Not much has changed about Washington, DC’s decades-long fixation with illegal immigration—or its inability to do something about it. The profile of immigrants themselves, however, has shifted dramatically.
Consider their education levels. The share of recently arrived undocumented immigrants with a college degree has nearly doubled between 2007 and 2016, according to a recent analysis by the Pew Research Center. Here’s the share of college graduates who’ve been in the United States for five years or less compared with their more established counterparts.
At the same time, the share of recently arrived undocumented immigrants with no high school degree has shrunk, from 44% in 2007 to 31% in 2016. (Pew used government data for its calculations.)
These shifts reflect the changing nature of illegal immigration to the United States. For one, the number of new arrivals has plunged. In 2007, those who had been in the United States for five years or less made up 32% of all undocumented immigrants, according to Pew. By 2016, they accounted for 20%. And while in the past most undocumented immigrants crossed the border illegally, these days the majority are entering the country with legal visas and overstaying them.
The biggest change is the collapse in the number of Mexicans trekking north. Mexicans previously accounted for the lion’s share of undocumented immigrants in the United States. As their numbers have dwindled, the share of Asian immigrants, who tend to be better educated, has grown. In general, improvements in education around the world—including in places like Mexico—mean that immigrants from all regions are arriving to the United States with more schooling, Pew reports.
This new crop of undocumented immigrants is also more likely to speak English. In fact, despite the overall drop in new arrivals, the number of proficient English speakers grew to 3.4 million in 2016 from 2.8 million in 2007, Pew found. A look at Pew’s data on immigrants’ English proficiency and the shifts in their countries of origin help explain why:
To be sure, undocumented immigrants are still far less educated than people born in the United States. Only 8% of American adults lack a high school degree, compared with 44% of all undocumented immigrants, for example.
But the changes in undocumented immigration suggest that the gap will continue to shrink in coming years.