Immigrants are keeping America safe, healthy and fed during COVID-19 emergency

A new report published by the Center for Migrant Studies finds that immigrants in the US labor force work at disproportionate rates in “essential critical infrastructure” jobs, as defined by the Department of Home Land Security. The report shows that immigrants are working – often at great risk to their health and lives – to keep Americans safe, healthy, fed, and poised for economic recovery.

From the report:

“Nationally, foreign-born workers comprise 18 percent of workers in essential critical infrastructure categories. In the overwhelming majority of states, immigrants make up a larger share of essential workers than the native-born, and a larger share than that of all immigrant workers in the state’s labor market.

Naturalized citizens make up 67 percent of immigrants working in health care, including 74 percent of immigrants working in hospitals and 74 percent of those working in doctors’ and dentists’ offices. Many of these immigrants work on the front lines with coronavirus patients.

Undocumented immigrants comprise 54 percent of foreign-born workers in agriculture and farms, and 40 percent in disinfection. These workers contribute to the nation’s food security and health. Undocumented immigrants also comprise 50 percent of foreign-born workers in construction, including plumbers and electricians, and the plurality of immigrant workers in tire, rubber, cement, and household appliance manufacturing. These workers will also be vital to the ability of the Americans and the US economy to rebound from the pandemic.”

Other areas of significant contributions:

  • 16 percent of US health care sector workers.
  • 33 percent of health care sector workers in New York State, 32 percent in California, 31 percent in New Jersey, 23 percent in Massachusetts, 17 percent in Illinois, and 9 percent in Pennsylvania; these states have the highest numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases at this writing (CDC 2020).
  • 26 percent of home health care workers and aides for the elderly.
  • 22 percent of workers in scientific research and laboratories.
  • 24 percent of workers in medical equipment manufacturing and 25 percent in pharmaceuticals manufacturing; i.e., businesses that supply the health care sector.
  • 28 percent of janitors and building cleaners, 23 percent of workers in disinfection, and 23 percent of those who manufacture soap and cleaning compounds.

The findings of this report, written by Donald Kerwin, Mike Nicholson, Daniela Alulema, and Robert Warren, are at odds with the policies of the current administration, which have consistently sought to divest immigrant populations of legal status and to decrease legal immigration through a variety of administrative measures, including a recent presidential proclamation to suspend the admission of persons in many legal immigration categories.

According to data presented by the authors, the contributions of immigrants to the US labor force and economy have been well-documented. The labor force participation rates of the foreign-born, have long exceeded those of the native-born.  Immigrants fill gaps in the US economy, improve labor market efficiency, and support the aging US population.  Immigration has also “brought to the United States an inordinate share of the world’s best talent which has been a windfall in a global economy where heavy advantages accrue to the most innovative companies and countries”.