Upskilling immigrants would help employers meet needs: Study

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A demonstrator holds a “Home Is Here” sign during a rally supporting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Nov. 12, 2019. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Al Drago

Changes in the U.S. labor market require higher skilled workers to meet employer needs, which is why efforts to upskill American workers should include immigrants as well, says a study from Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank.

The study shows 80 percent of today’s jobs require more than a high school degree in stark contrast with past trends. Yet more than 115 million U.S. adults lacked education or training beyond high school as of 2019, with 21 percent of them immigrants.

A Migration Policy Institute (MPI) issue brief out Oct. 6, 2022, Diverging Pathways: Immigrants’ Legal Status and Access to Postsecondary Credentials, estimates that nearly 24 million immigrant adults in the United States lack a college degree, apprenticeship certificate or professional license.

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“Most adult immigrants in the United States who lack credentials are legally present, and most have at least a high school education and are ready targets for state efforts to increase the number of residents with high-quality credentials,” authors Jeanne Batalova and Michael Fix write

“Including these adults in broader efforts to upskill and credential the workforce would expand their mobility while at the same time closing skills gaps and meeting employers’ labor force needs,” they conclude.

“Several broad, long-running trends—such as the declining fertility and aging of the U.S. population—reinforce the logic of including immigrants in workforce development policies and programs,” Batalova and Michael Fix say.

Efforts to upskill U.S. workers are particularly relevant in a labor market where the number of job openings—many in middle- and high-skill positions—is high, at 10.1 million as of August, say the MPI study. Alongside this need, economists have begun to detect a decline in labor productivity, the study found.

“Taken together, these labor market and demographic trends mean that the country’s sustained growth will depend on how well the United States trains and utilizes its available workforce, including immigrants,” Batalov and Fix add.

The issue brief, which draws upon the Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey to examine the age 16-64 population, finds that more than half of the 23.9 million immigrants without postsecondary credentials were concentrated in four states: California (25 percent of the total), Texas (13 percent), and New York and Florida (each with 9 percent). An additional 10 percent resided in either Illinois, New Jersey or Georgia.

Two-thirds (or 15.8 million) of all immigrant adults without postsecondary credentials are legally present, eligible for key federal and state programs that promote credential attainment. These naturalized citizens, lawful permanent residents (also known as green-card holders), refugees and asylees are qualified to receive public support for education and training through programs such as Pell Grants.

Of the 7.7 million unauthorized immigrant adults without postsecondary credentials, 788,000 are eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and 397,000 are eligible for Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

Most immigrant adults lacking postsecondary credentials had education levels that should position them can acquire credentials relatively rapidly and inexpensively, the study says.

Latino and Black adults comprised 73 percent of immigrants without postsecondary credentials.

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