Immigrants in the US workforce


How does immigration affect the workforce in the United States? Some think they’re a burden to society’s workforce while others believe the opposite. My views oppose the idea of immigrants being burdens. There are significant labor markets affected by immigration. To name a few: construction, restaurants and hospitality, agriculture, healthcare, and information technology.

During 2006-2010, hired farm labor made up 17% of different production expenses in the U.S. agriculture. The top three were fruit with 48%, nursery products with 46%, and vegetables with 35% (USDA ERS). It’s estimated that six out of every ten immigrants are undocumented immigrants. These statistics show how vital immigrants are to American agriculture. Immigrants complete almost half of the agriculture workforce. Why this? My opinion believes it’s partially due to the pride of Americans. Most average, educated Americans don’t want a laborious job that pays low wages. Based on the most recent National Agriculture Workers Survey, a report published by the U.S. Department of labor, farm workers work 42 hours per week and earn $7.25 per hour on average, but this “average” varies greatly. For instance, workers who have worked for the same employer for multiple years earn more than other workers. Those who have been with an employer for a year or less make an average of $6.76 per hour, and those who have been with the same employer for at least 6 years earn an average of $8.05 per hour (National Farm Workers Ministry). The federal minimum wage rate is $7.25 per hour. These indicates that most illegal immigrants are being paid under or barely minimum wage.

The main problem with the large number of immigrants needed to perform this work is that they lack the legal status to do so. An analysis conducted using the U.S. Department of labor’s National Survey indicates that over the past 15 years, about half of the hired workers employed in the U.S. crop agriculture were unauthorized, most of them coming from Mexico (USDA ERS). The H-2A program allows a certain number of immigrants each year to perform agriculture work by giving these workers temporary visas. In 2012, about 1.1 million hired farm workers on average were employed on U.S. farms, according to the Farm Labor Survey of USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). That same year, 611,912 temporary workers visas were issued. 65,345 of those were H-2A visas for agricultural workers. The problem with immigrants isn’t them. It’s the policy of allowing them to work in a labor market legally they are needed. These are the problem the U.S.’s agricultural market is facing.

Construction is another primary labor market affected by immigrants. According to the U.S. Labor Department, the construction industry employs almost six million individuals, accounting for about 5% of the whole labor force in the United States. Most of the work under the construction industry doesn’t necessarily require formal education. The construction industry highly depends on the immigrant labor for production. The sector employs about one million illegal immigrants nationally (Capps et al. 52). Approximately one in every five unauthorized immigrants is engaged in the construction industry. This industry is ranked second largest employer to the illegal immigrants in the United States. Reforms on the immigration legislation will probably lower the number of illegal immigrants by sensitizing the current laws enforced and enacting new laws that makes it possible for the immigrants to be easily and legally absorbed into the construction industry. The growing housing industry in the United States has continued to utilize the services of immigrants. As the housing industry gains momentum and demand for hiring more employee’s rises, labor shortage that has been witnessed in the past can only be dealt with by employing immigrant population. Studies have shown that immigrant’s forms the most crucial source for new workers need to boost the construction industry. The immigrant labor in the construction industry is adjusting quickly and is highly variable to the changing economic environment that is witnessed in the country. The United States needs modern infrastructure, and this is possible through hiring of more immigrants some of whom are experts in the construction industry (Kerr, pg 31).

Immigration reforms will ensure that only legal immigrants are employed to work in the construction industry. Other aspects of the proposed regulations that will have some impacts on the construction industry is the amnesty for illegal immigrants currently residing in the U.S. and a worker provision which will permit employers to employ foreign workers after showing a failed but reasonable capability to hire native workers (Becerra, David, et al. 111). Although these regulations seem to warrant a supply of immigrant labor force, they have a prevailing wage caveat accompanied, which will ultimately increase the labor cost.

Immigration has some impacts on the U.S. healthcare. The effect of immigration on healthcare and public systems is complex and not simple to generalize. Differences among the sub-groups of the immigrants are essential and should not be overlooked when discussing the effects of immigration on utilization and healthcare coverage. However, significant research has indicated that immigrants tend to utilize less traditional healthcare providers, less health cover and less quality care with urgent care clinic and higher emergency rooms when compared to the native U.S. born citizens (Kerr, pg 11). Additionally, immigrants come to the United States mainly for employment and career opportunities and are healthy with fewer health issues compared to the United States native citizens. These are among the reasons which contribute to fewer visits to the doctor and little utilization of healthcare. Interestingly, health deterioration and more needs of health care among the immigrants come as a result of adopting sedentary lifestyles and western diets. Nevertheless, it must be remembered that some of the immigrants are professionals, including nurses and physicians who can make a big difference in the U.S health care system. If the government is able to tap on the potentials of these professional immigrants, it is possible to limit the impact of nurses’ shortage and increase the quality and safety of health care in the United States.

