Education levels of U.S. immigrants are on the rise

The estimated 44 million immigrants in the United States are better educated than ever, due in part to rising levels of schooling in many of the countries they came from and an influx of high-skilled workers to the U.S. in recent years, especially from Asia.

In 2016, 17.2% of immigrants ages 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree and another 12.8% had attained a postgraduate degree, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. Both shares are up since 1980, when 7.0% held a bachelor’s degree and another 8.7% held a postgraduate degree.

Compared with the U.S.-born population, immigrants are about as likely to hold bachelor’s and postgraduate degrees, though this varies by country of origin. In 2016, 30.0% of immigrants ages 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with 31.6% of the U.S. born.

The educational attainment of U.S. immigrants has improved in recent decades for a variety of reasons. Each year, thousands of immigrants temporarily work in the U.S. under the federal government’s H-1B visa and Optional Practical Training programs, the two largest sources of new temporary high-skilled immigrant workers. Each requires some level of college education. More broadly, education levels have increased in many parts of the world as nations have invested in their educational systems. One result is that global literacy rates among people ages 15 and older have increased from 56% in 1980 to 85% in 2014.