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Immigration is a complicated issue -- and a controversial one at the moment in America. Some people worry that too many people are coming to our country, or that too many people are doing so illegally, while others note that immigrants are a critical part of our national workforce, and are likely to remain so, especially with many baby boomers in the process of retiring.

Whatever your stance on the issue, it's important to know which industries in our economy rely heavily on immigrant labor. After all, if the immigrant population shrinks and/or fewer people immigrate to America, certain sectors may suffer -- as may the people who rely on those industries.

Image source: Getty Images.

Industries with the most immigrant workers

The folks at the Pew Research Center have estimated, based on 2014 data, which sectors have the largest proportion of immigrant workers:

Industry

Immigrant Workers

Private households

45%

Textile, apparel, leather manufacturing

36%

Agriculture

33%

Accommodation

32%

Food manufacturing

29%

Computer and electronic products

27%

Personal and laundry services

26%

Administrative and support services

25%

Construction

24%

Miscellaneous and unspecified manufacturing

23%

Data source: Pew Research Center.

The findings are not too surprising. It's not a secret that many private households employ immigrant workers to provide gardening, cleaning, and childcare services, among many others. Factories, too, are known to employ many immigrants, while the image of immigrants toiling in agricultural fields is a common one.

Immigration surprises

There are some things about immigration that might surprise you, though. Consider these:

  • A 500-page report on the economic and fiscal consequences of immigration by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found that immigrants have little to no adverse effect on employment levels of non-immigrant workers or on earnings of non-immigrants.
  • A recent report by the National Bureau of Economic Research looked into causes of a declining national employment rate and found that an increased use of robots, as well as trade with China, were the main contributing forces, while immigration "did not even move the needle."
  • The American Immigration Council recently pointed out the economic value of immigrants, saying: "Immigrant-led households across the United States contribute hundreds of billions of dollars in federal, state, and local taxes each year. Residents of immigrant-led households wield nearly a trillion dollars in collective spending power (after-tax income)." It also noted that "millions of immigrant business owners account for one in five of all self-employed U.S. residents and generate tens of billions of dollars in business income each year."
  • While it's clear that many immigrants fill jobs that require little education and lots of physical exertion, it's good to remember that immigrants are employed across the entire spectrum from blue collar to white collar. In healthcare, for example, according to 2015 U.S. Census data, about 16.7% of the 12.4 million people who work in the industry are immigrants. The highest proportion of immigrants in healthcare are found at the highest level -- 27.9% of doctors and surgeons are immigrants.
  • Recent immigrants are, overall, more educated than past cohorts. Economist Jed Kolko explains: "Among immigrants age 25 and older residing in the U.S. in 2015, 48% of those who arrived after 2010 have a bachelor's degree, versus 35% of those who arrived between 2006 and 2010 and 27% of those who arrived in 2005 or earlier. By comparison, 31% of native-born adults have a bachelor's degree."

Whether immigration is slowed, reformed, or encouraged in the coming years, immigrants will remain a major and important part of the U.S. workforce. Knowing where they tend to work can help you make sense of economic developments in the nation and perhaps in your own industry, as well.

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