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Immigrants help fill gaps in trucking workforce

Elizabeth Trovall Mar 6, 2023
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Like many trades, trucking doesn’t attract U.S.-born workers like it used to. The hours are long, and the median pay is around $48,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.   The Palmer/Getty Images

Immigrants help fill gaps in trucking workforce

Elizabeth Trovall Mar 6, 2023
Heard on:
Like many trades, trucking doesn’t attract U.S.-born workers like it used to. The hours are long, and the median pay is around $48,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.   The Palmer/Getty Images
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The number of foreign-born truck drivers in the U.S. has more than doubled since 2000, as U.S.-born drivers retire and demand to move freight remains high. In diverse Houston, a major shipping corridor, the industry’s demographic shifts are especially pronounced.

Being a trucker can be tough. And like many trades, it doesn’t attract U.S.-born workers like it used to. The hours are long, and the median pay is around $48,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  

Houston-area truck driver Jorge Chavez said he’s seen many immigrants join the industry in his last 20 years in the business. He himself immigrated to the U.S. as a teen. Chavez is following in his mom’s footsteps — she was a trucker in El Salvador.

“She drove from El Salvador to Costa Rica, Honduras with my brother and I,” he said.

Chavez worked his way up and now owns and operates two trucks for Jetco, a local freight carrier. For him, the money is good.

“You can do about $12,000 per month, after everything,” he said.

Chavez said many Central Americans who have work visas through temporary protected status, a humanitarian designation for people fleeing certain conflicts or disasters, have become drivers in Houston.

Many Afghans, Eritreans and Cubans in the city have also become drivers, and some have even started their own small trucking businesses.

The industry is diversifying across the state. Since 2000, the number of foreign-born truck drivers in Texas has tripled to nearly 95,000. That’s a quarter of the state’s truckers, according to an American Immigration Council analysis of government data.

“I talked to a lot of company owners that actively recruit in other countries,” said Texas Trucking Association President John Esparza. “There is an avenue to come to this country and make a really good living in trucking.”

But Esparza said there should be more legal pathways to hire drivers from abroad. “There’s frankly room to have a special visa just for trucking,” he said.

He also said it should be easier to get work permits for the millions of undocumented people living in the country, many of whom could become career drivers.

“You have people that want to work here, and we need the labor,” he said.

A version of this story appeared in The Houston Chronicle.

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