People in a park by a lake

A recent study by Manish Shirgaokar (MURP faculty) and Erin Nobler (CAP PhD student)

designing transportation and social policies to help immigrants acclimate and thrive in the US.

August 18, 2021

The United States was founded on the principle that immigrants can seek refuge and prospects for a better life. Inherent in this view, is the availability of resources and access to opportunities. However, lack of access to social activities, jobs, and education leads to worse outcomes for immigrants including fewer or less desirable jobs, poor health, missed opportunities to improve skills or language, and lack of engagement in social activities which promote wellbeing.

A recent study by University of Colorado Denver seeks to better understand how differences in travel between US born and immigrant populations may provide insights for designing transportation and social policies to help immigrants acclimate and thrive in the US.

The study was published in the journal Transport Policy.

People in a restaurant
Photo By Vanna Phon

Travel difference among the US Population

As of 2017, 14% of the US population was foreign born, with immigrants originating from all over the world, including India, Mexico, China, and Cuba. Research shows that access to affordable transportation can improve job security, education access, and social inclusion—all key aspects of successful integration.

We know that foreign born residents travel differently than their US-born counterparts; immigrants are more likely to travel on transit, less likely to use private cars, and have shorter commutes to work. But while we have a reasonable understanding of how immigrants travel, there is very little research about why immigrants travel.

A recent study by Manish Shirgaokar and Erin Nobler from UC Denver asked the question “how different, really, is trip making by US born and immigrant populations?” Using data from the 2017 National Household Travel Survey, they analyzed the difference between populations in trip purpose for five categories of travel: work, education, social, recreational, and errand. They found that immigrants make 23% fewer social trips, 6% fewer errand trips, and 20% fewer recreation trips than the US-born population. However, immigrants made 20% more exercise trips than US-born individuals. Individuals from both groups, who were equal on socio-demographic factors and home location, had similar work and education trips. In both populations, owning a car was associated with more trips for social purposes, and a lower burden for running errands.

Mobility as a Socialization Tool Given the US’s largely piecemeal approach to immigrant integration, transportation policy that targets an increase to social and recreational trip destinations in the immigrant population may lead to better outcomes for integration. Efforts to encourage some level of automobile access, including shared travel options, may allow immigrants to participate more easily by enabling access to diverse locations. In addition, programs that provide a pathway to driving licenses for new immigrants may further support increased mobility.

Written by Erin Nobler
Header photo by Mason Dahl