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Family-Sponsored Immigrants Better Educated Than Native-Born U.S. Citizens

Nov 26, 2019

Too often, “family-based immigration” is described as something distinct from “high-skilled immigration” or “merit-based immigration.” This may come as a surprise to the millions of U.S. citizens who hold their spouses, children, parents, and other relatives in high esteem.

“Merit-based immigration” is a term usually used to describe immigrants admitted based on education or job skills. But here again, plenty of family-sponsored immigrants are unusually well-educated and highly skilled, finding “greater economic freedom and flexibility than immigrants on restrictive employment-based visas.”

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One Cato Institute extrapolation from Census data indicates that immigrants who got their green cards based on family relationships or the Diversity Visa are much more likely to have obtained a college or graduate degree than native-born U.S. citizens. (Immigrants who get their green card based on a job offer nearly always have a college degree or higher, because those are the eligibility rules for such visas.)

Moreover, the average education level of immigrants is rising over time: The Migration Policy Institute found that 48% of recently arrived immigrants were college graduates, compared to just 27% a quarter-century earlier.

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Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens are overwhelmingly likely to be working-age (77%), and most of the retirement-age immigrants (10%) are presumably parents.

Other family-sponsored immigrants are more likely to be children (36%), but much less likely to be retirement-age (1.4%).

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Although DHS only provides occupational data for about two-thirds of recent immigrants, it appears that family-sponsored immigrants are more likely to be homemakers (hardly an occupation without “merit”), while many are in professional or managerial roles.

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Learn more in our 2019 family-based immigration report.


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