Growing acceptance of medical and recreational cannabis is a fact. Here’s what people really think about marijuana use in the workplace.
Friends or foes? Strangers or brothers? Outlanders or fellow citizens? Source of economic strength or driver of downturns?
Who are immigrants, and what do they mean to the US labor market?
Speaking of which… Consider Outlander. A historical drama series telling the story of Claire Randall, who suddenly moved back in time from 1945 to Scotland in 1743. Fans will know that her assimilation wasn’t easy. Not only was she not a clan member, but she was also English. Who was she for the Scottish Highlanders then? An immigrant? Or, as the title suggests, simply an outlander?
Or maybe you’re a fan of Steven Spielberg’s The Terminal (2004), whose main character can’t return to his homeland as it ceases to exist due to a revolutionary war. Trapped in legal limbo, he can't enter or leave the United States, so he’s forced to live in New York’s JFK airport as a castaway. For months no one seemed to be interested in his fate. How must he have felt then?
This brief pop culture introduction brings us to the main subject of our considerations for today. Immigration and immigrants.
But first, what is immigration? According to Merriam-Webster:
We all know the definition. And we all know someone who is an immigrant.
The United States is a nation built by immigrants. It is also often described as a country of immigrants. In fact, the majority of Americans are immigrants or descendants of immigrants.
“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”
Just take a look at the Founding Fathers. George Washington’s grandfather emigrated from Sulgrave, Northamptonshire, in England. Thomas Jefferson was of English and possibly Welsh descent and was born a British subject. Benjamin Franklin’s parents were English.
Let’s move to present times and consider a few famous faces. Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem. Both her maternal and paternal grandparents were immigrants. Arnold Schwarzenegger is an Austrian-born American citizen. Jackie Chan? Born in British-controlled Hong Kong.
For sure, some of you weren’t even aware of their roots. And all of these people are American stars, our fellow citizens, right? They work, pay taxes, vote in elections, and enjoy the same rights as other native-born Americans.
And what do we think about other, less famous immigrants? Our friends and neighbors who do everything from driving a taxi to holding C-suite roles in Fortune 500 companies. How are they different?
At ResumeLab, we surveyed 1,000 respondents to get to the bottom of the issue of immigration. We investigated:
- People’s attitude towards immigrants
- The influence of immigration on the American labor market
- Immigration’s impact on the US economy
- Popular myths people tend to believe in
Without any further ado, let’s go on.
Immigration basic statistics
First things first. In our research, we asked respondents if they consider themselves native-born Americans or immigrants. As a result, we discovered that 61% identify as native citizens, while 39% are immigrants.
A relatively high percentage of respondents are leaning toward their immigrant roots. After all, the United States is home to the largest immigrant population in the world.
And there is one more thing to consider here. Not only people who move to America themselves may identify as immigrants. Also, their children, although born in the States, can think of themselves as immigrants. Moreover, even people with one immigrant parent may favor their foreign roots more and identify as immigrants.
And here’s some data to support it. According to the American Immigration Council, in 2019, 38.3 million people in the United States (12% of the country’s population) were native-born Americans with at least one immigrant parent.
But does public perception match the statistics? Here’s what our respondents told us when we asked what they thought the immigrant population of the US is:
- 40% of respondents said there are 30–40 million immigrants.
- 37% thought it was between 40–50 million.
- 14% bet on 20–30 million.
- 7% were convinced that there are 50–60 million immigrants in the US.
- 2% guessed that there are 60 millionor more.
Only one range is correct. And here’s the answer – the second bullet provides the right number.
So the majority (63%) was wrong. Only 37% of respondents correctly indicated the range with the number of immigrants living in the United States.
Let’s move on.
In our research, we also tested respondents’ knowledge of the legal status of immigrants. We asked what, in their opinion, the status of most immigrants living in the United States is.
- 48% believed that most immigrants living in the US are here legally.
- 35% were of the opposite opinion, saying that the majority are here illegally.
- 14% take a balanced view that half are here legally and half illegally.
- 4% simply have no idea.
Who’s right? The truth is that most immigrants are here legally.
So, the 48% of respondents who chose this option were correct.
But let’s dive deeper and focus on the numbers.
