NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Canadian and Australian Immigrants Are More Skilled and Educated

September 28, 2001

Census data for 1990-91 indicate that immigrants to Australia and Canada have higher levels of English fluency, education and income relative to natives than do immigrants to the United States.

This skill deficit for U.S. immigrants arises primarily because the U.S. receives a much larger share of immigrants from Latin America:

  • Almost half of post-1980 immigrants to the United States hail from Central or South America (including Mexico and the Caribbean), whereas only 14 percent of Canadian immigrants and 2 percent of Australian immigrants come from this region.
  • The observable skills of immigrants who don't hail from Latin America are similar in the three countries.

Rates of English language fluency are also lower for U.S. immigrants, particularly for cohorts arriving after 1970.

  • Among recent immigrants, only 61 percent of U.S. immigrants are English fluent, compared to 82 percent of Australian immigrants and 91 percent of Canadian immigrants.
  • But fluency rates are similar for Australian and U.S. immigrants who come from the same source region; thus when immigrants from Central and South America are excluded, the U.S. fluency rate jumps to 79 percent, whereas the Australian fluency rate rises only slightly to 81 percent.

Also, the average educational attainment of U.S. immigrants is one to two years less than natives, while Canadian and Australian immigrants have higher education levels than natives. Excluding those who originate from outside of Latin America, U.S. immigrants average half a year more schooling than immigrants to Australia and Canada.

Australia and Canada admit a large fraction of immigrants through a "point system" that screens for labor market skills. However, researchers say these patterns suggest the comparatively low overall skill level of U.S. immigrants may have more to do with ties to Mexico than with the fewer skill-based admissions in the U.S.

Source: Heather Antecol, Deborah Cobb-Clark and Stephen J. Trejo, "Immigration Policy and the Skills of Immigrants to Australia, Canada, and the United States," IZA Discussion Paper No. 363, September 2001, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA), P.O. Box 7240 D-53072 Bonn, Germany, +49-228-3894-0.


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