New Brain Gain: Rising Human Capital among Recent Immigrants to the United States
Some narratives in the current debate about immigration suggest that the “quality,” or human capital, of newcomers, has been low and continues to decline. Under this view, immigrants represent a burden, and the U.S. immigration system should shift to “merit-based” admissions.
However, striking new findings reveal the little-noticed shift in composition of immigration flows over the past decade, with immigrants’ human capital rising sharply. Most notably, 48 percent of recently arrived immigrants to the United States (those coming between 2011 and 2015) were college graduates—compared to just 27 percent of arrivals a quarter-century earlier.
This increase in the share of college graduates, accompanied by greater levels of English language proficiency and bilingualism, is correlated in part with a shift in flows to Asia. It is also reflective of 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.
This fact sheet uses current and historical U.S. Census Bureau data to analyze immigrant cohorts over time, by regions of origin, immigration status, and states of residence.