E.g., 04/24/2024
E.g., 04/24/2024
College-Educated Immigrants in the United States

College-Educated Immigrants in the United States

Source Spotlights are often updated as new data become available. Please click here to find the most recent version of this Spotlight. 

Contrary to a widely held view, not all immigrants have little education. About one in three immigrants is a person with either a U.S. or foreign college degree. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey (ACS), immigrants accounted for 15 percent of the entire U.S. college-educated labor force in 2007. However, their numbers were much higher among workers in certain occupations: immigrants represent nearly 27 percent of physicians, more than 34 percent of computer software engineers, and over 42 percent of medical scientists. 

This Spotlight provides a brief demographic and socioeconomic profile of college-educated natives and immigrants (age 25 and older) engaged in the U.S. labor force in 2007. Unless noted otherwise, this Spotlight draws on data from the 2007 ACS. 

Click on the bullet points below for more information:

College-educated immigrants are defined as adults 25 and older with a bachelor's degree and higher. 


"Foreign born" and "immigrants" are used interchangeably and refer to persons with no U.S. citizenship at birth. This population includes naturalized citizens, legal permanent residents, refugees and asylees, persons on certain temporary visas, and the unauthorized.

"Labor force" includes persons age 25 and older who were either employed or unemployed in the week prior to participation in ACS.

One in six members of the 130 million-person U.S. labor force was an immigrant. 
The 21.5 million immigrants age 25 and older accounted for 16.5 percent of the entire U.S. labor force in 2007. 

Overall, the educational profile of these immigrants was lower than for the native population because a much larger share of immigrants (27.8 percent) than U.S.natives (6.9 percent) had less than a high school education. In contrast, the percentages of college graduates among immigrants (30.1 percent) and natives (32.7 percent) were roughly the same. 

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In 2007, 15 percent of all college graduates in the U.S. labor force were immigrants. 
Of the 41.8 million college educated in the U.S. labor force age 25 and older, 15.4 percent (or 6.5 million) were immigrants (see Table 1). 

Table 1. Immigrants in Total and College-Educated Labor Force, 2007 

Compared to the U.S. total, immigrants made up an even larger share of the college educated in the labor forces of California (29.9 percent), New Jersey (26.9 percent), and New York (24.7 percent). 

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California, New York, and Florida accounted for 45 percent of all college-educated immigrants. 
California had the largest number of college-educated immigrants (1,560,553), followed by New York (785,837), and Florida (531,452). These three states accounted for 44.6 percent of the 6.5 million college-educated immigrant labor force. Texas, New Jersey, and Illinois accounted for another 20 percent of the nation's college-educated immigrants (see Table 1). 

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Of the 6.5 million college-educated foreign born, one-third arrived in the last 10 years. 
The Immigration Act of 1990 and immigration bills passed in the last 10 years facilitated immigration of college-educated immigrants. One in three immigrants engaged in the U.S. college-educated labor force arrived between 1997 and 2007 (see Table 2). 

Table 2. Demographic, Social, and Labor Market Characteristics by Nativity: College-Educated Labor Force, Age 25 and Older, 2007
  College-educated labor force
  Total Natives Immigrants
Number 41,841,319 35,384,107 6,457,212
Percent men 52.7 52.1 56.3
25 to 39 38.8 38.1 43.0
40 to 49 27.1 26.7 29.6
50 and older 34.1 35.3 27.4
Race and Ethnicity      
White 76.9 85.6 28.9
Black 7.7 7.6 8.2
Asian 8.6 2.1 44.3
Other race 0.8 0.8 0.8
Latino 6.1 4.0 17.7
Educational attainment      
Bachelor's degree 63.0 63.9 58.0
Master's degree 25.6 25.4 26.6
Professional/doctorate degree 11.4 10.7 15.4
Limited English proficient 4.6 0.8 25.6
Percent noncitizens 6.7 - 43.7
Percent recent arrivals (between 1997 and 2007) 5.3 - 33.7
Region of birth      
U.S. born 84.6 100.0 -
Europe 2.8 - 17.9
Asia 7.5 - 48.8
Canada/N.America/Oceania 0.6 - 4.0
Latin America and Caribbean 3.6 - 23.2
Africa/other 0.9 - 6.0
Labor market outcomes      
Percent unemployed 2.6 2.4 3.4
Percent self-employed 12.4 12.4 12.3
Earnings in 2006 ($) (average) 71,385 71,966 68,183
Earnings in 2006 ($) (median) 52,619 52,619 50,595
Employed only 40,642,563 34,412,965 6,229,598
Management/business operation/financial specialists 26.1 26.8 22.3
Computer and mathematical occupations 5.0 4.2 9.4
Scientists and engineers 6.4 6.0 8.9
Physicians and surgeons 3.3 3.0 5.0
Registered nurses 3.5 3.4 3.9
Other health-care practitioners 2.7 2.8 2.4
Education and training 21.4 23.0 12.8
Other management, professional, and related occupations 3.4 3.6 2.7
Non-professional occupations 28.1 27.3 32.5
Notes: Labor force includes people age 25 and older who were either employed or unemployed in 2007. College-educated labor force includes people age 25 and older with at least a bachelor's degree and who were either employed or unemployed in 2007. * indicates that the sample size was insufficient to report the data.
Source: American Community Survey 2007.

