Immigrant young adults represent nearly 10% of foreign-born individuals in America. Amid U.S. workforce shortages in high-demand industries, there is a strong case for public and private philanthropic investment to build immigrant workforce equity and economic mobility.
Young adults under 30 with immigrant backgrounds are eager to learn and acquire new skills but face cultural and systemic barriers on the path to quality employment. This report sheds light on the unique challenges and lived experiences of immigrant young adults seeking to attain economic mobility in the United States.
The report, produced with support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, is based on the input of hundreds of immigrants. Researchers collected 207 survey responses and 10 hours of focus group data from 66 participants.
Barriers Facing Young Immigrant Workers
The data shows that young immigrants face five major roadblocks when navigating the U.S. labor market and pathway to self-sufficiency. These are:
Identifying their place in the U.S. market. 71% of participants had difficulty evaluating which career paths, professional courses or credential evaluations were worth pursuing.
Accessing and leveraging professional networks. 85% of all jobs are filled through networking, but only 50% of study respondents used networking as a job search method.
Communicating about work and workplace skills. While only 22% of participants identified English proficiency as a barrier, 43% asked for targeted support on cultural differences, industry lingo and professional communication.
Possessing little U.S. work experience. Only 17% of study respondents had any U.S. work experience in their field of specialization.
Finding the time for a job search. 65% of study respondents reported having less than five hours per week to look for a job.
Connecting Young Immigrants to Career Opportunities
To develop a successful model for immigrant inclusion, the study recommends:
developing labor market-aligned career pathways.
shifting employer practices and implementing alternative hiring and work-based learning models.
creating opportunities for network-building and development of social capital; and
promoting systems change through targeted advocacy and storytelling that elevates the lived experiences of this community.
Young immigrants are an important asset to the U.S. workforce
Findings & Stats
What’s at Stake
The U.S. economy may lose out on hundreds of millions of dollars per year in underutilized immigrant talent. For immigrants under 30 years old whose careers still have decades to advance and expand, this lost potential is monumental.
Early-career immigrants face distinct and inequitable challenges. The odds of unemployment — for example — are 54% higher for Black immigrants and 40% for Latinx immigrants.
Young immigrants — especially those seeking jobs in highly specialized fields that require specific, geography-based credentials — have little information about how to proceed. There are nearly one million unique secondary and post-secondary credentials offered to workers in the United States.
Statements & Quotations
Deepening our understanding of employment barriers has immense potential to inform and strengthen workforce equity in the years to come.
Now is the time for those invested in a strong, diverse workforce and immigrant opportunity — employers; local, state, and federal governments; workforce boards; and philanthropic partners — to take action.
Subscribe to our newsletter to get our data, reports and news in your inbox.