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Today’s Latino Immigrants Are Better Educated, Studies Show

Latin Americans who migrate to the United States today are more likely to have achieved higher levels of education than their counterparts before them, according to recent studies examining the migration patterns of foreign-born Latinos.

Photo credit: Flickr/Steve Wilson CC by 2.0

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New research by Professor Elizabeth Salamanca Pacheco of Mexico’s Universidad de las Américas Puebla found a sustained growth trend in the number of Mexicans — currently at 39 percent – arriving in the United States who have achieved more than a high school diploma.

“Surprisingly, the analogous figure for Mexico is 27.8 percent, which leads to the unfortunate inference that more qualified workers are leaving Mexico than remaining in the country,” she writes in the report, “New Immigration Patterns: High-Skilled Entrepreneurial Migration from Mexico to the United States.”

In 2000, 70 percent of Mexican immigrants in the U.S. over the age of 25 did not have a high school diploma, according to data compiled by Pew Research Center. In 2013, 24 percent had high school diplomas, and 18 percent had at least some college education.

“The improved levels of education attainment of recently arrived immigrants partly reflects rising education levels worldwide,” a Pew report states. ”Among adults ages 20 to 24 in Mexico, which has been the largest source country of U.S. immigrants, the share with a secondary school education grew to a majority in 2010, compared with less than 10 [percent] in 1965.”

The growth in education levels among Mexicans coming to the U.S. has far outpaced that of immigrants from Central America, whose level of educational attainment has remained stagnant since 1960. However, the education levels of South American immigrants are even higher.

While 26 percent did not have a high school diploma 15 years ago, the same was true of only 17 percent of South American immigrants in 2013. The same year, 56 percent of immigrants from the region had at least some college education — not far off from the 61 percent of U.S. natives who had attended college.

According to Pew, Venezuelans are the most likely of South American immigrants to be college-educated. Half of immigrants from Venezuela older than 25 earned a bachelor’s degree or higher.

In a story for La Opinión, Isaias Alvarado reports that such figures reflect changes in socioeconomic status south of the Rio Grande, as well as the visa process, which favors foreigners with higher income and education levels.

The new immigrant profile is changing the ingrained image of the uneducated, migrant peasant crossing the border, he writes, and represents a culture better prepared to tackle opportunities afforded to them in the U.S.