The share of the American workforce composed of foreign-born workers rose to record levels last year, a phenomenon which comes as immigration surges in the wake of worldwide lockdowns and as the nation’s economy grapples with labor shortages.
Workers born in other nations comprised 18.1% of the workforce in 2022, according to data released last week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, marking an increase from 17.4% in 2021. Hispanics account for nearly half of the foreign-born labor force, while Asians account for one-quarter of the foreign-born labor force. Average weekly earnings for foreign-born workers were $945 last year, while weekly earnings for their native-born counterparts were $1,087.
Native-born workers were more likely than foreign-born workers to hold positions in management, professional, and sales occupations, while the latter were more likely to work in service, natural resources, construction, logistics, and maintenance. Labor force participation among native-born males was 66.0% compared to 77.4% for foreign-born men.
The heightened level of foreign-born workers as a share of the overall workforce occurs as the United States and other nations reverse public health mandates that slowed immigration and temporary residency. One analysis from Pew Research Center found that there has been a rise in “the number of immigrants receiving green cards as new lawful permanent residents, as well as a partial rebound in arrivals by foreign students, tourists, and other lawful temporary migrants.”
Illegal immigration has meanwhile soared to record levels over the past two years: as many as 5.5 million migrants have crossed into the United States under the Biden administration, according to data from the Federation for American Immigration Reform. Critics of immigration policies forwarded by the White House have asserted that lackluster emphasis on securing the border and increased resources for migrants who enter the country have worsened the crisis.
Several cities and at least one state declared emergencies this month as officials prepare for the conclusion of Title 42, a statute which permitted authorities to quickly turn away migrants at the southern border on public health grounds. Large groups of illegal immigrants have been recorded amassing at the border and seeking to enter the country between ports of entry.
The labor market over the past three years has widely been considered a bright spot in an otherwise dismal economic landscape marked by record inflation and persistent supply chain bottlenecks. Low labor force participation across the economy, on the other hand, has worsened both trends as businesses raise wages to fill their payrolls and attract or retain more workers. Excess retirements amid the lockdown-induced recession have been identified as a factor contributing to decreased labor force participation.
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There were 30.0 million foreign-born workers in the United States as of last month, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, eclipsing the 27.7 million workers counted in the month before the lockdowns and significantly surpassing 22.0 million workers three years ago. There were meanwhile 131.1 million native-born workers last month, according to more data, a figure which remains below levels recorded before the recession.
Foreign-born workers composed some 15.0% of the workforce in 2005, according to more data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.