We wanted to know more about public perception of the number of illegal immigrants. But to make things easier, we didn’t ask about specific numbers but percentage ranges.
- 42% estimated that the percentage of illegal immigrants equals 20–30% of the total.
- 31% are convinced that 10–20% of immigrants are undocumented.
- 13% chose 30–40%.
- 8% of respondents bet on 10% or less.
- 5% thought 40% or more.
And again, as with the question about the number of immigrants, not everybody was right. This time, the first bullet provides the correct answer.
Summing this up–
Only 37% of Americans know how many immigrants live in the country, while only 42% correctly indicate the percentage of undocumented immigrants.
So clearly, there’s a disconnect between public perception and reality.
With all this data in mind and the general economic condition, we asked about one more thing – the future of immigration. Do our respondents think that immigration to the US should increase, decrease, or stay as it is?
- 41% of survey respondents believe that the immigration level to the US should increase.
- In turn, 21% think it should decrease.
- 37% believe that it should be kept at its present level.
Now that we know basic immigration statistics and have shed some light on respondents’ knowledge of this issue, let’s move forward. Next, we’ll examine attitudes and emotions about immigration.
Feelings we have
“The greatest nations are defined by how they treat their weakest inhabitants.”
Is America the greatest nation then?
Turns out America is great indeed. We can say that most respondents treat immigrants well. How’s that?
- 21% think of immigrants with sympathy.
- 22% admit they have rather sympathetic feelings toward immigrants.
- 48% of respondents’ feelings are neutral, which is also great as they probably see immigrants the same as other citizens.
- Those whose feelings are rather unsympathetic or unsympathetic account for just 9%.
Many people come to the US as immigrants. But what are their reasons for doing so? The list is long, and it includes, e.g., employment opportunities, desire to escape conflicts, environmental factors, educational purposes, or reunion with family.
So the main reason here is not preying on government support or financial grants, or is it?
According to 38% of respondents, immigrants come to the US precisely for this – taking advantage of social benefits and welfare. Conversely, 62% believe they just want to improve their lives by finding a better job, starting an education, or escaping the tense situation in their country of origin.
Whatever the reasons for coming to the States, it’s crucial to remember that the term immigrants covers those who entered the country legally as well as those who are here illegally. Documented immigrants have citizenship, residence permit, or work visa. So, theoretically, we can say that the authorities have legally accepted their presence and welcomed them into the country.
But what about those who are undocumented? Are they equally welcome?
As a part of the study, we asked respondents whether they support the deportation of undocumented immigrants living in the country.
- 54% would support deportation.
- 34% would oppose deportation.
- 12% have no opinion on his issue.
At the end of this part of the survey, we presented respondents with a series of statements. We asked them whether they agreed or disagreed with the ideas presented. Their responses allowed us to learn more about public attitudes toward immigrants.
- 69% agreed that immigrants make the country stronger because of their work and talents.
- 66% agreed that the ability to immigrate to a new country is a human right.
- 61% agreed immigrants are willing to adjust to the American way of life.
- However, 57% agreed that immigrants are a burden because they take jobs and social benefits.
- Also, 54% agreed that the US should keep its borders closed to immigrants.
The last point caught our attention. People generally think positively about the issue and even see the advantages of immigration, but when presented with some negative sentences, they are still inclined to agree with them.
However, considering all the pros and cons, in general, more than 9 in 10 respondents (92%) believe that immigration is a good thing.
Let’s see if immigration is, in the opinion of survey takers, something positive for the labor market as well.
Immigration and the US labor market
So the chances are high that you or someone you know works with people born in another country. Our findings support this.
More than 8 in 10 respondents (84%) say they have work colleagues who are immigrants.
Only 10% said they don’t work with not-American-born workers.
With so many foreign-born workers, we can be certain that immigration does influence the job market. The question here is – in what way?
When asked, “what sort of effect does immigration have on your job?” respondents said that immigration has:
- positive effect – 75%
- negative effect – 13%
- no effect – 12%
So, according to the average American, the impact of immigration is not as bad as we’ve been led to believe.
So what about work-driven immigration? Should we increase, decrease or maintain it at it its present level? Here’s what our respondents told us:
- 39% said that the current number of immigrants working in the US is just fine.
