A project of the Partnership for a New American Economy
From 2000 to 2011, the number of immigrants in Alaska grew by 17.2 percent, expanding the state’s immigrant population and adding to its diversity. According to the American Community Survey, around 7.2 percent of people in Alaska foreign born in 2010. While this is smaller than the percentage of the population that is foreign born nationally (12.7 percent), Alaska’s immigrants are making valuable contributions to the state economy.
Size of foreign-born population
Percent of state’s population that is immigrant
Growth in foreign-born population 2000-2010
With Alaska’s growing immigrant population, it is also important to recognize the positive economic impact these individuals have on the state. While only 6.6 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 2009, 33 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.
Share of STEM graduates at state's most research-intensive schools who are foreign-born (2009): 33.0%
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.
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.
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 one out of every ten Alaskan businesses, despite making up just 6.2 percent of the population.
Share of business owners who are immigrants in Alaska: 10.1%
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.
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.
Ratio of STEM jobs to unemployed STEM workers: 3.6:1
Immigrants in Alaska are also helping to create jobs through seasonal and temporary work. According to the US Department of Labor, Alaska employers were granted certifications to bring in almost 400 workers on H-2B visas, often used to staff hotels and other hospitality services, in fiscal year 2011. 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 381 H-2B visas authorized in FY 2011 supported approximately 1,770 American jobs that year.
Alaska H-2B Visas (FY 2011): 381
Jobs Created: 1,768
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.
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.
Immigrants are helping to grow the US economy everywhere, not just in the places—like our biggest cities—that we expect. They are helping to fill labor shortages on America’s farms, starting businesses that employ US workers, and developing the cutting-edge products that make America the world’s preeminent innovation hub.
Click on a state to learn more about the contributions immigrants are making to the local economy.