Immigration and robots: is the absence of immigrants linked to the rise of automation?

Larry Liu, Alejandro Portes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Increasing concerns about automation of work raise the question what the demographic components are that promote the spread of technology. What is the relationship between the presence of immigrants and automation? This paper is divided into two parts: an empirical investigation and a historical case study. Empirically, we use data from the International Federation of Robotics and the American Community Survey to show that US counties that have a higher share of foreign-born population, especially from Latin American countries (low-skilled), but also from China and India (high-skilled), exhibit less robot exposure, which confirms the intuition that regions with more low-skilled and high-skilled immigrant workers with low wages and low organizational clout provide employers with alternatives to robots. The case study of the Florida sugarcane producers shows that the availability of low-skilled foreign workers can diminish incentives to mechanize production unless protests/ lawsuits make them more expensive.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2723-2751
Number of pages29
JournalEthnic and Racial Studies
Issue number15
StatePublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Automation
  • Florida sugarcane
  • agricultural workers
  • foreign workers
  • immigration
  • robotization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Immigration and robots: is the absence of immigrants linked to the rise of automation?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this