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Ready to Work: Understanding Immigrant Skills in the United States to Build a Competitive Labor Force

RESEARCH Report by Rob Paral
DACA recipient and engineering student works on a circuit board.

As the United States strives to build a workforce that will maintain its economic competitiveness, we must invest in education and training for foreign-born workers.

Key Findings

Immigrants are significant contributors to the US labor force. They currently represent 17 percent of workers. Many immigrants are in their prime working years, in contrast to an aging native-born workforce.

Significant portions of immigrants and the native born are currently working in jobs for which they are educationally overqualified. But when immigrants are educationally overqualified they earn less than their native-born peers with similar skills in similar jobs.

Foreign-born workers may benefit from greater access to additional education and training, particularly professional licenses and certificates. Post-secondary education and workforce development institutions will be most effective in reaching these workers with programs that are responsive to immigrant workers' unique characteristics.

Findings should be evaluated against the evolving landscape of immigration policy, demographic change, and population shifts to most effectively inform future programs and investments. The US economy's future vitality depends on its ability to maximize the skills and talents of all workers—foreign born and native born alike.

About the Author
Nonresident Fellow, Global Cities
Council expert Rob Paral
Rob Paral is a demographic and public policy consultant who's a nonresident fellow at the Council. His specialties include immigrant, Latino and Asian populations, community needs for health and human service programs, and Midwestern demographic change. As principal of Rob Paral and Associates, Paral has assisted more than 100 different human service, advocacy, and philanthropic organizations.
Council expert Rob Paral