America’s trucking industry faces a shortage. Meet the immigrants helping fill the gap.

Los Angeles Daily News – by Saul Gonzalez

With the exception of maybe the cowboy, is there any job more typically “American” than being a trucker? Now, it’s time to rethink that as the industry increasingly depends on drivers from many parts of the world.

To see this shift up close, head 50 miles west of Los Angeles, just off Interstate 10, home to one of the busiest long-haul truck stops in the US. It’s where tired drivers often park their 18-wheelers for the night and eat, shower and relax before hitting the road again. It’s also where you’ll see just how multinational the trucking industry is now because of drivers like Harsharan Singh, originally from Punjab, India.  

“I got my license back in 2009, when I came from India. Now, a lot of people from Romania, Yugoslavia, China, Japanese, Russians are coming into this business,” says Singh, who hauls produce all across the Western US and Canada.

Part of the reason behind the shift is that the trucking industry is facing a labor shortage of up to 48,000 drivers, according to the American Trucking Associations. That could balloon to more than 170,000 drivers in the next 10 years.

“The trucking industry is searching for people,” says Justin Lowery, who studies the role of immigrants in US trucking at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Lowery says there is an “aging out” of truck drivers and recent immigrants, willing to work long hours, are filling some of the gap.

Nearly 30 percent of foreign-born drivers are now from Asia, the Middle East, the former Soviet republics and Europe. Most of the rest are from Latin America, according to the Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey. That survey also found that the proportion of immigrant drivers varies from state to state, with California at 46 percent, the highest concentration of foreign-born drivers, followed by New Jersey at 40 percent.

“When I first got to this country, I never thought I would do this kind of a job. It was sort of a dream to do it,” says Ukraine-born Steven Abramovich over an outdoor meal of cold cuts, hard-boiled eggs and some wine with fellow Ukrainian and Russian drivers in a corner of a vast truck stop in Ontario, California.

Abramovich adds that a “trucker is a trucker” but feels foreign-born drivers, because of language and culture, create tighter communities than American drivers. “We are raised differently,” he says. “I don’t want to be disrespectful to the American community, but the Russian community, the Ukrainian community, the Turkish community, the Europeans … we are sitting together, we are having a nice meal.”

He looks at the vast truck stop, with more than 500 parking spots, most filled, and says, “There is no one sitting around gathered together just like us.”

But Ismael Abassov, who grew up in Russia and Turkey, is quick to add that when he started driving an 18-wheeler three years ago, American drivers always offered a helping hand when he needed it. “When I started, I didn’t know this job, I had never done it, but I was asking and they helped me a lot.”

A lot of US-born truckers warn new drivers that the trucking life can be brutal. There are tight deadlines, often leading to substance abuse, and the long stretches away from home can be hard on marriages.

Trucker Yancey Shipman has been at it for more than 30 years. “It is a way of life,” he says. “It rules your being.”

But despite the hardships, for many new immigrant drivers, they’ll take the trucking life — one route to the American dream.

10 thoughts on “America’s trucking industry faces a shortage. Meet the immigrants helping fill the gap.

  1. The turnover rate is over 190%. Only a few last, many leave the business in a few months. Many inexperienced go from a company driver to an owner operater and loose their shirt. This business is brutal..

    I’m going to switch from a company driver to an owner operater soon. Twice the money, but it took ten years to gain the knowledge and confidence. There are hundreds of tricks to the trade you don’t learn from others, only experience.

    1. i wish you the best. They have pushed regulations so tough, you cant make much money anymore, but the ileagls dont know laws, or ????

      1. You have to live in the truck, no car payments or house payments, unmarried. Now you can make money.

        The truck is your life. Regulations have changed yes, they are what they are.

  2. Absolutely correct Mark. I’m up in Ontario and did 7 years long haul and the last 3 years working the gas field’s in Fort St John B.C. as an operator from vac trucks, tankers, hydrovacs, steam trucks, you name it. Did a lot of hours and am reluctant to go back to the long haul again. I got a taste of the hourly rate and am hesitant about going back to the cents per mile gig. However if your not married and not many social commitments it does still provide a good pay cheque and living.

  3. Good luck too you on your endeavors. You get that right contract and the bills will take care of themselves as long as you run like a company driver. I’ve just seen to many people run a solid business plan into the ground, usually right after they declare themselves CEO with them being the only employee lol.

  4. A few years back, we had an ambulance driver get a DWI from an officer on the scene. After his 28 day spin dry, he retained his job.

  5. My local friend here who was driving truck told me there are drivers with turbans on their head now.
    Is that true.?
    Have you seen any of them ?

  6. I am now in my 4th week of the long haul scene after decades of local farm and equipment hauling. I have to laugh…….The state keeps a closer watch on me driving a truck than they did when I was in prison for growing a plant. The cell in a prison is even larger.
    If you dare step out of line of all the endless rules, fees, taxes and endless paperwork or speed limits, the penalty is far worse than when in prison. There is absolutely no unity in American truck drivers as I have seen so far. Everybody just sits in their trucks killing time waiting for that 10 hours to be up so they won’t get a logbook violation. The state dictates every little aspect of the truckers life. I feel like I live in a foreign country with all the turbans and non english speaking truckers that always seem to out number me at all the truck stops. I’m constantly on the lookout for the guards (cops) who prey on us like sharks feeding on sardines or the cold sweats every time I have to go past a guard shack (weigh station) wondering if there might be something I overlooked in the mass of rules and regulations they force on us. Yeah…..this country is so free I could just shit. Hell…..after the government gets done robbing me I might as well go to work at a 7-11 as the pay is probably about the same in the end.

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