As the global economy has taken a turn for the worse, immigration has become an increasingly important topic of discussion and debate both in the United States and abroad. There is often widespread public opinion that immigrants take jobs away from citizens or that they depress wages by accepting low pay. The reality is more complicated than this and where you stand on the issue often depends on what country you’re in.
For example, it is widely believed that immigrants are at the heart of the workforce who power the United States economy. This popular perception has led to many states proposing laws that will legitimize illegal immigration and ensure immigrant workers receive necessary protections, such as minimum wage and overtime pay, without fear of deportation.
At the same time, however, many Americans are worried about their job security and prospects for economic advancement. This concern has led to widespread calls for tighter border controls and quotas on immigration.
We decided to put these issues to the test by taking a look at which occupations immigrants tend to gravitate towards when they first come to the United States. We also wanted to compare this with data on the jobs that are in the highest demand among native job seekers, bearing in mind that immigrants sometimes take these positions when they first arrive.
We began by compiling data from the United States Census Bureau for the number of foreign-born people employed in each occupation who had not completed high school. We also took into account the number of native employees in the same occupation. Our data was for 2021 and is shown below:
US Foreign-Born Employees vs Native Employees by Occupation
The following occupations employ more foreign-born migrants than native employees:
- Service occupations (20.6 percent versus 14.4 percent): Many U.S. employers readily employ migrants in service jobs because they tend to pay low wages. This is particularly the case for jobs such as waitresses and bartenders. Migrants accept these jobs as a step up from their homeland and can be lured to the U.S. by promises of better pay and opportunities than they might at home. These jobs do not require high qualifications. The reality is that many migrants take these jobs while they figure out their next step, something for which U.S .immigration policies are designed.
- Natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations (13.6 percent versus 8.1 percent): Industries that require extreme physical labor generally have a high proportion of foreign-born workers taking them up. These jobs generally require little or no qualifications, making it easier for migrants to find something that fits their skills, qualifications, and immigration status. U.S. employers in these industries struggle to find native workers, many of whom are unwilling to perform the necessary tasks for the pay on offer.
- Production, transportation, and material moving occupations (15.2 percent versus 11.7 percent): Similar to the above, these types of jobs are often subject to a high turnover rate as foreign-born migrants make their way through the system. The higher proportion of migrants in these jobs is no coincidence and makes economic sense for both U.S. employers and foreign workers alike. These jobs also require little or no qualifications from employees, making it easier for migrants to find something that fits their skills and experience.
- Other services: The category “other services” is an umbrella term for a diverse range of jobs such as barbers, dry cleaners, and tour guides. Migrants gravitate towards these kinds of jobs in high numbers because they usually pay well, but also because many employers want people who can speak English to serve their clientele.
On the other hand, native-born workers are preferred over migrants in:
- Management, professional, and related occupations (36.3 percent versus 44.4 percent): American employers only prefer natives for these white-collar jobs because they require more complex skills, higher educational qualifications, and English language skills. Migrant workers tend to struggle in gaining employment for these positions, which is why many of them tend to settle into the service sector.
- Sales and office occupations (14.3 percent versus 21.3 percent): Salespeople are required to be able to communicate their ideas clearly and persuasively, which is why many employers prefer native-born job seekers. Sales typically pay well, but the majority of them are commission-based.
- Skills that can help migrants win good-paying jobs in the U.S. include:
- Speaking English: Employers are more likely to hire you if you speak American English, particularly if they deal with the public. You can brush up on your English through online courses such as the ones offered by the University of California Berkeley Extension and American Councils for International Education.
- Having an associate, bachelor’s, or graduate degree: U.S. employers are more likely to hire college graduates, particularly if the job in question requires complex thinking and technical skills. They are particularly keen to hire foreign-born employees with American degrees because foreign credentials are not accepted by American employers the way they are back home.
- Specialized training (as a nurse, electrician, automotive mechanic, or welder, for example): This kind of training is important to perform certain jobs effectively. The fact that you have it will make your resume stand out, regardless of where you received the training.
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