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Nearly half of all college-educated immigrants came from Asia, with India and China being the two largest origin countries. 
In 2007, 48.8 percent of the 6.5 million foreign-born, college-educated labor force were from Asian countries. Twenty-three percent were from Latin America and the Caribbean while 17.9 percent were from Europe. 

The top three countries of origin for college-educated immigrants were India (14.2 percent), China (9.7 percent), and the Philippines (8.7 percent). 

Demographic Groups Defined
For this article, five racial-ethnic categories were used. These categories combine race and ethnicity information and control for the multiple-race identification available in the 2007 American Community Survey.
  • Latinos — all people who identified as Latino, regardless of race.
  • Non-Latino blacks — people who identified as "black only" or as "black with white, Asian or other race combinations."
  • Non-Latino Asians — people who identified as "Asian only" or as "Asian with white or other race combinations."
  • Non-Latino other race — people who identified as "other race only" or as "other race and white."
  • Non-Latino whites — people who reported "white only" race.

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Almost three-quarters of the foreign-born, college-educated labor force were Asian and white. 
Foreign-born Asians made up 44.3 percent and foreign-born whites made up 28.9 percent of the foreign-born, college-educated labor force. In contrast, the overwhelming majority of the native-born, college-educated workforce was white (85.6 percent) while racial-ethnic minorities were underrepresented. 

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About 18 percent of college-educated immigrants were of Latino origin. 
Latinos represented 17.7 percent of the immigrant college-educated labor force while accounting for only 4.0 percent of US-born college graduates in the labor force. 

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Men outnumbered women among the foreign-born college educated. 
Fifty-six percent of college-educated immigrants were men. In comparison, men constituted 52.1 percent of the native-born, college-educated workforce. 

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A higher percentage of the college-educated foreign born holds postgraduate degrees than the native born. 
Among the college-educated foreign born, 42.0 percent hold master's, professional, and/or doctorate degrees, compared to 36.1 percent of college-educated natives. 

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One in four college-educated immigrants in the U.S. labor force was limited English proficient.
Of the 6.5 million college-educated foreign born in 2007, 25.6 percent (1,653,046) reported speaking English less than "very well" (see Table 2). 

(Note: The term limited English proficient refers to any person age 5 or older who reported speaking English "not at all," "not well," or "well" on their survey questionnaire. Individuals who reported speaking only English or speaking English "very well" are considered proficient in English). 

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Foreign-born, college-educated workers were more likely to be in high-tech, science, or engineering occupations. 
In 2007, 18.3 percent of college-educated immigrants were in employed in natural and social science, engineering, or computer-related occupations. Also, the college-educated foreign born were more likely than the native born to be physicians and surgeons. College-educated natives were more likely to be in management and business operations and almost twice as likely to be working in education-related occupations. 

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More than 1.3 million college-educated immigrants were underutilized in the U.S. labor market in 2005-2006. 
According to a recent MPI report, one in five college-educated immigrants was either unemployed or working in unskilled jobs such as dishwashers, security guards, or taxi drivers in 2005-2006. This situation represents a waste of human capital of 1.3 million skilled immigrants. 

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Steven Ruggles, Matthew Sobek, Trent Alexander, Catherine A. Fitch, Ronald Goeken, Patricia Kelly Hall, Miriam King, and Chad Ronnander. 2008. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 4.0 [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota Population Center. 

Further readings 

Batalova, Jeanne and Michael Fix. 2008. Uneven Progress: The Employment Pathways of Skilled Immigrants in the United States (with Peter Creticos). Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute. Available online

Batalova, Jeanne. 2006. Skilled Immigrant and Native Workers in the United States: The Economic Competition Debate and Beyond. LFB Scholarly Publishing, LLC. 

Murray, Julie, Jeanne Batalova, and Michael Fix. 2006. The Impact of Immigration on Native Workers: A Fresh Look at the Evidence. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute. Available online

Kaushal, Neeraj and Michael Fix. 2006. The Contributions of High-Skilled Immigrants. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute. Available online.