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Immigration Law

Immigrant Health-Care Workers in the United States

Jeanne Batalova, MPI, May 14, 2020

"Immigrants represent disproportionately high shares of U.S. workers in many essential occupations, including in health care—a fact underscored during the coronavirus pandemic as the foreign born have played a significant role in frontline pandemic-response sectors. In 2018, more than 2.6 million immigrants, including 314,000 refugees, were employed as health-care workers, with 1.5 million of them working as doctors, registered nurses, and pharmacists. Immigrants are overrepresented among certain health-care occupations. Even as immigrants represent 17 percent of the overall U.S. civilian workforce, they are 28 percent of physicians and 24 percent of dentists, for example, as well as 38 percent of home health aides.

Overall, immigrants ranging from naturalized citizens, legal permanent residents, and temporary workers to recipients of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program accounted for nearly 18 percent of the 14.7 million people in the United States working in a health-care occupation in 2018. As a group, immigrant health-care workers are more likely than their U.S.-born counterparts to have obtained a university-level education. Immigrant women in the industry were more likely than natives to work in direct health-care support, the occupations known for low wages. In contrast, immigrant men were more likely than the U.S. born to be physicians and surgeons, occupations that are well compensated. Compared to all foreign-born workers, those employed in the health-care field were more likely to speak English fluently and had higher rates of naturalization and health insurance coverage."