The face of the American workforce is constantly changing. During the early days of the Republic, immigrants from Europe flooded the continent, a trend that largely continued into the 20th century. While that legacy endured for generations, the waves of incoming peoples started to include a more diverse mix — composed not merely of European groups, but also Asian, Latin American, and African as well, although sometimes unfortunately not always by their own free will.
America truly is a country composed almost entirely of immigrants — whether from Europe, Asia, Africa, or Latin America. These days, we most commonly think of immigrants as flooding into the country from our southern border, typically from Mexico and Central America. Overall, this is correct. The majority of America’s immigrant population is made up of people coming from not only Mexico, but also Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and others.
But there are other countries seeing fairly massive movements of people to the United States as well, most notably from the Asian continent.
According to the Center for Immigration Studies, the total immigration population in the United States swelled to 41.3 million in 2013, double what it was 23 years prior in 1990. That population spike has largely been supplied by newcomers from India and China, and because of economic conditions in Central America and Mexico, where violence and poverty have driven people from their native countries to the U.S.
Of that 41 million people (which includes both documented and undocumented immigrants), dissecting the countries of origin is important for a couple of reasons. One, it gives us an inkling as to the future makeup of the U.S. in terms of workforce integration, and two, because the future of the U.S. economy will rely very heavily on immigrant labor to keep pace with the rest of the world.
With that said, to fully understand the American workforce and the future of the U.S. economy, it’s important to know who will make up that workforce. Luckily, the Migration Policy Institute has some hard data to look at.
Of the 41 million first-generation immigrants living in the U.S., the biggest subset, 28%, have made their way to America from Mexico. That’s by far where most immigrants are coming from, although as explained before, India and China are quickly gaining ground. As of 2013, research shows that Asians are now the quickest-growing ethnic group in the U.S., with that growth being fueled in large part thanks to immigration. China has become the top country of origin for new immigrants as well.
What that means is that not only will America be seeing some demographic changes on a large scale in the near future, but also that different economic sectors will probably go through some transitions as well. While immigrants coming from Mexico and Central America are often written off as unskilled and thus relegated to jobs involving manual labor, immigrants from India and China are coming with college degrees and an ability to speak English.
That gives them a leg up in many respects, but also poses a threat to natives in terms of employment. While immigrants from south of the border typically find jobs in areas where Americans are unwilling to look, immigrants from Asia are looking for jobs in tech companies and other more competitive fields.
This is a good thing in many ways, and has actually been a stated goal of the Obama administration — to attract talented immigrants to help spur economic growth. But a more competitive economy may scare Americans, particularly those with similar skill sets to new arrivals who may be willing to work for smaller paychecks. That’s not to say that American jobs are in trouble right this very minute, but a morphing labor force will, sooner or later, experience some growing pains.
Again, with that in mind, it’s important to know where America’s new arrivals are coming from in order to best plan for the future. While Mexico is the top origin by a large margin, other countries are catching up. Here are the top ten countries of origin of immigrants now living in the U.S., with the percentage each contributes to the more than 41 million total immigrant population:
- Guatemala: 2%
- Dominican Republic: 2%
- South Korea: 3%
- Cuba: 3%
- El Salvador: 3%
- Vietnam: 3%
- The Philippines: 4%
- China: 5%
- India: 5%
- Mexico: 28%