1. Introduction

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


2. Economic Impact

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.

  • 33.0%

    Share of STEM graduates at state's most research-intensive schools who are foreign-born (2009): 33.0%

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.

  • $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 one out of every ten Alaskan businesses, despite making up just 6.2 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 4,000 registered nurses by 2020. 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. 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.

  • 381

    Alaska H-2B Visas (FY 2011): 381

  • 1,768

    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.

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.