A project of the Partnership for a New American Economy
Colorado is home to a thriving startup community and agriculture sector, and both industries depend on immigrants to prosper. In recognition of the contributions that immigrants make to the Colorado economy, a bipartisan group of prominent business and civic leaders have come together to form The Colorado Compact, an in-state effort to build support for national action on smart immigration reform. The 85 signers of the Colorado Compact include Senator Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and former Senator Hank Brown, a Republican, in addition to leaders of faith organizations, law enforcement agencies, agricultural interests, and colleges and universities. Among other goals, the Compact calls for establishing a pathway to citizenship for upstanding undocumented immigrants, improving our current worker visa system, and implementing a reasonable strategy to enforce immigration laws.
Despite its comparatively small size, Colorado’s immigrant population has a large impact on the state’s economy. Also, Colorado’s immigrant population grew substantially over the last decade: there were over 50 percent more immigrants in Colorado in 2011 than there were in 2000.
Size of foreign-born population
Percent of state’s population that is immigrant
Growth in foreign-born population 2000-2010
Top countries of origin
In part because of the challenges students face remaining in the state after graduation, Colorado is currently short of the professional workers it needs in critical STEM areas, the very fields that help the state’s economy remain innovative and competitive. According to the nonpartisan advocacy group Change the Equation, from 2009 to 2011 some 1.49 STEM jobs were posted online in Colorado for every one unemployed STEM worker in the state.
Ratio of STEM jobs to unemployed STEM workers: 1.49:1
Colorado may also need immigrants in the coming years to resolve another looming shortage: medical professionals. The federal government has estimated that by 2020, Colorado could be short 14,700 registered nurses. The shortage of medical professionals could be filled by foreign nurses who come from abroad seeking work.
Seasonal and temporary workers in Colorado also help to create jobs in the state. According to the US Department of Labor, Colorado employers were granted certifications to bring in more than 3,500 workers on H-2B visas in fiscal year 2011. These visas, often used to staff places like amusement parks, hotels, or landscaping services, protect American jobs by allowing companies to take on more work. One study by the Partnership for a New American Economy and the American Enterprise Institute, in fact, found that for every 100 H-2B visa workers, 464 jobs are created or preserved for American born workers. In Colorado, that means the visas authorized in FY 2011 alone supported almost 8,560 American jobs.
Colorado H-2B Visas (FY 2011): 3,623
Jobs Created: 16,811
However, 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, job creation in the state could be even greater.
Colorado is also one of many states that would benefit heavily if Congress passed the federal DREAM Act, a bill that would legalize the 2.1 million undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children. By incentivizing these young people to earn a higher education and allowing them to work legally, the DREAM Act would result in higher earnings and increased spending on products ranging from cars to houses to computers. In Colorado, that could have a powerful ripple effect on the state’s economy: Legalizing the 44,000 so-called DREAMers in the state would have an estimated $5.5 billion induced economic impact and also create almost 22,500 new jobs by 2030.
DREAMers in the state
Economic impact of passing the DREAM act: $5.5 billion
Number of jobs created by DREAM act by 2030
Immigration Reform = Economic Growth in Colorado
Reforming our immigration system will generate millions of dollars and thousands of jobs across Colorado. According to Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI), undocumented immigrants who enroll in a legal path to citizenship will generate more than 9,000 jobs and more than $840 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 2,900 jobs and add more than $284 million to Gross State Product by 2014.
In Colorado, creating a path to citizenship and expanding the high-skilled visa program would add a total of more than $456 million to Gross State Product in 2014.
Colorado’s immigrants have assisted in driving private-sector business growth in the state. The percentage of businesses owned by immigrants is at parity with the percentage of immigrants in the general population overall: 9.7 percent for both. However, these immigrant-owned businesses still generated a significant benefit to the Colorado economy: between 2006 and 2010, immigrant-owned businesses brought in $1.2 billion in annual revenue.
Share of business owners in Colorado who are immigrants: 9.7%
Annual business income generated by immigrant-owned businesses: $1.2 billion
Colorado’s history has featured many notable immigrant entrepreneurs. Immigrants or their children founded some of the state’s most prominent companies, including Coors Brewery, CH2M Hill, Qwest Communications (now CenturyLink), and Ball Corp. Together these four companies employ more than 82,700 people and bring in more than $24 billion dollars in revenue.
Between 2008 and 2018, science, technology, engineering, and math (or STEM) fields are projected to play a key role in US economic growth, adding jobs 73 percent faster than the rest of the economy. For Colorado, fixing the US immigration system to make it easier for students trained in STEM fields at American universities to remain in the country after graduating will be critical to ensuring that Colorado stays competitive in STEM job growth: in 2009, almost one in four students earning Master’s or PhD degrees in STEM fields from the state’s research-intensive universities were temporary foreign residents, a group with no clear path to stay in America after earning their diplomas. Almost 42 percent of students working towards engineering PhDs from Colorado schools in recent years were noncitizens.
Share of STEM graduates at state's most research-intensive schools who are foreign born (2009): 23.6%
Share of Engineering PhDs who were temporary residents (2006-2010): 41.6%
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.