New survey of immigrant youth affirms importance of access to education & workforce opportunities

By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, October 02, 2015

The nonprofit United We Dream recently released a survey of nearly 2,000 young immigrants who have received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The DACA program enables undocumented individuals to apply for temporary protection from deportation and a 2-year legal work permit. Nearly 700,000 young people have received DACA status since the program began in 2012.

Many of UWD’s survey findings affirmed the opportunity that DACA has created for immigrants to advance their education and career goals. At the same time, the study presents sobering evidence of the financial struggles still facing many immigrant families. 

Key findings from the survey:

  • A full 30% of respondents reported that they had returned to school since obtaining DACA

  • Four out of five (81 percent) of respondents were currently working, and an equal number (80 percent) said they felt DACA made it more likely that they would achieve their career goals

  • Just over half (52 percent) of respondents said they had obtained a better-paying job in the three years since DACA, and 30 percent reported that they were currently working in a job they see as a career

Nevertheless, respondents continue to face financial challenges. Just 1 in 4 report that their personal income is enough to meet monthly expenses — perhaps because a full 62 percent are providing financial support to family, and 1 in 10 allow family members to access their bank account or credit card.

Respondents were also asked about the industry in which they envision working in the future. A plurality (23 percent) selected healthcare, and 14 percent chose finance/business. Intriguingly, the remainder of responses were spread across 20 different industry categories, highlighting the diversity of ambition among immigrant youth.

Notably, UWD survey respondents were significantly more likely to have pursued higher education than the DACA-eligible population as a whole.  In 2013, the Migration Policy Institute estimated that just 8 percent of immigrants eligible for DACA had obtained a college degree of any kind.

In contrast, nearly one-third of UWD’s survey respondents had a degree: 13 percent of respondents had obtained a two-year degree; 15 percent had a four-year degree, and 3 percent had an advanced degree. (The remainder was primarily divided between those with high school diplomas and those with “some college.”)

National Skills Coalition examined the issue of educational pathways for undocumented youth in our Missing in Action report earlier this year. More recently, we highlighted how the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) provides a pathway that can enable Dreamers to obtain short-term occupational training.

United We Dream’s report provides fresh affirmation of the importance – and potential economic payoff – of addressing education and workforce needs. As states move forward with WIOA implementation, and as increasing numbers of young immigrants become eligible to apply for DACA, there will continue to be opportunities to better align public policies and investments to facilitate their success. 

A Portrait of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Recipients: Challenges and Opportunties Three Years Later was written by Zenén Jaimes Peréz and published by United We Dream. Survey respondents were more likely to be Latino, female, and college-goers than the undocumented youth population overall. For a more detailed discussion of the survey respondent pool, see the full report.

Further background on the national population of DACA-eligible individuals can be found in Statistics on the DACA-eligible population, from the Migration Policy Institute.