Limited Research Suggests Illegal Aliens May Displace Native Workers

PEMD-86-9BR: Published: Apr 21, 1986. Publicly Released: Apr 21, 1986.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the effect of illegal aliens on the U.S. labor market.

GAO found that: (1) the presence of illegal aliens in the U.S. labor market raises the possibility that they will compete with native or legal workers for jobs; (2) most of what is known about illegal aliens is based on information concerning Mexicans living in the Southwest; (3) despite the limited focus of existing studies, illegal aliens have been found in all major categories of industry and occupations, and many are in agriculture and manufacturing positions; (4) settled illegal workers are less likely to work in agriculture than temporary illegal workers; (5) although a substantial number of the illegal aliens who were studied held farm and operative positions, many worked in crafts and services and as nonfarm laborers; and (6) the number of illegal aliens in occupations such as management, sales, and clerical work was much smaller. GAO also found that: (1) while studies on possible displacement indicated where displacement might occur, actual instances of displacement were not documented; (2) one measure of native worker displacement is the extent to which changes in unemployment levels are related to the presence of illegal aliens in the labor market; (3) there is no valid basis to prove that increased immigration increases unemployment; and (4) although displacement might occur because of employers' preference for and recruitment of illegal alien workers, the available research on actual displacement is inconclusive.

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