When IBM launched its first e-business educational program in the United States in 2003, the company hired Saad Yousuf, an immigrant from Pakistan. Yousuf had a master’s degree in computer science and experience in corporate training—valuable, in-demand skills—but there was something else: Yousuf was willing to move to Kenosha, Wisconsin and work six days a week year-round, a commitment that had made the position difficult for IBM to fill. As a professor at the e-business program, Yousuf teaches computer science to students just out of high school, as well as mid-career professionals with bachelor’s degrees eager to upgrade their computer skills. These students go on to fill high-demand IT positions in companies across the United States, helping to alleviate a critical shortage of workers in science, technology, education, and math, or STEM, fields. And he was happy to do it. “I find it more peaceful and rewarding,” he says, “when you can transfer to other people what you’ve learned rather than keep it to yourself.”
Stories like Yousuf’s are not uncommon. Across the country, in fields ranging from medicine to construction, experts have often said that immigrants appear to be more willing to move for a promising job or position. Fresh produce growers point to migrant workers following the strawberry or blueberry harvest as it moves from Maine to Georgia with the seasons. Hospital CEOs talk of trauma centers that couldn’t stay open if not for foreign-born surgeons. The general claim that immigrants are more likely to move, however, is often made with little hard evidence to support it. Because of this, New American Economy’s Senior Economist, Pavel Dramski, set out to quantify whether immigrants were more likely than U.S.-born workers to relocate for a job, controlling for other factors that may lessen one’s willingness to move, such as having dependents.
Dr. Dramski’s analysis of American Housing Survey data shows that there is indeed something to the argument that immigrants are more likely to relocate. Foreign-born workers are 13.7 percent more likely to move for a job than their U.S.-born counterparts. (See Graph below)
LIKELIHOOD OF MOVING FOR A JOB, 2009-2015
|Likelihood of Moving for Job-Related Reasons||23.8||27.7|
Furthermore, he finds that recent immigrants—those who have been in the United States for less than five years—are driving this result. Those immigrants are about 35 percent more likely than their U.S.-born counterparts to move for a job. Even immigrants who have been in the United States for more than five years are 8.6 percent more likely to move than equivalent U.S.-born workers, showing that even as immigrants age and settle into communities across the country, they remain a key source of flexibility for employers.
LIKELIHOOD OF MOVING FOR A JOB, RECENTLY ARRIVED IMMIGRANTS, 2009-2015
|U.S.-Born||Recently Arrived Immigrants||"Settled" Immigrants|
|Likelihood of Moving for Job-Related Reasons||23.8||38.6||26.7|
These results are helpful in our understanding of how immigrants slot into America’s labor force—an issue that NAE will be exploring in greater depth in the coming months. It is often claimed that immigrants fill jobs that “Americans won’t do.” Experts, however, often support this argument by pointing to specific jobs that have failed to attract U.S.-born workers in recent years such as the most grueling positions handpicking crops in the field. But what if there is more to the idea that immigrants take jobs Americans won’t do? In an upcoming report, NAE will examine whether foreign-born workers are more likely to work late at night or on the weekends. We will also examine the topic of geographic mobility in more depth, exploring how it breaks down for specific industries that rely on worker mobility.
For now, the findings from this work demonstrate that immigrants may be filling gaps in our workforce in under-appreciated ways. Rather than take jobs away from hardworking Americans, they could instead be moving to the places where real workforce needs exist. In helping address these needs, mobile immigrant workers allow businesses to grow, and eventually create more jobs for Americans—all of which makes the U.S. economy stronger and more efficient with time.
Data for this brief is sourced from the American Housing Survey. The data was stacked across four cross-sections: 2009, 2011, 2013, and 2015. For each of these years, immigrants who have been in the U.S. for less than a year were excluded to avoid any contamination of immigrants’ decision to migrate to the U.S. with the immigrants’ decision to move for a job.
In order to quantify potential differences in moving for a job between immigrants and natives, we estimate linear probability models of the form
Movedity= β Immigrantity +Δt +Δy + Sity,
where Movedity is whether a person i moved for a job in year t and survey year y. The focus is on , which indicates how immigrants differ from natives. t represents year of the move, y is the year of the survey, while Sity represents a vector of controls for age, age squared, gender, race, and ethnicity.
In further analysis, immigrants who have been in the U.S. for more than five years and those that have been in the U.S. for less than five years were separated in order to discern if immigrants settle down in an area with time.
- Clemens, Michael A. (2013). “International Harvest: A Case Study of How Foreign Workers Help American Farms Grow Crops– and the U.S. Economy” (Partnership for a New American Economy, May 2013). Available online: http://www.renewoureconomy.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/nc-agr-report-05-20131.pdf; Wolla, Scott A., 2014. “The Economics of Immigration: A Story of Substitutes and Complements,” Page One Economics Newsletter, 2014, 1–5; Enchautegui, Maria E. (2015). “Immigrant and Native Workers Compete for Different Low-Skilled Jobs,” Urban Institute. Available online: http://www.urban.org/urban-wire/immigrant-and-native-workers-compete-different-low-skilled-jobs; Misra Tanvi (2016). “Immigrants Aren’t Stealing American Jobs,” The Atlantic, October 21. Available online.