Immigrants in Trucking: Career & Job Search Guide
Truck drivers are the backbone of the supply chain, and without them, deliveries get delayed and stock shelves stay empty.
However, according to the American Trucking Associations, the U.S. is experiencing a severe lack of qualified truckers, with the driver shortage reaching a historic high of over 80,000 drivers in 2021. With truck drivers in critical demand, many motor carriers are now looking to recruit foreign workers to meet the need.
This guide supports immigrants—both those already living in the U.S. and those in the process of moving here—interested in the trucking industry. Here, you’ll find advice on how to break into the trucking sector, where to look for work, and how to ace that interview during the hiring process.
The American Trucker Shortage
The trucking industry has been facing a labor shortage for years, but the issue intensified with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The shortfall increased 30% from pre-pandemic numbers as many drivers decided to step into early retirement, truck driving schools closed due to the virus, and consumer demand for shipped goods skyrocketed. Current trends predict the trucker shortage could reach 160,000 drivers by 2030.
Beyond the pandemic, many trucking jobs require long hours and extended time away from home, turning potential workers away from the profession. Younger Americans often also view truck driving—a field that doesn’t require higher education—as an unviable career path. This, coupled with the U.S.’s lower population growth, has compounded the shortage.
The Biden administration has proposed a three-pronged strategy to solve the nation’s truck driver shortage. The plan calls to expedite the commercial driver licensing process, expand paid apprenticeships, and recruit military veterans.
While these actions are sure to benefit the trucking industry, getting underrepresented groups like women (who currently only make up 7% of truckers) and immigrants involved is also key to solving the issue. Hiring immigrants can help tackle the driver shortage and is mutually beneficial for both parties. Companies get a qualified workforce and immigrants receive a stable income and the opportunity to build a life in a new country.
Truck Driving Careers for Immigrants
Across the country, many motor carriers are looking to immigrants to fill the truck driver gap. Immigrants represent 17% of the American labor force, according to 2020 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and make up 18.6% of employed truck drivers, which means immigrants as a group are slightly overrepresented among truck driving. The largest concentrations of foreign-born truck drivers are in the Pacific and mid-Atlantic states. A 2014 report from the George Mason University’s Institute for Immigration Research found the highest numbers in California at 46.7% and New Jersey at 40.4%.
Recently, amid the lack of U.S.-born workers to fill truck driving jobs, recruitment of immigrants for those roles has ramped up—along with services to help facilitate placing immigrants in U.S.-based truck driver jobs. Visa Solutions, a Texas-based immigration and relocation agency, works with about 30 trucking companies to hire drivers from around the world. Their goal is to boost the U.S. economy while helping immigrants achieve the American dream.
In addition to bolstering the economy and filling a much-needed trucker void, immigrants can also help improve working conditions and wages in the trucking industry. Initially, immigrants may start working at lower wages, but as they move up in their chosen field, they can use the collective power of immigrants and the local workforce to help increase pay rates.
Why Immigrants to the U.S. Should Consider Trucking Careers
Truck driving can be a promising career for immigrants residing in the U.S. and prospective newcomers alike. Immigrants already in the U.S. may find truck driving a reliable way to earn a living. A driving career can also be a suitable pathway to permanent residency and citizenship for those wishing to move to the U.S.
Ready to get started? Here are just some reasons why truck driving can be the perfect career for immigrants.
High Demand for Jobs
Immigrants can take advantage of the large pool of trucking jobs available to them as local talent dwindles and the need for shipped freight increases. Fleet carriers are also actively seeking foreign workers to fill these jobs.
Positive Job Outlook
In the U.S., tractor-trailer truck driving has a projected job growth rate of 6% through 2030, according to BLS statistics. This rate is about as fast as the average growth rate for all occupations in the U.S.
In states with a higher proportion of immigrant truck drivers, the job outlook is significantly higher. California has a projected job growth of 15%, and New Jersey’s trucking jobs are expected to grow by 10% before the end of the decade.
Commercial truck driving can provide a stable income averaging around $47,000 annually, along with life and medical insurance benefits and a retirement plan.
Truck driver salaries are higher in states with a greater percentage of immigrants employed in the industry. In New Jersey, for instance, truck drivers make $51,640 each year on average.
The U.S. government recognizes commercial driver’s licenses issued by Mexico and Canada, so workers from these countries can start work immediately in the U.S. However, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has some restrictions and fine print about these reciprocity agreements.
How Companies Can Hire Immigrant Truck Drivers
American trucking companies are reaching out to immigrants to help solve the industry’s severe labor shortage. Robert Biesterfeld, the CEO of logistics firm C.H. Robinson, recently advocated hiring immigrants to help alleviate the shortage.
Other freight carriers are actively recruiting immigrants. A&M Transport has hired foreign drivers to meet the demand and is striving to hire more, specifically from Mexico, Europe, Canada, and South Africa. In 2020, the company recruited 20 foreign drivers and hopes to hire at least a dozen more.
Visas for Truck Drivers in the U.S.
Two visa options exist for companies looking to hire foreign drivers.