- 29% felt there should be more immigrants working in the country.
- 26% believe that there should be fewer working newcomers.
- 6% admit that the perfect scenario is no immigrant workers.
Let’s dig deeper and verify the two biggest fears of anti-immigrant respondents – the impact of immigration on wages and job opportunities.
Money first. According to research participants, immigration makes wages:
- much higher – 22%
- slightly higher – 44%
- immigration does not affect wages – 7%
- slightly lower – 20%
- much lower – 7%
This gives us around two-thirds of respondents (66%) convinced that immigration positively affects wages.
Now for job opportunities. According to respondents, when it comes to finding a job, immigration makes it:
- much easier – 18%
- slightly easier – 34%
- immigration does not affect finding a job – 6%
- slightly harder – 29%
- much harder – 12%
Here, the votes for and against are more evenly balanced. 5 in 10 people (52%) believe that immigration makes it easier to find a job.
Conversely, 4 in 10 respondents (41%) think it’s harder to find a job because of immigrants. We have to give them some credit. After all, immigrants in a free and diverse labor market have the same chances of getting a job as native-born.
Is it easy to be an immigrant worker? Even if they assimilate and have the status of residents or working visas, immigrants still may be the target of unfair treatment. Practical experience again has seen the light thanks to our contributors.
- 43% say that immigrants are treated the same as native-born Americans at the workplace.
- Interestingly, 34% claim that immigrants are treated better.
- 25% take the opposite view and feel that foreign employees are treated worse than native-born.
The chances are that this mistreatment is all about discrimination. Therefore, we also wanted to shed some light on that matter. Our study reveals that:
- 76% of respondents said they’ve experienced or witnessed discrimination against immigrant workers.
Thus, the life of a working immigrant is not easy. And certainly not at the beginning of the career. We should give them credit for their devotion.
“Here’s to the security guards who maybe had a degree in another land. Here’s to the janitors who don’t understand English yet work hard despite it all. Here’s to the fast food workers who work hard to see their families smile. Here’s to the laundry man at the Marriott who told me with a sparkle in his eyes how he was an engineer in Peru. Here’s to the harvesters who live in fear of being deported for coming here to open the road for their future generation. Here’s to the taxi drivers from Nigeria, Ghana, Egypt, and India waking up at 4 am, calling home to hear the voices of their loved ones. Here is to their children, to the children who, despite it all, become artists, writers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, activists, and rebels. Here’s to international money transfer. For never forgetting home. Here’s to their children who carry the heartbeats of their motherland and, even in sleep, speak with pride about their fathers. Keep on.”
But there’s more about immigration and the labor market.
We presented respondents with a series of questions and asked them to give an opinion about each. To get the complete picture, we included both positive and negative perceptions of immigration and the labor market.
The first section covers positive aspects. The agreement (%) with each statement is as follows:
- Everyone should be treated equally in the workplace, regardless of being an immigrant employee or native-born – 69%
- Highly-skilled immigrants contribute to the productivity and skill level of the American workforce – 69%
- Discrimination against immigrants should be punished by law – 68%
- Immigrants’ work is essential for maintaining a healthy labor market – 66%
- Immigrants are more dedicated employees – 62%
Again, respondents show a high degree of friendliness toward the newcomers. Their skills are appreciated, as well as their dedication to work. Their productivity and efficiency are also viewed positively.
But an unexpected flip happens when survey takers are presented with the potential negative influence of immigration on the labor market.
- Immigrants are a target for workplace bullying – 64%
- Immigrants take native-born Americans’ jobs – 61%
- Immigrants mostly fill jobs the American-born don’t want – 60%
- Immigrants are paid less than American-born citizens – 60%
- American companies should favor American-born workers – 60%
Strange things happen when people are forced to focus on the negatives. Suddenly they forget about the positives and are more willing to agree with the cons of immigration.
Can we summarize the above by saying that immigration in relation to the labor market has both positive and negative sides? It seems like a safe bet. Like any other social or economic phenomenon, it cannot be either black or white.
Speaking of the economy… Immigration’s influence on it is well worth discussing.
