Immigrants find a financial boost in U.S.
But many do so by working shifts Americans won’t
Like many immigrants, money drew Kazi Mannan to the United States. Making enough to support his father and nine siblings in Pakistan meant not only doing the jobs many Americans shun but also working the hours many Americans won’t.
So the day after he arrived in Washington, D.C., in 1996, Mannan began working the graveyard shift — 6 p.m. until 8 a.m. — as a gas station cashier, seven nights a week for $2.50 an hour.
Mannan’s experience is repeated today among the 5.5 million foreign-born workers in the United States who work evenings, overnights and weekends, accounting for a quarter of the immigrants in the labor force.
Immigrants are 15.7 percent more likely to work these “off” hours than American-born workers, according to a study to be released last week. They are 25.2 percent more likely to cover weekend shifts — compared with native-born workers with similar demographic characteristics, such as education level, location and whether they are married or have children.
The report by New American Economy, a national business coalition founded by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, used Bureau of Labor Statistics and census data to analyze the working hours of immigrants compared with their U.s.-born counterparts.
Immigrants are considerably more likely to work unusual hours across a variety of occupations at the low- and high-skilled ends of the labor spectrum, the report found.
Take a manufacturer that operates a factory 24 hours a day, seven days a week, said Jeremy Robbins, executive director of New American Economy.
“You need workers working overnight,” Robbins said. “If you can’t get people to work overnight, those day jobs aren’t going to exist, either.”
The report comes at a politically charged time in the debate over immigration. President Donald Trump has espoused a “Hire American” rhetoric. Congress is reviewing the merits of various visas.
Plenty of American-born workers also work unusual hours. But they tend to gravitate toward sectors that require English fluency and high levels of customer interaction, such as restaurant wait staff, retail sales or bartending, the report said. Immigrants on night or weekend shifts are more likely to work as janitors and maids or as construction and agricultural laborers.
Among higher-skilled workers, immigrants play a large role in filling oddhour jobs in health care, education and library services.
That is especially true among women. Women are 24.2 percent more likely than similar Americanborn women to work such hours.
Immigrant health care practitioners, such as physicians, pharmacists and nurse practitioners, are 20.6 percent more likely to work nights and weekends, while immigrant health care support workers, such as nursing assistants, home health aides and orderlies, are 16.8 percent more likely to take such shifts.
Mannan was 26 when he arrived in the United States. After six months of working overnight as a gas station cashier, he was rewarded with a day schedule but continued working nights for extra pay. Within a year, he was managing three gas stations for his employer, who also trained him as a mechanic and sponsored his work visa.
“They completely relied on me. All day and night, whatever they needed, I was there,” Mannan said. “I was desperate to make enough money. I came from extreme poverty. I wanted to change my situation, and there was no other way to change it but by working.”
He started his own car service, and in 2013 he opened Sakina Halal Grill, a Pakistani-indian restaurant in downtown Washington, D.C., named after his late mother. His two businesses provide jobs for more than 30 people.
The 47-year-old father of three sons continues working long hours, filling in as chef, waiter — whatever role needs to be filled when his employees quit, become ill or take vacations.
“I am now part of this American society as an immigrant contributing to this country,” Mannan said. “The majority of immigrants have the same goals — to work hard and bring prosperity to their families. Keep immigration if you want to keep America great.”
Kazi Mannan, owner of Sakina Halal Grill, is an immigrant from Pakistan. He came to America to escape poverty and began by working the graveyard shift as a gas station cashier.