Immigrant University Graduates In the US Could Help to Fill the Talent Gap

Immigrants graduate in high-demand fields such as STEM and healthcare, while 60% of immigrant college graduates have at least a master’s degree, compared to 53% of US-born college graduates

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January 03, 2023 | 06:00 PM

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Bloomberg Línea — While the United States is one of the countries with the highest levels of college education, it does not escape the talent shortage in areas such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and which is a reality in many countries due to current labor demands.

The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) analyzed the educational evolution of US-born citizens and immigrants and found that the latter with a college education are more likely to have higher degrees and to specialize in STEM areas.

In addition, “60% of immigrant college graduates have at least a master’s degree, compared to 53% of US-born college graduates. Moreover, immigrants’ degrees are more concentrated in the high-demand fields of STEM and health than those of US-born graduates (51% against 36%),” the research reveals.

The data for this survey comes from the combined 2012, 2014 and 2017 results of the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and conducted in the case of the United States by the US Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.

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Despite the educational level of immigrants, this does not have a direct correlation with professional improvements for them, however.

According to the MPI, first- and second-generation immigrant workers are more likely to be overeducated, and nearly two million immigrant college graduates hold low-skilled jobs or are unemployed. Some of their constraints are believed to be: lower English proficiency, lack of use of social networks, interrupted career paths, lack of legal status, and the complexity of US licensing requirements.

Because of this, there is a large amount of untapped talent among immigrants in the United States that could result in economic and fiscal benefits. For example, during the Covid-19 health and economic crisis, some 270,000 foreign-born health professionals were overlooked for high-demand positions at the height of the crisis.

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Immigrant diversity

When one talks about immigration in the United States, the theme that recurs is the great ethnic diversity among that population, and if one were to make a pie chart of college graduates, 81% are US-born whites, while no other group accounts for more than 9% of the total.

And immigrant graduates such as Asian American/Pacific Islanders and Latinos account for 41% and 19%, respectively. Notably, Indian immigrants represent the largest share of the highly skilled population in the US.

In addition, the surveyed sample showed that two-thirds of immigrant college graduates obtained their higher education degrees in the United States. On the other hand, immigrant graduates are more likely than US-born graduates to hold advanced degrees: 60% versus 53% had at least a master’s degree.

In addition, immigrant graduates are more likely to have degrees in the STEM and health fields: 51% of immigrants had a degree in this area versus 36% of their US-born contemporaries.


In terms of labor force participation, monthly earnings, skill under-utilization and self-assessed job quality, the immigrant college graduates’ results were close to or even exceeded those of the US-born immigrant population. The latter had labor market participation rates only slightly higher than those of the immigrant college graduates: 89% versus 86%.

And in terms of average monthly income, immigrants earned around $7,145 per month, versus $6,499 for those who are US-born.

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