Immigration and the US economy
“Every aspect of the American economy has profited from the contributions of immigrants.”
Do people agree with the 35th president’s words? Based on the responses we received, the answer is a definite yes.
- 70% conclude that government should support more-skilled and labor-market-driven immigration.
- 66% admit immigrants are the basis of the US economy.
- 66% say that they also boost economic growth.
- 66% believe government should authorize undocumented immigrant workers so that they can pay taxes.
- 66% are of the opinion that policymakers should structure immigration reform to take advantage of immigration.
- 65% agree that immigrants support fiscal balance by providing revenues to the government’s budget.
- 65% believe that immigrants are necessary for the labor market and the American economy.
- 64% accept that immigration-related costs are worth bearing for the overall well-being of the economy.
Let’s admit it – the above represents positive views of immigration and the economy. But it doesn’t mean that we didn’t confront our respondents with negative ones because we did. However, things get a little complicated. This time the opposing theses are also popular myths about immigration and immigrants. We have reserved a separate section for this.
Facts and myths
Before we start, let’s say a few words about immigration and immigrants myths. Like any phenomenon that arouses extreme emotions and is ever-present, immigration has many opponents as its supporters. The multidimensionality of this topic leads to myths and assumptions. People come to hasty conclusions without verifying data, spreading unproven and harmful ideas. So, what immigration myths do people tend to believe in?
Below you can check out the most popular falsehoods that our respondents agree with.
Let’s now deal with those myths.
- 64% of respondents agreed that immigrants increase government spending on social services or benefit programs. Yes and no.Yes, legalizing unauthorized immigrants would for sure involve some cost. But, no, that would not be a burden to the government. Those costs would be covered by immigrants' contribution to the budget and the rise of revenues with the taxes they pay. If you don’t believe this, check out The White House's official website and the “Written materials” section. Besides, The Bipartisan Policy Center, based on their analysis of academic studies, points out that usage of social benefits by immigrant families is at a lower rate than by native-born Americans.
- 62% think American businesses use work visas to hire underpaid immigrant workers and replace American workers. Myth.Actually, American companies probably prefer to hire American-born workers just because of paperwork. Obtaining employment-based immigration visas and temporary visas is a long and complicated process. So it is quicker to employ a person already living in the country who has permission to work. The American Immigration Council report or article by Harvard Business Review offers some general insight into the topic.
- 61% said that deporting as many undocumented immigrants as possible is good for the American economy. Nope. Deporting more than 11 million illegal immigrants would entail enormous costs for the government. According to the American Action Forum, mass deportation would take 20 years and cost US taxpayers between $400 to $600 billion. Besides, consider the moral and emotional cost of separating millions of families.
- 59% of survey takers admitted the U.S. doesn’t need immigration to increase its population. No. Fewer and fewer children are born in America, also in immigrant families. Thus, the country needs even more immigrants to increase the population, maintain the working-age ratio that funds taxation, and remain globally competitive. Source: Joint Economic Committee Report.
- 58% believe that immigrants are a burden to essential services like schools or hospitals. No way. It is estimated that just in 2018, immigrants paid more than $450 billion to state, local, and federal taxes. This also includes more than $11 billion in revenue from undocumented immigrants. Those dollars fund public institutions like schools and hospitals, but also emergency response services and highways. And these are the words of The Institute On Taxation and Economic Policy.
- 57% are convinced that providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants would hurt American workers. False.How’s that? After all, they’re working either way. Permanent legal status would only allow immigrant workers to be more productive and pursue better jobs rather than being restricted to sectors where employers often do not insist on legal status. Citizenship would also likely raise tax revenues. There’s a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities providing some interesting facts on that. Moreover, as again, The White House says, the effect of immigration on wages overall is very small.
- 55% think immigrants are poorly educated, while 54% say they have no skills to offer. Forget about it.Based on National Center of Education Statistics data, FWD.us says that “43% of recently-arrived family and diversity-based immigrants are college graduates – compared to 29% of native-born Americans. More than half of STEM degrees awarded by U.S. universities go to international students, and about half of applicants for H-1B temporary work visas have a Master’s degree or above from a U.S. university.”
