1. Introduction

The growth in Delaware’s immigrant population has been rapid. Between 2000 and 2013, the foreign-born population grew 69.2 percent, and in the 1990s, the share of foreign-born residents in the state grew at a rate greater than 100 percent. These demographic shifts have made Delaware one of the most diverse states in the Northeast. Immigrants in Delaware have also contributed significantly to the state’s economy, comprising more than 10 percent of the state’s workforce.

Overall, state policy has been friendly to immigrants. In 2012, Delaware passed a wage enforcement law that will help protect immigrant workers by enforcing wage and hour laws and enhancing workplace protections. And in 2013, the state legislature plans to reintroduce state tuition equity laws, which afford protections for immigrant students. Additionally, the state is one of the biggest beneficiaries of The Workforce Investment Act of 1998, which established a national workforce preparation and employment system that provides immigrants with federally funded classes in English.

  • Size of foreign-born population (2013)


  • Percent of state’s population that is immigrant


  • Growth in foreign-born population (2000-2013)


  • Top countries of origin

    Mexico, India, China

2. Economic Impact

Between 2008 and 2018, science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields are projected to play a key role in US economic growth, adding jobs 73 percent faster than the rest of the economy. However, like many other states, Delaware’s ability to produce a STEM workforce has lagged behind this growing demand. In these areas, immigrants have been helping to close the shortfall. The Partnership for a New American Economy and the American Enterprise Institute found that for every 100 foreign-born graduate of a US Master’s or PhD program who stays in the United States working in a STEM field, 262 jobs are created for Americans. This translates into a large employment boost for Delaware, where more 43 percent of all science and engineering graduate students are foreign-born.

Additionally, almost two-thirds of engineering PhDs at the state’s research-intensive universities are foreign-born. Between 2006 and 2012, immigrant founders of engineering and technology companies employed roughly 560,000 workers and generated an estimated $63 billion dollars in sales in Delaware. By 2020, Delaware will need to fill 22,320 new STEM jobs and immigrants will play a key role in occupying these positions and continuing to promote economic growth. Even so, our immigration policy hampers those contributions and keeps immigrants in STEM fields from reaching their productivity potential in the US.

  • 43.8%

    Share of STEM graduate students at state's most research-intensive schools who are foreign-born (2013)

  • 48.7%

    Share of STEM PhD recipients students who were foreign-born (2013)

  • 63.7%

    Share of Engineering PhDs who were temporary residents (2006-2010)

Immigration Reform = Economic Growth in Delaware

Reforming our immigration system will generate millions of dollars and thousands of jobs across Delaware. In the Wilmington, New Jersey and Maryland metropolitan area, 2007 and 2008 H-1B visa denials cost U.S.-born tech workers as many as 3,067 additional jobs and as much as $31,310,000 in missed wages by 2010. According to Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI), undocumented immigrants who enroll in a legal path to citizenship will generate more than 1,200 jobs and more than $110 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 1,000 jobs and add more than $107 million to Gross State Product by 2014. The new H-1B visas awarded to Delaware between 2010 and 2013 will translate into 2,957 new jobs for U.S.-born workers in the state by 2020.

  • $133 million

    In Delaware, creating a path to citizenship and expanding the high-skilled visa program would add a total of more than $133 million to Gross State Product in 2014.

Immigrants are helping to grow housing wealth in some key Delaware counties, as well. Between 2000 and 2010, more than 18,000 immigrants arrived in New Castle County, the area that includes the city of Wilmington. By moving into neighborhoods formerly in decline, these immigrants played a role adding to the housing wealth of the neighborhood’s residents. That influx of immigrants added $2,146 to the value of the average home in the county, nearly $435 million to housing wealth there overall.

