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Educated immigrants now outnumber lower-skilled

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BOB MOON: A fresh review of census numbers is pointing to a dramatic shift in the skill level of America’s immigrant workforce. It shows that among both temporary and permanent immigrants, highly skilled workers now outnumber lower-skilled ones.

Audrey Singer is a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution, and an author of the report. Thanks for being with us.

AUDREY SINGER: Good morning.

MOON: This seems to counter popular belief — more skilled immigrants than unskilled?

SINGER: That’s right. It’s pretty recent, but the rise of more highly skilled immigrants has happened over the last five years or so.

MOON: And how and why is this happening?

SINGER: Well, I mean we have a changing mix of needs in this country in terms of our industries and the restructuring of the U.S. economy. But we also have large flows of international students coming in — some of whom stay. We have temporary worker programs like the H1B that also bring in highly skilled immigrants.

MOON: I wonder how this might play into the economic recovery.

SINGER: Well, as we will see, the economic recovery is going to be uneven across metropolitan areas and also the changing nature of work in those places will draw different immigrants over time.

MOON: And will this skilled labor help give us that extra push?

SINGER: Well, if we take advantage of who we have here. We also found in our report that a lot of immigrants are overqualified for their jobs, and it’s up to us to support immigrants who are here whether they’re low-skilled or high-skilled or somewhere in between.

MOON: Audrey Singer is a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution. Thanks for joining us.

SINGER: You’re welcome.

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