It’s time to update our beliefs. Hopefully, the above is eye-opening. And if you’re still not convinced, scroll down to the Sources section below to see for yourself.
A lie that is repeated a thousand times becomes the truth. This is why people believe unverified information passed on by family and friends or spread through fake news. However, double-checking and validating the data with reliable sources is always a good idea.
Summarizing this section–
It’s not worth believing in everything we hear.
Let’s now summarize what we’ve learned today.
- Only 37% of Americans know how many immigrants live in the country, while 42% correctly guessed the percentage of undocumented immigrants.
- 38% of respondents believe that immigrants come to the US to take advantage of social benefits and welfare. Conversely, 62% think that they just want to improve their lives.
- 43% think of immigrants in a sympathetic way.
- 9% of respondents admit to having unsympathetic feelings toward immigrants.
- 54% would support the deportation of undocumented immigrants.
- 54% think the US should keep its borders closed to immigrants.
- 26% believe that fewer immigrants should work in the US labor market, while 6% of respondents support a strict no-working-immigrants policy.
- 6 in 10 people (66%) are convinced about the positive influence of immigration on employees’ earnings.
- 4 in 10 respondents (41%) think it’s harder to find a job because of immigrants.
- 76% of respondents admit that they experienced or have seen discrimination against immigrant workers.
Our survey certainly showed many unknown facts about views and feelings. At the same time, it showed how many people agree with popular myths about immigrants. Thus, getting involved in the fight against this misinformation is definitely worth it.
The conclusion is simple – immigrants are America, and America is immigrants.
“Once, I thought to write a history of the immigrants in America. Then I discovered that the immigrants were American history.”
The findings presented were obtained by surveying 943 respondents using a bespoke online polling tool. All respondents included in the study passed an attention-check question. They were asked a series of questions about their opinions on immigration and its influence on the economy and labor market. These included yes/no questions, scale-based questions relating to levels of agreement with a statement, questions that permitted the selection of multiple options from a list of potential answers, and questions that allowed open responses.
The data we are presenting rely on self-reports from respondents. As experience is subjective, we understand that there are many potential limitations with self-reported data as some participants and their answers might be affected by recency, selective memory, attribution, exaggeration, self-selection, non-response, or voluntary response bias.
Some questions and responses have been rephrased or condensed for clarity and ease of understanding for readers. In some cases, the percentages presented may not add up to 100 percent; depending on the case, this is either due to rounding or due to responses of “neither/neutral/unknown” not being presented.
- American Immigration Council, “Immigrants in the United States”
- The American Immigration Council, “Why Don’t Immigrants Apply for Citizenship?”
- Center for Immigration Studies, “Foreign-Born Population Hits Record 46.6 Million in January 2022”
- Center for Immigration Studies, “Foreign-Born Population Hit Record 47 Million in April 2022”
- Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “Immigrants Contribute Greatly to U.S. Economy, Despite Administration’s “Public Charge” Rule Rationale”
- FWD.us, “The American Competitive Advantage”
- George W. Bush Institute, “Benefits of Immigration Outweigh the Costs”
- Institute for Labor Economy, “Immigration and the U.S. Labor Market: A Look Ahead”
- Joint Economic Committee, “Immigrants Are Vital to the U.S. Economy”
- Merriam-Webster, Immigration
- Nam, E., “A Guide to U.S. Work Visas for International Students”
- National Center for Education Statistics, “Master's degrees conferred by postsecondary institutions, by race/ethnicity and field of study: 2016-17 and 2017-18”
- New American Economy, “U.S. Immigration Statistics”
- Pew Research Center, “Immigrants in U.S. experienced higher unemployment in the pandemic but have closed the gap”
- Pew Research Center, “Shifting Public Views on Legal Immigration Into the U.S.”
- United States Census Bureau, “Children Living with at Least One Foreign-Born Parent More Likely to Live with Two Parents than Children with Native-Born Parents”
- The Bipartisan Policy Center, “Immigrants and Public Benefits: What Does the Research Say?”
- The Institute On Taxation and Economic Policy, “Undocumented Immigrants’ State & Local Tax Contributions”
- The White House, “The Economic Benefits of Extending Permanent Legal Status to Unauthorized Immigrants”