Photographer: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

U.S. Loses Billions by Wasting Immigrant Talent


The world’s largest economy is losing billions of dollars every year by having immigrant doctors drive taxis and engineers wait tables. 

Almost a quarter of the 7.6 million immigrants in the U.S. with college degrees are either unemployed or working in jobs that don’t require high school education, according to an analysis of 2009-2013 U.S. Census Bureau data by the Migration Policy Institute, New American Economy and World Education Services. 

If these immigrants were working at jobs that match their skills, they would earn $39.4 billion more annually, and be able to pay $10.2 billion more in taxes -- $7.2 billion at the federal level and $3 billion at the state and local level, according to the report that measures economic costs of high-skilled immigrants’ so-called "brain waste."

Skills mismatch is not unique to immigrants, as nearly 7 million U.S.-born college graduates also struggle to find employment at their skill level, the findings showed. However, only 18 percent of them are likely to be unemployed or underemployed, versus the 25 percent of total high-skilled immigrant population.

The phenomenon is particularly acute for immigrants who earned their degrees outside the U.S. versus those who were educated in the U.S., and those who were less proficient in English. Race and ethnicity also had a powerful impact, with Asians and whites showing significantly lower rates of being underemployed than their hispanic or black counterparts, according to the report.

"Human-capital losses should be of special concern today as there has been a pronounced, steady shift in who is coming to the U.S., with more highly educated immigrants arriving in recent years," researchers wrote in the report. The study follows the election last month of Donald Trump, who promised a tougher stance on migrant labor. 

Almost half of adult immigrants entering the U.S. between 2011-2015 held a bachelor’s degree or more, up from the 33 percent share ahead of the 2007-2009 recession, according to the report analyzing U.S. Census Bureau data.

“Smarter immigration policy can help connect workers of every background to jobs that match their skill sets — and make the economy stronger for all of us," John Feinblatt, chairman of New American Economy, said in a statement.