With the growth of hospitality jobs anticipated to continue and the U.S born individuals shrinking, graying and running for higher-skilled jobs, the hospitality sector requires immigrants’ workforce to run the industry. Hospitality and restaurant jobs, which account for about 10% employment in the United States, are disproportionally filled by immigrants who not only clean and wash dishes and hotel rooms but also run small businesses that offer more job opportunities. The U.S. immigrants who constitute nearly thirteen percent of the entire population in the U.S account for approximately 31% of hotel laborers and 22% of food service laborers (Kerr, pg 46). Immigrant business communities account for 43% of small motels and hotels and 37% of small restaurants operators. History has it that immigrants have taken a very significant role in helping the hospitality and restaurant industry regarding solving staffing issues. Most of the immigrants come from underdeveloped nations and are eager to handle jobs considered unattractive by the U.S born individuals, making the immigrants indispensable in the growth of the hospitality industry.

The information technology sector has benefited immensely from the contributions made by immigrants coming to U.S. Information technology is vital for the growth of an economy. Information technology can grow by increasing the number of immigrants who are willing to move and work in the United States of America (Kerr, pg 21). Devices that are utilized for information technology appear virtually everywhere. Such equipment can be located in classrooms, factory, and floors and at home as well as in individual’s pockets. By all accounts, information technology appears to be changing the manner in which various organizations conduct their businesses in the United States.  For the devices to function efficiently, people have to be employed to maintain the equipment, operate them as well as install some of them. Therefore, the immigrants can provide cheap labor when it comes to hiring them in the information technology department.

Studies have shown that immigration plays a crucial role in boosting innovation in information technology sector. Recent research on the impact of the Jewish immigrants from Germany following the Second World War has shown the vital role that the immigrants play towards innovation and more so in sectors such as information and technology. Some of the Jews who migrated to the United States of America during the Second World War have been at the forefront in the creation of modern equipment used in information technology (Becerra, David, et al. 111). These benefits to the country are driven by contact between the native inventors and immigrants who share information and ideas towards creating a better technique for people around the world. Recently, president Trump has ordered a review of immigration policies to reducing the number of immigrants moving to the United States of America. However, the idea has been opposed by many organizations as a result of the impact that these immigrants contribute towards the economy in the country and more so in the information and technology sector. The H1B visa program allows 65000 high skilled immigrants to move to the United States each year. It is essential to understand that most American technology firm relies on these immigrants to staff critical positions created within their organization. Information technology companies are not left out. A foreign worker might possess knowledge that is critical in the information technology sector, and this may end up benefiting the society as well as the country (Capps et al. 18). In support of the technological importance of immigrants, a case of the NAZI scientists brought to the United States after the end of the Second World War offers a good example. Owing to the technological capability of these scientists, the United States was able to tap their knowledge that was vital in the development and improvement of the United. Examples of these Scientists included Wernher Von Braun who was a member of various German political organizations and was the chief developer of the V-2 rocket. Following the operation Paperclip, he became the director of the Development Operations Division of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency. He helped the United States develop the Jupiter-C rocket, which was used to launch America’s first satellite. Von Braun was also instrumental in leading the moon mission, an indication that the minds of the immigrants can be used for the benefit of the United States.

In conclusion, the impact of immigration on the United States’ workforce cannot be underestimated.  Supply of labor is one of the most important effects of immigration on the country’s workforce. A study conducted in 2014 reveals that over thirty million adult immigrants have a job in the country. However, the number is not distributed evenly across all sectors or occupation. Most immigrants are concentrated on tasks that require fewer skills. Besides, it is also important to note that some immigrants have got high skills needed in various industries around the country. Thirty-four percent of the workers are in building maintenance and clearing, twenty-six percent are working in the construction industry, and the remaining population is working in other sectors such as healthcare, information technology and hospitality and hotel industry. Immigration has thus increased the supply of cheap labor in some sectors. As a consequence, any impact on the job opportunities or wages of Native Americans is likely to fall on Americans employed in low paying or less skilled occupations. Given the competition they face, it is not a surprise that Native Americans with fewer skills have developed a less favorable view towards the immigrant population.

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  1. Becerra, David, et al. “Fear vs. facts: Examining the economic impact of undocumented immigrants in the US.” J. Soc. & Soc. Welfare 39 (2012): 111.
  2. Capps, Randy, Kristen McCabe, and Michael Fix. “Diverse streams: African migration to the United States.” Migration Policy Institute: Washington, DC (2012).
  3. Kerr, William R. US high-skilled immigration, innovation, and entrepreneurship: Empirical approaches and evidence. No. w19377. National Bureau of Economic Research, 2013.
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