The proportion of U.S. immigrants ages 25-64 with a college degree has climbed to 30 percent over the last three decades, exceeding the 28 percent of foreign-born residents who lack high school diplomas, the Brookings Institution says.

In 1980, the figures were 19 percent and 40 percent, respectively, according to a study by the Brookings' Metropolitan Policy Program based on U.S. Census data.

A third of working-age immigrants who arrived in the United States during the last decade completed college in their homelands, Brookings found.

That development is largely due to a growing demand in the U.S. for qualified professionals, spurred in turn by technical advances and the accelerating globalization of business, researchers say.

Brookings cites a big expansion during the 1990s in the granting of H-1B visas, which require applicants to have a least a bachelor's degree.

The number of immigrants with college degrees exceed those who didn't complete high school by 25 percent or more in 44 of the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, including Washington, San Francisco and Seattle, and even rust-belt cities such as Cleveland and Detroit.

The situation is reversed in the Southwestern border states of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas and in the Great Plains region, Brookings found.

Within the top 100 metro areas, immigrants without high school diplomas are significantly more likely to get hired than U.S.-born applicants at the same level.

In the 2006-2008 period, 66.9 percent of diploma-less immigrants obtained jobs, compared with only 49 percent of U.S. natives who didn't finish high school.

Yet, the U.S.-born workers without diplomas who did find work earned $5,000 a year more than their immigrant counterparts, on average.

Among those with university degrees in the 100 major metropolitan areas, while the U.S.-born were only slightly more likely to be employed than immigrants, their median annual compensation was $8,150 more than that of foreigners.

And nearly half of employed college-educated immigrants are overqualified for the positions they hold, according to the Brookings Institution study.

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