Working Immigrants in the United States

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Immigrants are people who move from their home country to another to live, work, and settle. They must go through a rigorous vetting process to become lawful permanent residents or citizens of their new countries. Immigrants often make major changes to their lives to fit the cultural and economic landscape of their new homes, including learning a language, finding employment in high-demand industries, and building connections with their neighbors.

Immigration is a complex issue, and many myths and misconceptions persist. For example, some Americans believe that immigrants are taking jobs from U.S. workers, but empirical studies indicate that the vast majority of immigrants complement rather than replace native-born labor. In fact, working-age immigrants contribute to the nation’s economy by spending their wages on housing, food, and TVs, expanding domestic economic demand. These purchases then generate additional jobs in the production of these goods and services.

Regardless of the number of jobs they hold, most immigrants feel that their move to the United States has improved their quality of life. When survey participants were asked to share their own stories about why they moved, many mentioned better opportunities or a desire to provide a better future for their children. Others described leaving poor economic and unsafe conditions in their home countries.

Most working immigrants are employed in low-skilled occupations such as agriculture, construction, and food service. However, they also fill a wide variety of other jobs, including those in manufacturing, sales, health care, and service industries. They are more likely to be self-employed or owners of businesses than are non-immigrants. In the case of the least-educated working immigrants, almost seven in ten are self-employed.

As a result of their limited English proficiency, many working immigrants report experiencing workplace discrimination. While the most commonly reported discrimination is based on race and ethnicity, limited English is also associated with higher levels of reporting of discrimination based on religion, gender, or age. The most common form of workplace discrimination is denial of promotions or raises.

In addition to experiencing discrimination in the workplace, working immigrants also face other challenges to living and thriving in the United States. One of the most significant barriers is access to affordable housing. The median rent in the United States for a two-bedroom apartment is $895, while in most states it is more than $1,000. In addition to being cost prohibitive, renting an apartment can be difficult for immigrants because most landlords do not want to rent to undocumented immigrants.

As a result of these barriers, immigrants may be reluctant to report their discrimination for fear of retaliation and for fear that it will affect their legal status. This is a significant barrier that needs to be addressed as the United States continues to strive toward its ideals of a nation of opportunity.