Immigrants in the United States

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Immigration is the movement of people from one country to another for a number of reasons. The term immigrant can be applied to both those who are legally privileged to move from their country of origin (legal immigrants) and those who do not have the legal right to do so, including refugees. The term can also be used to describe the descendants of those who are immigrants.

The United States has a long history of migration. Its relatively open frontier in the 18th and 19th centuries beckoned settlers seeking economic betterment and a new life. The influx of migrants contributed to the development of many American communities, industries and political institutions.

Contemporary immigration is driven by the same forces that have influenced the nation throughout its history. Its impact, however, is more complex because of differences in the ways in which it occurs today compared to the past. For example, while many Americans still hold the view that recent waves of immigrants have failed to assimilate, the research indicates that most children of contemporary immigrants are on track for upward mobility.

In addition, immigrants have become a significant source of labour for the agricultural, manufacturing and service sectors in the United States. The most common occupations for immigrants are professionals, managers and technicians. In addition, the educational profile of today’s immigrants has become bimodal. Many have college degrees and many are able to speak multiple languages. However, those with less education tend to gravitate to unskilled jobs in the construction industry and nursing homes for the elderly.

The demographic composition of the immigrant population has shifted considerably since the mid-1960s. The 1965 immigration act transformed the system for selecting legal immigrants by abolishing national quotas and granting priority to those who had family already living in the United States, those needed for employment, and refugees. As a result, the major countries of origin for immigrant flows have shifted from Europe to Latin America and Asia.

Moreover, the composition of the immigrant population has changed significantly in the last couple of decades as the economy has moved away from traditional heavy manufacturing to services and high tech industries. While California and New York remain the most popular destinations for immigrants, they are no longer alone. Other regions are now attracting immigrants, particularly small towns in the Midwest and Southeast. The influx of immigrants into these regions has been driven by the need for labour in agriculture, food processing and many other industrial jobs that are not traditionally a magnet for native born workers. In the long run, these immigrants are a positive for the American economy and society. They are not the “enemy” of jobs, but rather a powerful economic force that creates and sustains jobs by spending their incomes on goods and services and paying taxes. This stimulates demand, increases the productivity of American businesses and helps to create more jobs. Despite the myths about immigrants that pervade popular thinking, these facts are not widely known.