Mapping Stereotypes: Immigrant Jobs in the US

Immigrants in the US are widely held to be employed in low-wage jobs such as gardening or housekeeping. A map created by Business Insider, showing the most common jobs held by immigrants across the United States, reinforces many stereotypes. However, a closer look reveals some surprising results.


The map largely offers an image of immigrants’ jobs corresponding to people’s prejudices, with immigrants holding down low-paying jobs in sectors such as agriculture on the West Coast and housekeeping and construction across much of the South. Yet, there are also four states in the East in which immigrants most commonly work as college professors, and in Delaware the predominant occupation among people born outside the US is software developer.
More importantly however, the map reveals that a significant number of immigrants work as health aides, nurses or personal care aides. Jobs in healthcare will be increasingly in demand with the aging of the population and the supply of workers will depend in part on the availability of immigrant workers.

Indeed, the distribution of immigrant jobs shown on map may lead to false conclusions regarding immigrant employment. The map suggests that most immigrants are employed in low-wage jobs, such as agricultural work or housekeeping. However, the Economic Policy Institute found in an extensive survey that, in the United States as a whole, there are almost as many immigrants in white-collar jobs (46%) as in all other occupations combined. Thus, the perception that all immigrants work in low-wage jobs is clearly inaccurate. While immigrants might be overrepresented in some occupations and underrepresented in others, the discrepancy between the US and foreign born population is not as dramatic as is often assumed. While immigrants are overrepresented in low-wage occupations, as the map shows, they also play a significant role in some high-wage and middle-wage jobs. An analysis of the Bureau of Labor Statistics data for example reveals that high-skilled immigrant workers are overrepresented in industries such as information technology, life sciences and high-tech manufacturing.

However, the fact many immigrants work in high-skilled and high-wage jobs offers little consolation for those at the bottom. Low-wage immigrant workers do not enjoy the benefits of employer-provided training programs as these are usually geared to managers or highly skilled employees. They are also outside the reach of government-sponsored job training programs that aim to inject more equality in the labor market. The data from the census that is represented on the map includes both documented and non-documented immigrants. While documented immigrants tend to hold higher skilled jobs, undocumented immigrants are relegated to menial work. The social gap is wide apart between immigrants at the top and at the bottom and it is not due to get any narrower soon.

In any case, foreign workers make up a large portion of the US work force and are vital to the US economy. An infographic that sums up data from the Immigration and Integration Initiative, as well as original AS/COA research shows just how big an impact immigrants both documented and undocumented have on prosperity in the United States. For example, immigrants started 28% of all new businesses in 2011, employing 1 in 10 US workers, while they only make up 13% of society as a whole.  On average, immigrants pay $1,800 more in taxes than they receive in benefits. They also produce significantly more consumer spending, thereby creating new jobs.

Both the insights from the map and from the infographic remain rather superficial because the statistical analyses do not go beyond job titles. For instance, it might be interesting to see, what skills or talents immgrants in the US bring with them exactly and how they could be put to use most efficiently. Also, an international comparison with other countries would offer valuable insights. An indepth investigation of immigrants’ occupations and skills would mean processing a wealth of data. More importantly however, it would require adequate tools that allow drawing significant conclusions. offers exactly that. Its semantic matching technology and its expertise in occupation and skills data provide an effective means to analyse the potential and shortages of immigrants’ skills. Furthermore, would allow to compare the immigrants within the US workforce to immigrants in other countries, as the ontology JANZZon! connects job titles, skills and qualifications across multiple languages and cultures. The ontology would also allow to assess the skills of immigrants better, showing them what skills exactly they lack in order to climb up the social and economic ladder. The tools by therefore offer a starting point in order to allocate immigrants to the best possible occupations and to learn from an international economic comparison.