New Report Shows Immigrant Benefits in Tennessee


A new report released this month quantifies the contributions of immigrants to the prosperity of Middle Tennessee, benefits and purchasing power of immigrant workers, students and entrepreneurs.

On Aug. 3 the Partnership for A New American Economy released individual reports for all 50 states specifically identifying how immigrants are contributing to the workforce, tax rolls and the overall economy, based primarily upon data from the Census American Community Survey.

These reports can help elected officials make good policy decisions on using and building on the talents of an immigrant workforce that is highly entrepreneurial, over-represented in various career fields and willing to do jobs that many Americans will not take.

About 300,000 residents of Tennessee are foreign-born, or nearly 5 percent of the state’s population, but they make up 6 percent of the state’s workforce. In 1990 immigrants made up 1.2 percent of the state’s population.

There is a shortage of workers in various areas, and immigrants make up a significant percentage of several fields compared with their population, such as, construction workers (18 percent), maids (15 percent), agricultural workers (19 percent), physicians and surgeons (15 percent) and software developers (16 percent).

Some notable statistics from the New American Economy report:

They annually earn $7.9 billion, pay $493 million in taxes and have spending power of $5.9 billion

They make up 7.8 percent of entrepreneurs

They employ 57,000 people

They are 32 percent more likely to work than the native-born population (57.8 percent of immigrants working versus 43.7 percent of natives)

They make up 10.7 percent of jobs in science, technology, engineering and math

The bipartisan Partnership for a New American Economy is made up of 500 current and former mayors and business leaders who are interested in “sensible immigration reforms that will help create jobs for Americans today.”

In Nashville, 12 percent of the population is foreign-born. Middle Tennessee’s rapid growth and record tourism numbers are creating jobs where there are severe shortages for workers in technology, health care, construction and hotel service, for example.

Across Tennessee cities are demanding visas for workers in various fields. The top demand is not just coming from the biggest cities, but also from cities like Collierville, Adams and Unicoi, from West Tennessee to East Tennessee.

International students make up 3 percent of all students in the state, but they pay full tuition at state institutions, their economic contributions make up $280.5 million and they support 3,437 jobs.

Undocumented immigrants in Tennessee are estimated to number 128,620, or 2 percent of the state’s population.

They do not directly benefit from federal and state aid, but undocumented immigrants annually earn $2.1 billion, pay $250 million in state and federal taxes and have $1.8 billion in spending power. The report estimates that there are more than 10,000 undocumented immigrant entrepreneurs.

The New American Economy report shows that immigrants contribute vastly to Tennessee, and their contributions will be essential for the state’s future prosperity.