Building America: Immigrants in Construction and Infrastructure-Related Industries

During the Covid-19 pandemic, immigrants are playing critical roles in construction, infrastructure, and related industries that are essential to keeping America running, including in specific fields like utilities, transportation, and affordable housing. Immigrant workers in these industries will also be essential to the economic recovery and rebuilding process in the months and years ahead.

Our analysis of data from the American Community Survey finds that immigrants make up a significant portion of workers in construction, infrastructure, and related industries, with almost 3.2 million immigrants (or one in five workers) in this sector.

Breaking the industries down, there are nearly 2.5 million immigrant workers (roughly a quarter of the total workforce) in the construction industry, and at least one in eight workers in architectural, engineering, and related services, and one in seven workers in clay building material manufacturing are immigrants.

Figure 1: Immigrants in Select Construction and Infrastructure-Related Industries

Share of All Workers, Foreign-Born
Construction 24.8%
Machinery Repair and Maintenance 17.8%
Clay Building Material Manufacturing 16.3%
Glass Manufacturing 15.3%
Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services 13.9%
Source: NAE Analysis of 1-year sample from the 2018 American Community Survey

Several occupations in the sector rely especially heavily on immigrants. More than one-third of construction laborers (686,000 workers), at least 30 percent of carpenters (382,000 workers), and 45 percent of painters and paperhangers (264,000 workers) are immigrants. Immigrants also play essential roles as electrical and electronics engineers in this sector, making up more than one-fourth of that workforce.

Figure 2: Immigrants in Select Construction and Infrastructure-Related Occupations

Number of Foreign-Born Workers Share of All Workers, Foreign-Born
Construction Laborers 686,000 37.6%
Carpenters 382,000 31.3%
Painters and Paperhangers 264,000 45.1%
Roofers 98,000 46.3%
Electrical and Electronics Engineers 57,000 26.8%
Source: NAE Analysis of 1-year sample from the 2018 American Community Survey

Many municipalities, including Chicago, Austin, and Minneapolis, recognize that immigrants fill critical workforce needs in construction and infrastructure-related industries and are taking actions to ensure that these immigrant workers can operate in a safe and welcoming environment.

For more information, please check out our research portal of Immigration and Covid-19 with weekly updates. If you have any specific questions about our data, please reach out to us at info@newamericaneconomy.org.

About Us

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…