As the workforce ages, the United States faces an estimated shortfall of 8 million workers by 2027. Amid these changes, immigrant-origin adults—immigrants and their U.S.-born children—are projected to be the primary source of labor-force growth. Yet, as of 2017, more than half of this population lacked an education credential beyond high school.

This report examines the social, demographic, and geographic characteristics of immigrant-origin adults who lack postsecondary credentials. It also explores the labor-market returns of non-degree credentials and the factors that affect immigrant access to workforce programs, including English proficiency and legal status.


Immigrant-origin adults are a strategically important population for those seeking to increase credential attainment.

They comprise a large but under-recognized share of U.S. adults who lack a marketable postsecondary credential. Of 30 million immigrant-origin adults, nearly two-thirds (19.4 million) are first-generation immigrants.

Most immigrant-origin adults who lack postsecondary credentials are people of color.

Hispanics represent the largest group (64%), followed by Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders and Black Americans (15% and 7%, respectively).

In 14 states, immigrant-origin residents account for at least 30 percent of adults who lack a post-high school credential.

These states include not only traditional immigrant destinations such as California, Texas, and New York, but also states such as Nevada, Connecticut, and Washington.

Non-degree credentials provide positive labor-market returns.

Immigrant-origin adults holding certifications or licenses in occupations ranging from barbers to licensed practical nurses are employed at higher rates and have higher incomes than those who lack such credentials.

Many first-generation immigrants face barriers to obtaining post-high school credentials.

More than 60 percent of immigrant adults who lack a post-high school credential have limited proficiency in English. Almost one-third are undocumented. Both of these issues raise policy concerns about the relationships among language skills, training, and credential assessment.