Face of Immigration Changing, As High-Skill Migrants Now Predominate Over Low-Skill Ones

There’s a lot of reason to think that volume of total immigration aside, it would make sense to try to shift the mix of immigrants to greater emphasis on recruiting people with skills. And according to Tara Bahrampour such a shift is actually already underway and the immigrant population is now primarily high-skilled:

Highly skilled temporary and permanent immigrants in the United States now outnumber lower-skilled ones, marking a dramatic shift in the foreign-born workforce that could have profound political and economic implications in the national debate over immigration.

This shift in America’s immigration population, based on census data, is summarized in a report released Thursday by the Brookings Institution. It found that 30 percent of the country’s working-age immigrants, regardless of legal status, have at least a bachelor’s degree, while 28 percent lack a high school diploma.

Some of this is probably undercounting of unauthorized migrants, and some of this is probably the housing downturn. Contrary to the image of an army of Mexicans determined to sneak into the United States to live high on welfare checks, the bulk of unauthorized migration is from people trying to come north to work for a bit, then return home to a Spanish-speaking country with a lower cost of living that’s full of family and friends. So when work in the construction industry dries up, some people who are here leave and fewer people come. And obviously a shift in the skill mix that’s caused by a gigantic recession isn’t actually helping anyone. Still, the broad trend toward more highly skilled people coming here is a good thing and it’s something we should encourage even as we also work to create legal paths for low skill Latin Americans to do work here.