Thursday, 09 Jun 2011 01:51 PM

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Highly skilled temporary and permanent foreign residents now dominate immigrant labor in the United States, which some say may call for a rethinking of the immigration issue. The shift away from low-skilled foreign workers was documented in a Brookings Institution report that examined census data, The Washington Post reported.

The report found that, regardless of legal status, 30 percent of working-age immigrants have at least a bachelor’s degree, while 28 percent lack a high school diploma. The shift, which has been three decades in the making, reflects the changing face of the American workplace from one based on manufacturing to one based on information and technology, the Post reported.

Benjamin Johnson, executive director of the American Immigration Council advocacy group, said, “Too often, the immigration debate is driven by images on television of people jumping over fences. The debate has been stuck in the idea that it’s all about illegal and low-skilled workers.”

However, Steven Camarota, with the Center for Immigration Studies that advocates for tighter immigration restrictions, told the Post, “It seems, based on this and other studies, that we’ve got an oversupply of highly skilled workers coming into this country. New college graduates are faring very poorly on the labor market, and what the report is telling us is that we’re bringing in a high number of workers to compete with them.”

The study based its findings on the Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey, along with information from the bureau’s Current Population Survey dating back to 1980. Causes for the rise in better-educated immigrants include the recent rise in the number of international students and of temporary H-1B visas that generally require a bachelor’s degree, the Post reported.

The more skilled workers are arriving from places such as India, China, and the Philippines. However, many face significant hurdles when they arrive because of poor language skills and academic credentials not recognized here. Half of the highly skilled are working in jobs they are overqualified for, the study found.

Many, such as those in the medical professions, must spend years being recertified before being allowed to work in their chosen fields in the United States, the Post reported.

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