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MPI Reveals Striking Finding: Nearly Half of Immigrant Adults Arriving in U.S. since 2011 Have College Degree, a Sharp Increase over Earlier Groups
Press Release
Thursday, June 1, 2017

MPI Reveals Striking Finding: Nearly Half of Immigrant Adults Arriving in U.S. since 2011 Have College Degree, a Sharp Increase over Earlier Groups

Rising Migration from Asia Helps Fuel This New Brain Gain

WASHINGTON — Immigrant adults who have come to the United States since 2011 are far more likely to have a college degree than earlier groups of newcomers, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) reveals in a new fact sheet published today. Almost half — 48 percent — of immigrant adults entering between 2011 and 2015 were college graduates.

By comparison, just 27 percent of immigrants arriving a quarter-century earlier, during the 1986-1990 period, had a university degree. Recently arrived immigrants are also significantly more likely than U.S.-born adults to be college educated, with 31 percent of the native born holding at least a bachelor’s degree in 2015.

This striking shift in the composition of recent flows of immigrants to the United States is detailed in the fact sheet, New Brain Gain: Rising Human Capital among Recent Immigrants to the United States, which uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau to analyze immigrant cohorts over time, by regions of origin, immigration status and states of residence.

“Immigration policy debates and public understanding of immigration trends frequently lag changing realities on the ground,” said MPI President Michael Fix, who co-authored the fact sheet. “As policymakers discuss ‘merit-based’ immigration and reshaping future migration flows, they would do well to take into account these findings of rapidly rising levels of higher education and increased English proficiency among recent U.S. immigrants.”

The MPI researchers also found that:

  • The size of the college-educated immigrant population more than tripled between 1990 and 2015. The highly skilled adult immigrant population rose from 3.1 million to 11.1 million during the period. And today immigrants compose 17 percent of the 66.4 million adults in the U.S. with college degrees, up from 10 percent in 1990.
  • One in two immigrant college graduates arriving after 2010 is from Asia. The arrival of highly educated Asian immigrants (from India, China and the Philippines in particular) drove the overall rise in human capital for immigrants entering after 2010. In 2000, nearly 2.9 million college graduates in the U.S. were from Asia, a number that had doubled to 5.8 million 15 years later.
  • Latin Americans are now the second-largest group of highly skilled immigrants. Prior to the mid-2000s, Europeans ranked second in the absolute number of college graduates residing in the United States (and have slipped to third place). Still, recently arrived immigrants from Europe are most likely to hold a college degree, with 65 percent doing so; newcomers from Asia and Oceania are almost as likely to be college graduates (62 percent and 61 percent respectively). The rates for recent arrivals from Northern America, Africa and Latin America are 53 percent, 40 percent and 23 percent respectively.
  • Recently arrived immigrants are more likely to be college graduates than U.S.-born adults in most states. This trend was especially pronounced in the Rust Belt. In Michigan and Ohio while 59 to 63 percent of recent arrivals had at least a bachelor’s degree, only 26 to 27 percent of the native born were college graduates.
  • Immigrants who come on temporary visas are much more educated than other groups of immigrants, and account for a larger share of those with college degrees among recent arrivals. Forty-four percent of the highly skilled arriving after 2010 were on a temporary visa such as an H-1B, while 34 percent were legal permanent residents.

“Beyond rising migration from Asia, this increased human capital among recent arrivals reflects several global trends: increasing educational attainment across the world; a rise in secondary and postsecondary education offered in English; and the fact that English has become the global lingua franca, especially in business, international trade, science, education and entertainment,” said Jeanne Batalova, a senior policy analyst who co-authored the fact sheet.

Read the fact sheet at: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/new-brain-gain-rising-human-capital-among-recent-immigrants-united-states.

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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at local, national and international levels.