October 5, 2015

Today’s newly arrived immigrants are the best-educated ever

Today's Newly Arrived Immigrants Are More Educated Than EverThe immigrants who have recently come to the United States are the most highly educated in history. A new Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data shows that 41% of immigrants arriving here in the past five years had completed at least a bachelor’s degree. By comparison, only 20% of newly arrived immigrants in 1970 were similarly educated.

Educational attainment has also risen over the past 50 years for adults born in the U.S. For example, in 2013, three-in-ten U.S.-born adults had completed at least a bachelor’s degree, triple the share of U.S.-born adults that had done the same in 1970.

But newly arrived immigrants remain more likely than the U.S. born to have earned a degree, and that gap is now at its biggest since 1970. In that year, new arrivals had a 9-percentage-point advantage over U.S.-born adults in the share completing a bachelor’s degree (20% versus 11%). That advantage narrowed to 6 points in 1990. But the advantage in college completion held by recently arrived immigrants has since widened, to about 12 points as of 2013 (41% versus 30%).

On the other end of the education spectrum, almost a quarter (23%) of today’s new arrivals have not completed high school. Even so, it’s an improvement over 1970, when half of newly arrived immigrants had not finished high school.

College, High School Attainment for Immigrants and U.S. Born AdultsThe gap in high school completion between new immigrant arrivals and U.S.-born adults widened until about 2000, but it has since narrowed. About 65% of those immigrants arriving within five years of 2000 had at least finished high school. That compares with 83% of U.S.-born adults in 2000 who had finished high school – a gap of about 18 points. But as of 2013, the gap has narrowed to 13 points.

The improved educational profile of recent arrivals that has quickened in the new century is likely due to several factors. First, immigrant arrivals from Asia – now the region sending the most new immigrants to the U.S. – tend to be very well educated, with some 57% of them holding at least a bachelor’s degree in 2013.

Immigrant arrivals from Central and South America tend to be less educated. But the number of immigrants coming from those regions has sharply declined from 2000 to 2013, while the number of immigrants from Asia has been on the rise.

Topics: Education, Immigration, Immigration Trends, Educational Attainment

  1. Photo of Richard Fry

    is a senior researcher focusing on economics and education at Pew Research Center.


  1. Kathleen Porter1 year ago

    I’d like to know more about what the implications are for adult education programs that are tasked with helping these more highly educated folks transition to careers after arriving in the US.

  2. Nora2 years ago

    Now are these all immigrants, those who entered unlawfully and those who entered lawfully?

    1. Richard Fry2 years ago

      These are all immigrants. This is based on survey data collected by the Census Bureau, and the Census Bureau does not inquire as to legal status.

      1. Rex Remes2 years ago


        1) the statistics you reference/provide are not solely based on Census Bureau data. Your charts’ labeling show that data up to 2000 is from the Census Bureau and that 2013 data is from an American Community Survey.

        Are you not even aware of your own data sources?

        2) is there a reliable estimate of how many illegals answer/complete the decennial Census surveys? My guess is that it is low.

        3) can you provide the survey methodology used by the American Community Survey (IPUMS)? As a researcher, you should provide details (or at least links to the details) of your data sources.

  3. Rex Remes2 years ago

    Only 23% of recent immigrants don’t have a high school diploma?

    Given that over 90% of the millions of illegals in the country are uneducated, this “research” must not include them.

  4. Ron Hill2 years ago

    I expect much more of Pew Research. Nowhere in this article do you explain that this research is on LEGAL immigrants, not the ones crossing our southern border illegally.

    Based on news reports, my estimate is that the average education level of illegal immigrants is probably about third or fourth grade grammar school!

    Unless Pew wants to start losing its fairly good reputation for sound research, you need to be very clear about what you are reporting as “facts.”

    A disappointed researcher,
    Ron Hill

    1. Richard Fry2 years ago

      This research is not on legal immigrants. As the comments section explains, it is on all immigrants, both legal and illegal. All recent arrivals are examined, regardless of legal status.

      1. Rex Remes2 years ago

        I’m sure most illegals avoid answering questions from some government agency.

    2. Rex Remes2 years ago


    3. Rex Remes2 years ago

      This article is an offshoot of a report done by the Pew Hispanic organization.

  5. TinkTank2 years ago

    What is Richard smoking? I want some of it. This is a crazy article as it speaks only about “legal Immigrants”…I think, but it is unclear.

    We are all aware that the majority of immigrants over the past twenty years are here illegally. We are also aware of the fact that Donald Trump’s plan to deport them is inconceivable. So those that are here illegally, will remain here. With these realities, Richard, any article of this sort should point out whether you are referring to immigrants who are here legally or those who are not here legally or both. In addition, so as not to be misleading and recognizing that those here illegally will likely remain, you should include their educational attainment in the group when talking about “immigrants”. I am confident that if you did, the point you are trying to make in your article will not be true.

    1. Matthew2 years ago

      This article is totally clear if you read it more thoroughly, before commenting preferably. The data comes from the US Census which polls both legal and illegal immigrants.

    2. Richard Fry2 years ago

      I concur that the post itself should have noted that “immigrants” refer to both those who are here legally as well as unauthorized immigrants. The Census data sources utilized do not query respondents on their legal status. So the recent arrivals include those who have arrived in the past 5 years regardless of their legal status. Including those who came illegally, it remains the case that those who have arrived in the past 5 years are the best-educated, at least in terms of formal degree completion.

  6. Tom Pagano2 years ago

    All good information. The question I have is whether college-educated immigrants are able to find jobs in the same chosen occupations they enjoyed in their homeland?

    For example, I have found engineers, chemists and even attorneys from Nigeria and other foreign locales who drive cabs and take on other jobs in the U.S. because they have to be licensed, certified or degreed in the U.S. to work in those occupations.

    Unfortunately, they often do not have the money for school or, perhaps, the years required to achieve a U.S. college degree in their chosen field. So, to feed their families, they take on lesser jobs. Any stats regarding this?