Immigrant IT Staff Help People Work Remotely During Covid-19

As many Americans continue to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, immigrant IT workers play an essential role in helping the U.S. economy move activities online and in maintaining the digital infrastructure needed for businesses to run and for people to stay connected.

The latest data from the American Community Survey show that one in four information technology (IT) workers, or 1.2 million people, were immigrants in 2018. They are programmers like Eric Yuan was in his early career. Yuan, a Chinese immigrant, later founded Zoom, a video conferencing software that many people use to collaborate with their co-workers today. Among software developers, the most common IT occupation, 39.2 percent, or 529,346 people, are immigrants.

Across the country, immigrants play an outsize role in the IT workforce. For example, they make up nearly half of IT workers in New Jersey (47.4 percent) and California (44.2 percent), 28.3 percent in Texas, and 27.2 percent in Illinois.

Figure 1: Immigrant IT Workers in the United States

Number of Foreign-Born Workers Share of All Workers, Foreign-Born
United States 1,191,195 25.4%
New Jersey 86,298 47.4%
California 289,236 44.2%
Washington 62,861 35.1%
Connecticut 17,138 31.3%
New York 71,573 29.6%
Massachusetts 43,239 29.0%
Texas 108,652 28.3%
Florida 65,253 27.5%
Illinois 51,484 27.2%
Georgia 42,376 26.9%
Source: NAE Analysis of 1-year sample from the 2018 American Community Survey

Within specific industries throughout the U.S. economy, immigrants often serve as IT workers, helping businesses function online as normally as possible during the crisis.

While the healthcare industry faces surging demand from patients seeking medical advice and treatments, 33,660 immigrant IT professionals, or more than one in seven IT workers in the industry, help doctors manage digital equipment and patients get access to healthcare services through telemedicine. In hospitals, immigrants make up 14.5 percent of the IT workforce.

Figure 2: Immigrant IT Workers in the Healthcare Industry

Number of Foreign-Born Workers Share of All Workers, Foreign-Born
Healthcare Industry, Overall 33,660 15.5%
Hospitals 18,129 14.5%
Source: NAE Analysis of 1-year sample from the 2018 American Community Survey

More than one in four IT workers in retail businesses are immigrants. As more people turn to online retailers to buy medicine, food, and other necessities, immigrants IT workers are on duty around the clock, helping process people’s orders. In some individual essential retail industries, immigrants are also significant shares of the IT workforce. They make up 32.7 percent of the IT workforce in pharmacies, 11.6 percent in supermarkets and grocery stores, and 39.1 percent in electronic shopping and mail-order house.

Figure 3: Immigrant IT Workers in Retail Trade

Share of All Workers, Foreign-Born
Retail Trade Industry, Overall 27.8%
Supermarkets and Groceries 11.6%
Pharmacies and drug stores 32.7%
Electronic shopping 39.1%
Source: NAE Analysis of 1-year sample from the 2018 American Community Survey

In the education sector, more than one in seven IT workers, or 40,754 people, are immigrants, supporting teachers and students as they transition to remote learning. They are developing new digital platforms for classes, helping teachers upload their teaching materials online, and fixing technical issues for students at home. In colleges and universities, 28,128 immigrants make up 15.8 percent of IT workers.

Figure 4: Immigrant IT Workers in Education

Number of Foreign-Born Workers Share of All Workers, Foreign-Born
Education, Overall 40,754 14.8%
Elementary and secondary schools 8,643 11.1%
Colleges and Universities 28,128 15.8%
Source: NAE Analysis of 1-year sample from the 2018 American Community Survey

In the finance industry, one-third of IT workers, or 119,609 people, are immigrants, making sure people’s savings are secure and investment transactions processed properly.

Figure 5: Immigrant IT Workers in Finance

Number of Foreign-Born Workers Share of All Workers, Foreign-Born
Finance Industry, Overall 119,609 33.3%
Banking and related activities 59,645 34.0%
Financial Investments 33,163 36.0%
Source: NAE Analysis of 1-year sample from the 2018 American Community Survey

In public administration, one in eight IT workers, or 34,312 people, are immigrants, helping governments in their emergency response and assisting community members in need.

In the IT industry, more than one-quarter of the IT workers, or 59,288 people, are immigrants, enabling digital platforms that people increasingly rely on to manage their work and personal lives. About 41.5 percent of the IT workforce providing internet services are foreign-born. Some IT workers later became successful entrepreneurs, such as Sergey Brin, a Russian immigrant and co-founder of Google, and Michel Krieger, the Brazilian immigrant who co-founded Instagram.

Before the Covid-19 crisis brought severe disruptions to the U.S. economy, IT was already one of the fastest-growing job sectors in the U.S. economy. Between 2013 and 2018, the number of IT workers rose by 1 million, or 27.5 percent, to 4.7 million in total, outpacing the country’s overall job growth rate of 8.0 percent.

Figure 6: Job Growth in the United States

Number of Workers, 2013 Number of Workers, 2018 Percent Change
All IT Workers 3,673,032 4,681,820 27.5%
- U.S.-Born 2,784,434 3,490,625 25.4%
- Foreign-Born 888,598 1,191,195 34.1%
All Workers 146,224,090 157,964,150 8.0%
Source: NAE Analysis of 1-year sample from the 2018 American Community Survey

While the IT sector continued to grow, many businesses struggled with finding enough skilled workers to fill their IT openings. In 2018, there were about 15 online job postings for each unemployed IT worker, based on data from Burning Glass Technologies and the American Community Survey.

The lockdowns during the Covid-19 pandemic have forced many industries to speed up their digital transformation. To recover from the crisis, the U.S. economy will become increasingly reliant on IT workers, many being foreign-born, to foster digital innovations and support businesses using online and mobile technologies.

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