H-2B for Truck Drivers
Under the H-2B program, U.S. employers can hire nonagricultural workers temporarily for up to 12 months (which can be extended to three years, if necessary). Companies must demonstrate a clear lack of available American workers, which shouldn’t be difficult given the current truck driver shortage. Employers must also establish that hiring immigrants won’t affect local wages and conditions for similarly employed Americans. The employment must be temporary, defined as a one-time occurrence, peak load, intermittent, or seasonal.
To hire immigrants as commercial drivers under the H-2B visa, companies must acquire a labor certification from the Department of Labor. Then, the employer must submit a petition (of up to 25 workers) to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Once approved, the new hires need to obtain a visa from the closest U.S. consulate before coming to the U.S. for work. However, Canadian drivers can go to the border after petition approval.
EB-3 for Truck Drivers
The Employment-Based Permanent Resident or EB-3 visa option is best for employers interested in a longer commitment. Through this program, companies can hire skilled or unskilled foreign workers. Skilled labor is defined as having two years of relevant training or experience. Again, employers must prove the labor needed cannot be filled by American workers.
Like the H-2B, employers must submit a labor certification to the Department of Labor. Once done, the company can then file a Permanent Resident petition to the USCIS. After the petition is approved, the immigrant employee can go to a U.S. consulate to get their visa or change their status if they are already in the U.S.
How Carriers Can Ease the Transition for Immigrant Truck Drivers
Motor carriers looking to hire immigrants living in the U.S. should consider making their work environments comfortable for foreign drivers. With 32% of immigrant drivers from Mexico, overcoming language and cultural barriers is incredibly important.
Here are a few tips for employers to keep in mind when working with staff whose second language is English:
- Speak clearly and slightly slower than normal.
- Avoid contractions when talking.
- Be patient and friendly.
- Don’t yell.
- Use simple language.
- Understand cultural differences and don’t get offended if someone’s behavior seems different.
- Use a translation tool to help communicate.
Companies may also want to consider advertising they employ immigrants. While immigrants make up a significant sector of the trucking workforce, corporations often appear hesitant to promote these figures. Some experts postulate this is to prevent truck drivers from organizing. Yet if trucking companies want to appear more diverse and welcoming to attract workers, advertising they’ve hired and are actively recruiting immigrants is a good starting point.
Barriers for Immigrants in Driving Jobs
Despite the strong need, immigrants may still face obstacles attempting to work as truck drivers in the U.S.
Earning a commercial driver’s license (CDL) in the U.S. requires understanding English to undergo training and pass the necessary exams. However, this language barrier may not be an issue for Canadian and South African truck drivers or other immigrants who come from countries with English as a primary language.
For drivers whose native language isn’t English, some programs may help. In Kansas, a partnership between Johnson County Community College’s Continuing Education Transportation program and Johnson County Adult Education’s Literacy Program allows non-native English speakers to take English as a Second Language (ESL) classes while they earn their CDL.
Drivers not yet residing in the U.S. may face challenges obtaining their visas. The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly delayed the processing times for applications.
Xenophobia (dislike or fear of foreigners) may also play a role in obstructing immigrants from working as truck drivers in the U.S., as some company executives may not want to hire foreigners. Lower wages and exploitation are also common issues for immigrant workers. Inform yourself about U.S. immigration and labor laws, and make sure you understand your rights.
Job Search Tips for Immigrant Trucking Careers
Looking for work can be tough, especially in a foreign country.
Use search engines and job boards to find companies hiring drivers. Browse sites like Indeed.com and ZipRecruiter for available jobs. You may also want to check top American fleet carriers’ websites to see if they’re advertising open positions. Your current American connections can also be a powerful aid when seeking work.
Certain trucking jobs might be a better fit for ESL learners than others. Over the road (OTR) driving may be more suitable as it often calls for less interaction with clients than local delivery driving. Regional truck driving can be another appropriate option. It’s similar to OTR but has more home time and shorter driving distances. Auto transporters also drive OTR or regional routes, making this job another feasible option.
Immigrants who haven’t moved to the U.S. yet can work with immigration firms like Visa Solutions to help connect them with transportation carriers interested in hiring foreign workers. Agencies can help immigrant truck drivers navigate the visa process, find work, and relocate. Consider enrolling in programs that pair language classes with CDL training as well, so you can accomplish two goals simultaneously.
During the job hunt, polish up your resume and make sure to have it proofread by a native English speaker. Before an interview, practice responses for common interview questions, research the company, and prepare a few questions of your own. After the interview, be sure to follow up with a thank-you note.
Employment Rights and Resources for Immigrants
Immigrants are protected from employment discrimination through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This agency implements laws barring discrimination against immigrants, such as discrimination against a person’s place of birth, accent, appearance, and the implementation of English-speaking-only rules. The Immigration and Nationality Act also specifically prohibits discrimination against citizenship status.
If you are an immigrant looking to move to the U.S. or are already residing here, you may find the below resources useful.
The immigration and relocation agency helps immigrants find work in the U.S., including trucking jobs.
Immigrant Legal Resource Center
The ILRC educates immigrants, civil society, and the legal sector on how to best support immigrants and create a fair, democratic environment.
Immigration Advocates Network
IAN is a pro bono organization providing immigrants with legal resources and information.
With a mission to eliminate employment barriers, Upwardly Global is a networking and skills-building platform that helps immigrants and refugees start their careers in the U.S.