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Immigrants as Foreign-Born Labor Participants by Anika Jagasia

July 2, 2020

By Anika Jagasia

Defining the U.S. Workforce

The United States workforce is defined as the total number of employed and unemployed individuals available for work. The purpose and organization of the U.S. workforce functions similarly to a three-tier diagram. At the bottom is an individual’s specific occupation. The middle represents the employing organizations, firms, or businesses of an individual’s occupation. At the top is the industry which categorizes primary activities among organizations and/or firms but on a broader level. Numbered below are the top industries that categorize the organization or firm one’s specific occupation falls under within the U.S. workforce. Additionally, listed under the predominant industries are examples of establishments or possible occupations under an industry.  

Health Care/Social Services

  1. Major Hospitals 
  2. Doctor or Dentist offices
  3. Nursing and Residential Care facilities 


  1. Food Processing Occupations
  2. Assemblers and Fabricators
  3. Laboratory technicians

Agriculture/Forestry/Fishing/& Hunting

  1. Establishments engaged in growing crops, raising animals, harvesting timber
  2. Agricultural workers
  3. Animal breeders 

Retail Trade

  1. Pharmacists
  2. Hand packers and packagers
  3. Accounting and auditing clerks

Educational Services & Public Administration

Human services

  1. Elected official
  2. Legislative assistant

Accommodation/Food Services

  1. Waiters and waitresses
  2. Foodservice managers
  3. Cashiers

Mining/Quarrying/Oil & Gas Extraction

  1. Mining machine operators
  2. Extraction workers
  3. Operating engineers


  1. Construction equipment operators
  2. Construction laborers and helpers
  3. Construction and building inspectors

Professional and Technical Services

  1. Accountants and auditors
  2. Management analysts
  3. Software developers

Non-predominant others 

The Civilian Labor Force 

As of May 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a population of 158 million in the U.S. workforce (1). A significant labor force comparison is the demographic composition of the foreign-born labor force juxtaposed against the native-born labor force. 

Foreign-born workers are persons residing in the United States who were not U.S. citizens at birth and include legally-admitted immigrants, temporary residents such as students and workers, undocumented immigrants, and refugees. 

Native-born workers include persons born in the United States and its outlying areas of Guam or Puerto Rico as well as those who have at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen if born abroad.  

Labor Force Statistics: Foreign-born vs. Native-born 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 28.4 million foreign-born workers in 2019, making up 17.4% of the entire U.S. labor force (2). Moreover, about 1 of every 6 workers are foreign-born (3). In certain industries, foreign-born workers have more extensive and beneficial contributions. Reported by the U.S. Department of labor in 2019, 22.5% of foreign-born workers were more likely to be employed in service occupations than native-born workers (16%) (2). In the sectors of natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations 13.4% of the labor force is foreign-born compared to only 8.2% native. Additionally, in production, transportation, and moving occupations 14.7% are foreign-born compared to only 11.2% native-born. 

Why We Need Immigration 

The higher percentage of foreign-born labor participation in certain industries illuminates the crucial role immigrants play in the U.S. workforce. Contrary to myths claiming immigration hurts native-born American workers by increasing competition or draining the U.S. economy, immigration actually benefits our economy and society. As the George W. Bush Center states, “When immigrants enter the labor force, they increase the productive capacity of the economy and raise GDP. Their incomes rise, but so do those of natives. It’s a phenomenon dubbed the “immigration surplus” (4). The growth of immigrant participation within the labor force represents their crucial role in developing a more efficient and productive economy. Furthermore, innovatively speaking, patenting rates since the 1990s from high-skilled immigrants have increased, signifying growth in entrepreneurial activity within the nation.

Looking Towards the Future

Undocumented immigrants make up 5% of the U.S. workforce (5). As the discussion of immigration and its influence on the economy is associated with controversial opinions, plausible issues, and perceptions without evidence, it is important to extend one’s education beyond misconceptions and beliefs. Foreign-born labor participants operate as business owners, workers, taxpayers, and more. They make beneficial contributions to our nation, not only in terms of the economy but also in diversity. Continuing to educate one another about the role of foreign-born immigrants in the U.S. labor force will ultimately benefit society and spread awareness. 

Additional Educational Resources 

Immigrants and Immigration Mythbusters: Addressing Common Misconceptions


Labor Force Characteristics of Foreign-Born Workers Summary 


Immigrants as Economic Contributors: They are the New American Workforce


Works Cited 

  1. “United States Labor Force Statistics - Seasonally Adjusted.” DLT. Accessed June 27, 2020. http://www.dlt.ri.gov/lmi/laus/us/usadj.htm.
  2. “Labor Force Characteristics of Foreign-Born Workers Summary.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 15, 2020. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/forbrn.nr0.htm/labor-force-characteristics-of-foreign-born-workers-summary.
  3. “Immigrants as Economic Contributors: They Are the New American Workforce.” National Immigration Forum, June 5, 2018. https://immigrationforum.org/article/immigrants-as-economic-contributors-they-are-the-new-american-workforce/.
  4. Benefits of Immigration Outweigh the Costs. Accessed June 27, 2020. https://www.bushcenter.org/catalyst/north-american-century/benefits-of-immigration-outweigh-costs.html.
  5. “Read ‘The New Americans: Economic, Demographic, and Fiscal Effects of Immigration’ at NAP.edu.” National Academies Press: OpenBook. Accessed June 27, 2020. https://www.nap.edu/read/5779/chapter/6.

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