1. Introduction

From 2000 to 2013, the number of immigrants in Alaska grew by 31.8 percent, expanding the state’s immigrant population and adding to its diversity. According to the American Community Survey, 6.99 percent of Alaska's population was foreign born in 2013.

  • Size of foreign-born population (2013)


  • Percent of state’s population that is immigrant (2013)


  • Growth in foreign-born population 2000-2013


2. Economic Impact

With Alaska’s growing immigrant population, it is also important to recognize the positive economic impact these individuals have on the state. While only 5.9 percent of Alaska’s population is Hispanic, a study by the Partnership for a New American Economy found that they account for $757 million of the state’s spending power, with $88 million of that amount coming from foreign born Hispanics. The tax contributions from this group are also significant, with Hispanics residing in Alaska paying $223 million in federal, state, and local taxes. Contributions to Social Security from that amount total $122 million, and $28 million of those tax dollars are funneled into the Medicare trust fund.

In 2013, 31.2 percent of the students earning Master’s or PhD degrees in STEM from the state’s research-intensive universities were foreign-born. In the coming years, industries surrounding science, technology, engineering, and math fields, or STEM, are projected to be a key part of US economic growth, adding jobs 73 percent faster than the rest of the economy.

  • 31.2%

    Share of PhD and Master's recipients at state's most research-intensive schools who are foreign-born (2013)

Fixing the US immigration system to make it easier for students trained in America to remain in the country after graduation will help these students to stay in Alaska after finishing their courses of study and contribute to the Alaska economy. A recent study by the Partnership for a New American Economy and the American Enterprise Institute found that every 100 foreign born graduates of US Master’s or PhD programs who stay in the United States working in a STEM field creates 262 jobs for Americans.

Immigration Reform = Economic Growth in Alaska

Reforming our immigration system will generate millions of dollars and thousands of jobs across Alaska. According to Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI), undocumented immigrants who enroll in a legal path to citizenship will generate more than 600 jobs and more than $65 million for the state by 2020. Expanding the number of both high-skilled (H-1B) visas will also have positive economic effects. REMI estimates that expansion of the H-1B program would result in more than 230 jobs and add more than $25 million to Gross State Product by 2014. The new H-1B visas awarded to Alaska between 2010 and 2013 will translate into 214 new jobs for U.S.-born workers in the state by 2020. By 2020, Alaska will need to fill 20,790 new STEM jobs and immigrants will play a key role in occupying these positions and continuing to promote economic growth.

  • $25 million

    In Alaska, creating a path to citizenship and expanding the high-skilled visa program would add a total of more than $25 million to Gross State Product in 2014.

3. Foreign Innovators

Immigrants have been integral in driving Alaska’s economic growth during the national economic recession. Over the past 30 years, the single biggest driving force behind net job creation in the US has been new business generation. And in Alaska, as in other states, immigrants punch above their weight in business ownership: immigrants own more than one out of every ten Alaskan businesses, despite making up just 6.99 percent of the population.

  • 10.1%

    Share of business owners who are immigrants in Alaska: 10.1%

  • $160.4 million

    Annual business income generated by immigrant-owned businesses: $160.4 million

Immigrant entrepreneurs have long been a critical part of Alaska’s economic success story. Airline-industry giant Alaska Air Group and the 230-year-old Alaskan food and supply chain Alaska Commercial Company were both founded by immigrants. Together, these companies employ almost 20,000 people and bring in nearly $6 billion in annual revenues.

4. Immigrants and Alaska's Workforce

Due in part to some of the challenges students face remaining in the state after graduation, Alaska is short of the workers it needs in STEM areas. According to the nonpartisan advocacy group Change the Equation, from 2009 to 2011 some 3.6 STEM jobs were posted online in Alaska for every one unemployed STEM worker in the state.

  • 3.6:1

    Ratio of STEM jobs to unemployed STEM workers: 3.6:1

Alaska may also need immigrants in the coming years to resolve another looming shortage: medical professionals. The federal government has estimated Alaska could be short almost 2,961 registered nurses by 2030. By 2025, Alaska is projected to be short almost 2,000 doctors as well. 24.9 percent of active physicians in Alaska are age 60 or older, which will exacerbate the coming shortage. Foreign medical professionals can help Alaska to counter these shortages.

Immigrants in Alaska are also helping to create jobs through seasonal and temporary work. Between 1990 and 2010, Alaska's supply of less-skilled workers born in the U.S. dropped by 9,082. Over that same period, the state's foreign-born, less-skilled labor force grew by 4,763, leaving a difference of 4,319 openings that immigrants could be filling. According to the US Department of Labor, Alaska employers were granted certifications to bring in almost 300 workers on H-2B visas, often used to staff hotels and other hospitality services, in fiscal year 2013. One study by the Partnership for a New American Economy and the American Enterprise Institute found that for every 100 H-2B visa workers, 464 jobs are created or preserved for American born workers. In Alaska, the 280 H-2B visas authorized in FY 2013 supported approximately 1,300 American jobs that year.

  • 280

    Alaska H-2B Visas (FY 2013): 280

  • 1,299

    Jobs Created: 1,299

The H-2B visa can be costly and cumbersome to attain. The average employer spends $2,500 for each H-2B visa it sponsors, and applies to multiple federal agencies in the process. With a more streamlined visa program, employers in the state may have used the program more often, creating more jobs for Alaskans.

5. Spotlight

One of Alaska’s earliest companies was founded in 1784 when Russian fur-trader Gregory Shelikhov, holding a charter from Russian Empress Catherine the Great, established Kodiak Island’s first settlement and trading post. The enterprise became known as the Russian-American Company in 1799, and evolved over two centuries into the Alaska Commercial Company. Today the ACC employs approximately 800 people and generates more than $178 million through sales of food and general merchandise in 30 of Alaska’s remote rural communities.

Though their contributions look different in each state, immigrants are helping to grow the US economy everywhere. Click on a state to learn more.