On May 21, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their annual Labor Force Characteristics of Foreign-born Workers Summary. Although the data did not change significantly compared to last year, the findings of this critical report continue to suggest significant opportunities for employers and policymakers to better leverage this growing pool of talent in the U.S. 

ICYMI: Last year, I sat down with former U.S. Labor Secretary Seth Harris and EnGen founder Dr. Katie Brown to unpack the data, workforce implications, and cast potential of the foreign-born workforce. I checked back with each of they, to get their take on the latest numbers.

Why it matters: In 2023, foreign-born individuals made up 18.6% of the U.S. civilian labor force, an increase from 18.1% in 2022. This group continues to play a significant role in the U.S. labor market.

Expert Perspectives

According to Seth, the latest BLS foreign workers report “reminds us that successfully and rapidly integrating these workers into U.S. workplaces remains a significant challenge.” From his perspective, “it’s a matter of fairness, but it’s also critical to growing the economy in an era of tight labor markets.”

A growing number of employers seem to have reached the same conclusion in a moment where the U.S. addresses the needs of just 4% of adult English learners. Katie and the EnGen team report that “employers who invest in English upskilling are seeing real returns in terms of employee retention, safety, productivity, advancement. 

This piece from Kimo Kippen, former Chief Learning Officer at Hilton, explains how – and why – more employers are partnering with EnGen to leverage technology to deliver career-aligned English instruction at scale. 

Seth is optimistic about the potential of scaled training programs like EnGen’s: “Skills training and English language proficiency programs for these workers will help to drive workforce growth and productivity when these workers enter jobs. Those programs can also help these workers move into the jobs that best fit their skills and increase their wages and benefits, which is good for the workers, their employers, and our economy. This is nearly one-fifth of the U.S. workforce. The stakes are high.”

Updated Data from BLS

By the numbers
  • Foreign-born workers were more likely than native-born workers to be employed in service occupations (21.8% vs. 15.0%); natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations (13.8% vs. 7.8%); and production, transportation, and material moving occupations (15.2% vs. 11.8%). 
  • They were less likely to be in management, professional, and related occupations (36.1% vs. 45.4%) or in sales and office occupations (13.0% vs. 20.1%).
Hispanic makeup
  • Hispanics made up nearly half (47.6%) of the foreign-born labor force in 2023, while Asians accounted for one-quarter (25.1%). In comparison, Hispanics and Asians represented much smaller percentages of the native-born labor force at 12.5% and 2.5%, respectively.