UT-Austin researchers find gaps in Austin’s immigrant inclusion

Kaushiki Roy

Austin showed greater gaps in immigrant incorporation, including housing affordability, job opportunities and naturalization, compared to other U.S. cities, public policy researchers at UT found.

Austin ranked 43 out of 100 cities in terms of immigrant inclusion, according to the research papers. The research compared Austin to other state capitals and major U.S. cities. The city also scored a two out of five in terms of immigrant job opportunities in 2020, said Ruth Wasem, principal investigator on the research project. 

Researchers found that Austin’s annual wages were $10,000 lower than the national average, Wasem said, and fall under Texas’ average pay.

“When you consider what a wealthy city Austin is and the construction boom the city is in, that is pretty troubling,” Wasem said. “And on top of that, we found a gap between foreign-born wages and native-born wages working the same type of job.”

Ana Perez, a researcher on the project, said because of discrimination in larger companies, immigrants are led to take on more entrepreneurial roles than natural-born citizens.

“If you’re an immigrant, you make less money,” said Perez, a former graduate student at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. “That could influence the entrepreneur rate because a lot of times, immigrants will have a higher rate of entrepreneurship since they get paid less working as high-skilled laborers in bigger companies.”

Researchers also found that Austin had some of the lowest rates in naturalization. 

“When you see how sophisticated Austin is and how our immigrants are very diverse … we should have a higher naturalization rate,” Wasem said. “That was one of the things we were quite concerned about in our recommendations to the city.”

Wasem said the researchers provided the city with a list of recommendations to improve immigrant inclusion. The recommendations included setting up an office of immigrant affairs and actively working on civic engagement with immigrants.                        

Perez said affordable housing was another important part of their recommendations. She said affordable housing is a big issue for many people in Austin but that immigrant neighborhoods are more vulnerable to being displaced and redeveloped.

“Whether or not you’re an immigrant, housing affordability affects everyone,” Perez said. “We recommended to the city to work specifically within immigrant communities to make sure that those groups of people would become eligible for the programs that benefit everyone.”