Most Americans support high-skilled immigration: Study

Migrants walk along a highway during their journey towards the United States, in Chauites, Mexico.
Migrants walk along a highway during their journey towards the United States, in Chauites, Mexico.PHOTO: REUTERS

Despite the recent prominence of hardline political stances towards immigration, most Americans still support encouraging the immigration of high-skilled people into the United States, according to a Pew Research Center report released yesterday.

Even those who want fewer immigrants overall still support high-skilled immigration, suggesting that their animosity may be targeted at low-skilled immigrants in particular, the study noted.

The US has a smaller proportion of highly-skilled immigrants compared to other advanced economies.

The study provided a snapshot of public attitudes towards immigration in 12 advanced economies with an immigrant population of at least 500,000, which also formed 10 per cent or more of the national population in 2015. The other 11 countries were: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Britain.

Around 1,000 adults per country were surveyed from May to June last year, and researchers also analysed 2015 labour force surveys and government censuses.

Roughly eight in 10, or 78 per cent, of American adults support encouraging highly skilled people to immigrate and work in their country, according to 1,500 US nationals aged 18 and older surveyed, a sample representative of national demographics.

Similar levels of Swedish, British, Canadian, German and Australian adults also supported attracting highly-skilled immigrants to their countries, with Sweden posting the highest level of support - 88 per cent.

And across the 12 countries, adults who were younger, earned more, or were more highly-educated tended to be more supportive of attracting highly-skilled immigrants to their countries.

The study by the non-partisan Pew Research Center comes amid a government shutdown fuelled by gridlock over the funding of President Donald Trump's border wall, a security measure ostensibly to curb illegal immigration. The study notes that about a quarter, or 10.7 million, of US immigrants are there illegally; these are generally less educated than those in the US legally.

Most of America's green cards, which grant lawful permanent residence in the country, also go to categories of immigrants who are not required to fulfil any educational requirement. In the 2017 fiscal year, 66 per cent of green cards went to immigrants sponsored by family members, and 13 per cent went to refugees or asylum seekers.

Together, these aspects of the American immigration system help to explain why highly-educated immigrants form just over a third of the foreign-born population in the US, a lower share than in other countries.

Nonetheless, the US by virtue of its sheer size is home to the most college-educated immigrants in the world. The education level of immigrants in the US is rising and is likely to keep doing so, wrote the report's authors, senior researcher Phillip Connor and associate director of global migration and demography research Neil Ruiz.

"This trend may continue. The Trump administration, along with some Republican members of Congress, have called for new immigration laws that favour more highly educated migrants through a more merit-based programme," they said in the report.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2019, with the headline 'Most Americans support high-skilled immigration: Study'. Print Edition | Subscribe