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How Changes in Immigration Affect California’s Workforce

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Immigrants are essential to California’s workforce. In the past two decades, as labor market needs have shifted, the composition of recent immigrants (those arriving in the last five years) has changed dramatically. Today, recent immigrants to California are much more likely to hold a bachelor’s or more advanced degree than in the past—and in fact are now more likely than US-born Californians to do so.

While the number of recent immigrants to California fell by 24% between 2000 and 2016, the number of highly educated immigrants rose by 41%. In 2016, about half of recent immigrants held at least a bachelor’s degree. Highly educated immigrants work in every major industry in the state and comprise about 30% of the highly educated workforce.

These changes in educational attainment coincide with other shifts in immigration patterns. A large portion of the decline in immigration to California can be attributed to the falling numbers of immigrants arriving from Mexico. In 2000, over half a million recent immigrants came from Mexico. By 2016, that number fell by more than 70% to less than 150,000 people.

Now, China has slightly edged out Mexico as the leading country of origin, and these top two countries are followed by India, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Immigrants from China and India tend to be highly educated: in 2016, 47% of recent immigrants from China—and around 80% of recent immigrants from India—had at least a bachelor’s degree. The interactive below allows you to further explore changes in education levels over time among recent immigrants overall and from these five countries.

The sharp increase in highly educated immigrants and the decline in less-educated immigrants reflect the changing labor market in California. Unemployment rates for workers with at least a bachelor’s degree (3.3%) are about half those of less-educated workers (6.5%). With California expected to face a shortfall of 1.1 million college graduates by 2030, highly educated immigrants are a key component to helping the state address the workforce skills gap.

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