More Immigration Myths

As we often have noted in this space, the immigration debate is only as good as the information that goes into it. In engineering circles, this has its own acronym: GIGO, which stands for “garbage in, garbage out.” In the echo chamber of public opinion, popular misconceptions have a way of drowning out the facts, or changing our perception of what is true. For example, immigrants are often stereotyped as poor, low-skilled workers who eke out an existence at the margins of the economy.

A recent article in Baltimore’s Daily Record points out just how erroneous that view of immigrants can be. [See The Immigration Myth: In Baltimore Area, 60 % Hold High-Paying Jobs, by Nicholas Sohr, 30.Apr.2010. (Article available by subscription only.)] The article cites a study by the New York-based Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI), showing that sixty percent of immigrants in the Baltimore area work at higher-paying, higher-skilled jobs. (See Across the Spectrum: The Wide Range of Jobs Immigrants Do (PDF 2.6MB), by David Dyssegarrd Kallick, Fiscal Policy Institute, New York, April 2010.) According to the Daily Record, this statistic places Baltimore in the top five metro areas in the nation for its high percentage of well-paid immigrants.

Among these well-educated and highly-trained immigrants, the Daily Record reports, is an expert in nonlinear optics who left the Soviet Union in 1979 and currently works at Johns Hopkins University, researching the properties of lasers for the U.S. Air Force. The Daily Record article points to two more such immigrants who met at the University of Maryland Medical Center: a Danish physician who specializes in endocrinology, diabetes and nutrition, and his Iranian wife, who is a critical-care physician. Another immigrant, who emigrated from Colombia as a child, has become a highly-successful attorney in Baltimore. All of these people belie widely-held stereotypes about immigrants and the work they do.

In fact, the Daily Record points out that, according to the FPI study, “immigrants in the Baltimore area were, on average, more educated than their U.S.-born counterparts,” and a substantial percentage were clustered in high-wage occupations such as executive and managerial jobs (12%) and professional positions, like lawyers, doctors and engineers (13%). According to the FPI study, nearly as many immigrant workers in the Baltimore area – 23% – were found in well-paid occupations such as:

  • registered nurses, pharmacists, and health therapists (5%)
  • teachers, professors, librarians, social scientists, social workers, and artists (8%)
  • technicians, including health, engineering, and science (6%)
  • sales, including supervisors, real estate, finance and insurance (4%)

By contrast, the Daily Record reports, only 10 percent of immigrant laborers worked in construction and landscaping, and 6 percent in the food services industry.

Considering immigrant labor in the aggregate, at least for the 25 largest metro areas in the United States, the FPI found that the type of work performed by immigrants tends to vary by the worker’s country of origin. For instance, a substantial proportion of Canadian immigrants (55%) work in managerial and professional specialty occupations, as do large proportions of immigrants from India (50%), Germany (47%), Korea (40%), the Philippines (38%), and China (37%). Similar clusters were evident in other relatively well-paid occupations, encompassing technical, sales and administrative-support jobs; among immigrants from India, for instance, 36% work in this area, as does a substantial share of immigrants from Korea (34%), the Philippines (32%), Cuba (30%), Germany (29%), and Jamaica (28%).

Both the FPI study and the Daily Record article make compelling reading, and paint a far more nuanced picture of the immigrant labor force – both in Baltimore and nationally – than one typically gets from the broad-brush accounts dominating the public discourse on immigration. It’s a healthy and much-needed dose of reality.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.