Upstate shows rise in highly educated foreign-born residents

Billie Owens

The number of highly educated foreign-born residents upstate is rising, and they are playing a unique role in shaping the region’s workforce, according to a report released Tuesday.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s report shows that since 1980 the share of foreign-born arrivals to upstate’s metropolitan areas with college and post-graduate degrees exceeds that of native-born residents.

 The highly educated workers are mostly in jobs stressing quantitative skills and scientific knowledge — like medicine, science and research. Those skills complement those of native-born workers, who are mostly concentrated in jobs requiring English fluency and knowledge of the culture and legal system.

New York City’s foreign-born residents, by comparison, have a significantly lower percentage of college or post-graduate degrees, according to the report’s authors, James Orr, Susan Wieler and Joseph Pereira.

Downstate’s foreign-born population has been well-documented, since New York City has traditionally been the gateway for immigrants. But a large number of immigrants — more than 200,000 — make their home in Rochester, Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany, Utica and Glen Falls.

“This influx has largely gone unnoticed — masked, no doubt, by the negligible growth in the region’s overall population,” the report states.

The researchers used the 2000 U.S. Census to create a profile of upstate immigrants and to gain insight into the role they play in population growth and economy. They also looked at job competition between immigrants and the native-born.

Based on how metropolitan areas grew or shrunk, they found the immigrants are drawn to the same opportunities and amenities as the native-born.

But unlike native-born who have college and post-graduate degrees, the immigrants are less dispersed across employment sectors and are disproportionately employed in science, medicine and computer-related businesses.

The less-educated immigrants in upstate, including large numbers of refugees, are more likely to be competing for jobs with native-born workers, the reports says.

The less-educated foreign-born are more likely to work in low-skilled jobs in the manufacturing sector, including assemblers, fabricators, laborers and material movers.

Of the nation’s estimated 31 million foreign-born residents in 2003, about half arrived here after 1990. During the same period, New York’s population increased 5.5 percent — or just under one million — to almost 19 million. And the foreign-born increased by 30 percent, just over one million, to almost four million.

In 1990, one of every six state residents was foreign-born; in 2,000, the figure was one in five.

During that decade, the increase in foreign-born residents was accompanied by a rise in overall population in the Rochester and Albany areas. Rochester grew by 3.4 percent, or about 36,000 people, including an increase of 10,000 foreign-born residents (a 19-percent hike for that population group).

Although half the foreign-born in the nation and New York City are from Latin America, only 13 percent of the foreign-born now upstate come from Latino countries, according to the 2000 census figures. Instead, about 40 percent are from Europe, including long-time U.S. residents from Germany and Poland and newer arrivals from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet states. About 30 percent of upstate immigrants are from Asia, slightly more than the percentage in the nation and New York City. The category “Canada/other” constitutes 10 percent of upstate immigrants.

The report concludes that the foreign-born represent a small share of the population and that even a big increase in the segment’s growth rate “may not assuage concern about the weak expansion in the overall upstate population,” it notes.

But more immigrants in highly skilled jobs contribute “disproportionately more to the region’s growth in human capital than to its population growth.”

Contact Billie Owens at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 320, or at bowens@mpnewspapers.com.