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Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2009

Pittsburgh has few immigrants, compared to other regions. But those who do arrive here are more likely to work as managers or professionals than immigrants in the nation's 24 other largest metropolitan areas, a new report based on census data says.

The Fiscal Policy Institute, a New York-based, nonpartisan research organization, looked at documented and undocumented immigrants using data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey for 2005 through 2007, and concluded in a report released Tuesday that immigrants contribute to a region's economy in direct relation to their share of the population.

In most of the 25 metropolitan areas studied, roughly a quarter of all immigrants and a third of U.S.-born workers fall into the managerial and professional category, said David Dyssegaard Kallick, director of the institute's immigration research initiative.

But in the Pittsburgh area, 48 percent are executives, doctors, lawyers, engineers or other highly skilled, and often high-paid, workers. Immigrant managers and professionals in Pittsburgh make comparable salaries to American-born peers, the report found.

"That's an impressive number. It's well above every other metro area studied," Kallick said of the region's proportion of foreign-born professionals. "The next highest is in metro Cincinnati, at 40 percent."

Still, the numbers aren't altogether surprising. "Pittsburgh draws from a global talent pool for some of its hospitals and universities and major institutions," Kallick said.

The Pittsburgh area's foreign-born population -- at just 3.1 percent of the total 2.36 million -- is the smallest among the 25 regions studied. But the 71,201 immigrants accounted for 4 percent of the local gross domestic product between 2005 and 2007, based on salaries and wages, plus business income.

At the same time, the region's slow economy likely discouraged lower-skilled workers from moving here.

"Places with strong economic growth tend to have greater growth in their immigrant populations," said Mark Price, labor economist with the Keystone Research Center in Harrisburg.

While engineering and other jobs draw educated immigrants to Pittsburgh, Price said, restaurant workers and laborers might find few opportunities. Detroit and Pittsburgh had the lowest growth rates of the 25 regions; Phoenix and Denver, the highest.

Syed Ahmed wasn't surprised by the local area's high rate of foreign born professionals. Many immigrants drawn to Carnegie Mellon, Robert Morris and other universities decide to stay here afterward, he said.

Ahmed is a native of Hyderabad, India, who worked in California and other states before a visit to a friend in Pittsburgh convinced him to move here and found the information technology firm RIZ Global Technologies LLC in 2001.

Most of the Etna-based company's 12 workers who are here on visas hail from India -- the nation that provided the highest percentage, at 11.3, of the region's immigrants. RIZ has a total 16 employees.

Additional Information:

Pittsburgh immigrants, by race

White, 47.9 percent

Asian, 37.8 percent

Hispanic, 8.4 percent

Black, 5.9 percent

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