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Buffalo Niagara attracts educated immigrants

The Buffalo Niagara region has a larger percentage of highly educated immigrants than the nation as a whole, a new report shows.

And their skills, the study suggests, complement -- rather than compete with -- the rest of the work force.

Upstate's college-educated immigrants are disproportionately employed in the science, medical and computer fields, according to the report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Teacher, nurse, accountant, lawyer and social worker are among the most popular occupations in upstate New York for U.S.-born workers with college degrees.

"This distribution suggests that upstate firms are taking advantage of the specialized skills of the more highly educated immigrants in ways that potentially complement the skills of native-born workers," the report reads.

"It appears," the report states, "these highly educated immigrants are being absorbed relatively smoothly into the upstate economy."

The report on upstate's foreign-born population points out that upstate's stagnant growth often hides the fact that more than 200,000 immigrants make their home in the Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, Glens Falls, Utica and Buffalo metro regions. That includes about 51,000 in Erie and Niagara counties.

Fed researchers looked at 2000 census data on immigrants who were 25 and older and had arrived in the United States between 1980 and 2000.

Forty-six percent of those immigrants in the Buffalo area had college or advanced degrees, compared with roughly 25 percent across the nation, the report showed.

In fact, Buffalo had the largest share of highly educated immigrants among a sampling of regions that included Cleveland, Detroit, Rochester, Albany and Syracuse, as well as New York City.

While the study didn't go into reasons behind the region's large percentage of educated immigrants, the report's authors speculate it has more than a little to do with the many institutions of higher learning in Western New York.

The University at Buffalo, for example, attracts faculty and scientists from around the world and ranks No. 13 among American universities in enrolling international students.

The report also cited data that shows the Buffalo Niagara region ranks sixth among the nation's 60 largest metro regions in the number of degrees handed out per capita.

"Some [students] may have studied in Buffalo and stayed on," said James Orr, an assistant vice president for the Federal Reserve of New York and one of the authors of the report.

On the other end of the spectrum, fewer than 20 percent of Buffalo's immigrants -- which includes refugees -- have no high school education.

These lower-skilled foreign-born workers have a greater potential for competing for jobs with U.S.-born laborers, the report acknowledged.

The report also pointed out how New York City has been able to boost its numbers with the help of new immigrants.

Getting a population boost from an influx of immigrants may be more difficult for sluggish upstate regions like Buffalo. Here the volume of new immigrants remains relatively small, and even some newcomers, like others in the general populace, subsequently moved out of the area.

"Nevertheless," the report concludes, "the rising share of highly educated foreign-born workers and their relative concentration in highly skilled occupations imply that these immigrants are contributing disproportionately more to the region's growth in human capital than to its growth in population."

e-mail: jrey@buffnews.com

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