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For many decades, highly skilled migrants have pursued a higher premium on their education and skills by coming to the United States. However, emphasis on the importance of knowledge, skills, and technologies in post-industrial economies has only recently brought well-educated migrants to the attention of the general public and policymakers.
This Spotlight gives a brief demographic and socioeconomic profile of the college-educated foreign born working in the United States. The data presented here were derived from the U.S. Census 2000 5 percent Public Use Micro-Sample (PUMS) file. College-educated are defined as individuals with a bachelor's degree and higher.
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Of the 4.3 million college-educated foreign born, over one-third arrived in the 1990s.
During the decade marked by the Immigration Act of 1990 and immigration bills that expanded high-skilled, employment-based immigration, 1.6 million foreign born with college degrees entered the U.S.. This represented 36.5 percent of the total number of college-educated foreign born.
Almost half of all the college-educated foreign born who came in the 1990s were from Asia, with India and China being the two largest sending countries.
Forty-nine percent of the 1.6 million college graduates who arrived between 1990 and 2000 were from Asian countries. Twenty-three percent were from Europe. Another 22 percent came from the Americas, one-fifth of whom were from Canada. The remaining 6.8 percent were college-educated migrants from Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.
Figure 1: Racial and Ethnic Composition of College-Educated Workforce by Nativity (%)
About three-quarters of the foreign-born, college-educated labor force are Asian and white.
Foreign-born Asians make up 44 percent and foreign-born whites make up 30.7 percent of the foreign-born, college-educated labor force. The overwhelming majority of the native-born, college-educated workforce is white (88.2 percent) while racial-ethnic minorities are underrepresented.
Demographic Groups Defined
Latinos represent 16.1 percent of foreign-born college graduates while accounting for only 2.7 percent of U.S.-born college graduates.
In 2000, there were 691,400 foreign-born Latino college graduates, or 16.1 percent of the 4.3 million foreign-born college graduates. There were 767,400 native-born Latino college graduates — 2.7 percent of the 33.2 million native-born college graduates.
There are more men than women among foreign-born, college-educated workers.
Fifty-eight percent of foreign-born, college-educated workers are men. This percentage was even higher among college-educated migrants who have arrived since 1990, 60 percent of whom were male. In comparison, men constitute 53 percent of the native-born, college-educated workforce.
Similar to the foreign born overall, the college-educated foreign born are concentrated in a handful of states.
California, New York, Florida, Hawaii, and New Jersey have the highest share of college-educated foreigners, where one out of six college-educated workers (nearly 17 percent) was born outside of the United States. In 18 states, including Alabama, Kansas, Iowa, North and South Dakota, the foreign born compose less than five percent of the college-educated labor force (see Map 1).
Map 1: Percentage of Foreign Born among College-Educated Workers by State, Census 2000
A higher percentage of the college-educated foreign born holds post-graduate degrees than the native born.
Among the college-educated foreign born, 43.6 percent hold master's, professional, and/or doctorate degrees, compared to 35.2 percent of native-born workers.
Foreign-born, college-educated workers are more likely to be found in high-tech, science, and engineering occupations.
This pattern is particularly visible among foreign-born, college-educated workers who arrived between 1990 and 2000 – almost one-third worked in natural and social science, engineering, and computer-related occupations. Also, the college-educated foreign born are almost twice as likely as the native born to be physicians and surgeons. The college-educated native born are much more likely to be in management and business operations or in education-related occupations.
The college-educated foreign born are more likely to be unemployed than the native born.
About 2.7 percent of the foreign born are unemployed compared to 1.6 percent among native college-educated workers. Within the foreign-born labor force, those who have arrived since 1990 are more likely to be unemployed (3.4 percent) than those who have were in the United States before 1990 (2.5 percent or less).
In general, the length of stay affects the earnings of the college-educated foreign born.
Among the college-educated foreign born who work full-time and are not self-employed, earnings increase the longer they live in the U.S.. Although native-born college graduates overall report higher earnings, the college-educated foreign born who have been in the United States for more than 20 years report significantly higher earnings than their native counterparts.