3. Foreign Innovators

Across the US, immigrants start more than a quarter of all businesses in seven of eight sectors of the economy that the federal government expects to grow the fastest over the next decade, including healthcare, construction, retail, and educational services. And in Delaware, as in many other places around the country, immigrants have punched above their weight class as entrepreneurs: in 2010, more than 10 percent of business owners in Delaware were immigrants despite making up 8.5 percent of the population. In the same year, Delaware’s 1,500 Latino-owned businesses had sales and receipts of $340 million and employed more than 2,000 people, while 3,000 Asian-owned businesses had sales and receipts of $1.3 billion and employed more than 5,500 people.


Share of business owners who are immigrants in Delaware


Number of Immigrant Business Owners in State (2006-2010)


Share of annual business income generated by immigrants

Immigrant entrepreneurs have long contributed to the Delaware economy. A study by the Partnership for a New American Economy found that immigrants or their children started 40 percent of 2010 Fortune 500 companies, including the chemical giant DuPont, which was founded by French immigrant Eleuthère Irénée (E.I.) du Pont on the banks of Delaware’s Brandywine River. Today, DuPont has annual revenues of $38.7 billion and employs 70,000 people worldwide.

4. Immigrants and Delaware's Workforce

According to the nonpartisan advocacy group Change the Equation, there are currently 3.82 STEM jobs available for every unemployed STEM worker in Delaware. In other words, employers can not find enough qualified candidates to fill the STEM jobs needed, even as more immigrants advanced degree holders, but this shortage could be alleviated if US immigration restrictions were eased to allow more foreign STEM workers to work in the state. The state’s proportion of foreign-born STEM workers is growing, but not at a rate to keep pace with demand.

  • 18.8%

    Share of foreign-born advanced degree workers in STEM fields (2000)

  • 25.4%

    Share of foreign-born advanced degree workers in STEM fields (2010)

  • 35.5%

    Increase in share of foreign-born workers in STEM fields

Recognizing this need for high-skilled immigrant workers and entrepreneurs, Delaware Senator Chris Coons, along with nine other cosponsors, introduced the Immigration Innovation Act in January 2013. The proposal increases the number of temporary H-1B visas, access to green cards, and reforms fee structures, and is currently being debated in Congress.

Similar to trends in other states, healthcare and other service industries have experienced the highest rates of industry growth in Delaware over the past several years. Despite this, the federal government estimates that Delaware will be short over 616 registered nurses by 2030. And although Delaware currently has 268.4 physicians per 100,000 residents, nearly a quarter of physicians are older than 60, indicating that many will be exiting the workforce soon, and a third of all current Delaware medical school trainees leave the state.

The role of highly educated immigrants in the health professions will become increasingly important in curbing this crisis. Even now, international medical graduates compose approximately 26.4 percent of all active physicians in Delaware, and this group is expected to help soften the coming medical workforce shortfall.

  • 4,682

    Nursing Shortage by 2020

  • 26.4%

    Share of physicians who graduated from foreign medical schools (2012)

  • 23.0%

    Share of active physicians who are 60 or older

Immigrants in Delaware are also helping to create jobs through seasonal and temporary work. According to the US Department of Labor, Delaware employers were granted certifications to bring in almost 350 workers on H-2B visas in 2013. These visas—often used to staff places like Delaware’s numerous chicken processing plants, or to staff hotels and landscaping services during the tourist season—pass on cost savings to consumers and 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 Delaware, the 343 visas authorized in 2013 supported 1,592 American jobs.

  • 343

    Delaware H-2B Visas (FY 2013)

  • 1,592

    Jobs Created

Unfortunately, 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 greater.

5. Spotlight

A political moderate in Revolutionary France, Eleuthère Irénée (E.I.) du Pont fled France with his family after being imprisoned briefly for their political views. Within two years of arriving, using equipment and capital raised in France, du Pont formed E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company in 1802. His first powder mill, now a National Historic Site and museum, was founded on Delaware’s Brandywine River. By mid-century, the company supplied as much as 40 percent of the gunpowder used by the Union Army during the Civil War. Dupont went on to become director of the Farmers Bank of the State of Delaware and the Second Bank of the United States, while his eponymous company expanded beyond gunpowder production to become a global leader in agriculture, electronics and communications, and industrial biosciences.

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