A project of the Partnership for a New American Economy
Georgia, like many states in America’s Sun Belt, has experienced dramatic growth in its overall population in recent years—a trend bolstered by the growth of the state’s immigrant population as well. Between 2000 and 2011, the number of foreign born residents in the Georgia grew by more than 60 percent (more than double the national average), topping more than 940,000 people in 2011, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
Size of foreign-born population
Percent of state’s population that is immigrant
Growth in foreign-born population 2000-2010
Top countries of origin
Georgia is known as a crucial hub of American scientific advancement, due in part to preeminent research institutions like the Georgia Institute of Technology, a school that US News and World Report consistently ranks among the top five graduate-level engineering programs in the country. Between 2008 and 2018, 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 Georgia, fixing the US immigration system to make it easier for students trained in America to remain in the country after graduation will be critical: in 2009 almost half of the students earning Masters or PhD degrees in STEM from the state’s research-intensive universities were temporary residents, a group with no clear path to stay in America after collecting their diplomas. Three in five students earning engineering PhDs in the state in recent years were also noncitizens.
Share of STEM graduates at state's most research-intensive schools who are foreign born (2009): 47.8%
Share of Science/Engineering graduate students who were temporary residents (2010): 30.6%
Share of Engineering PhDs who were temporary residents (2006-2010): 60.0%
Georgia’s immigrants also contribute to the state’s economic growth and competitiveness by earning patents on cutting-edge research and products. In 2011, more than 88 percent of patents awarded to the Georgia Institute of Technology had at least one foreign born inventor. These patents are often licensed to existing companies or used as foundations for new ones, creating American jobs and revenue in the process.
Immigration Reform = Economic Growth in Georgia
Reforming our immigration system will generate millions of dollars and thousands of jobs across Georgia. According to Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI), undocumented immigrants who enroll in a legal path to citizenship will generate more than 18,000 jobs and more than $1.3 billion 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 6,500 jobs and add more than $590 million to Gross State Product by 2014.
In Georgia, creating a path to citizenship and expanding the high-skilled visa program would add a total of more than $909 million to Gross State Product in 2014.
Foreign born residents are already contributing heavily to Georgia’s economic success. Between 2006 and 2010, more than one in seven business owners in the state were foreign born. Since 2007, immigrants to Georgia have accelerated their contribution to the state as entrepreneurs. Almost one in three new businesses in the state in those years—or 30 percent—were founded by immigrants.
Immigrant entrepreneurs have long been a critical part of the Georgia economy. Two of the largest employers based in the state, Home Depot and the United Parcel Service, both had founders who were first generation immigrants. Together, those two firms produce $125 billion in annual revenues, and employ almost 730,000 people today.
Current immigration policy has been harmful in recent years to Georgia’s economy. Georgia, a state that generates more than $3.7 billion a year in agriculture, forestry, and fishing revenues, has experienced a major farm worker shortage in the last two years. In 2011, the state passed House Bill 87, which empowers local law enforcement to arrest undocumented immigrants and check the documents of people suspected of being in the country illegally. Farmers in the state say that measure discouraged many migrant workers—including those in the country on valid visas—from coming to Georgia altogether, fearing prosecution or harassment. One survey by the University of Georgia found that the state was short 11,000 workers during the 2011 harvest, leading to $180 million in losses for the state’s agricultural industry.
These farm workers are important to the health of the American agriculture industry. The US Department of Agriculture estimates that each on-farm job supports more than three additional jobs, often in better-paying industries like manufacturing, packaging, and transportation. Despite that, the US currently lacks a temporary visa for farm workers that is easy—and financially feasible—for many small and medium-sized farms.
Georgia may also need to recruit immigrants to address a coming shortage of medical professionals. The University of Georgia Board of Regents has predicted the state will be short 2,500 doctors by 2020, costing the state $5.4 billion in expected emergency-room costs. That same year the federal government estimates the state could be short more than 32,000 registered nurses. Immigrants are already playing a major role filling such labor gaps: in 2010 one in five active physicians in the state were graduates of foreign medical schools, who are overwhelmingly immigrant.
Number of physicians per 100,000 residents: 207
Physician density rank relative to other states: 41st
Share of physicians who graduated from foreign medical schools, 2010: 19.9%
DREAMers in the state
Economic impact of passing the DREAM act: $1.07 billion
Number of jobs created by DREAM act by 2030
Jason Berry, a farmer in Baxley, Georgia, manages Blueberry Farms of Georgia, which produces 200 acres of organic blueberries for the Dole Food Company. He also owns another farm outright--Berry Farms, which grows about 50 acres worth of vegetables including sweet Vidalia onions and green beans.
In 2011, a drastic shortage of farm workers in his state kept him from being able to adequately harvest his fields. “We got incredibly burned on our harvest that year,” Berry says, “And we took the biggest losses we’d ever taken on a crop.” His story was echoed by many farmers in Georgia that year. Shortly after Georgia’s strict new immigration bill passed, Berry says he began hearing from crew leaders that many migrant farm workers were unwilling to come to the state. “Stories spread about immigrants encountering roadblocks and identification checks,” Berry says, “and workers who used to come here for work suddenly wouldn’t even drive through our state.” Desperate for workers, Berry advertised on the radio and began offering $50 signing bonuses to locals willing to work picking the fields. Between the hot Georgia sun and the grueling work, however, he estimates 90 percent of locals who came quit within three days of arriving—leaving him with only 110 of the 200 workers he needed during the peak of the blueberry harvest. “I felt a lot of anxiety,” Berry says of that time, “It was hard to sleep at night, laying there wondering what would happen.”
With the large number of onions that spoiled, Berry says the losses at his vegetable farm almost put that operation under. And that would have had an impact not just on his own finances, but the pocketbooks of other workers as well: Berry employs 15 people at his farms year round, many of them American born workers doing back-office jobs like compliance with organic regulations. This year, Berry is hoping to safeguard their jobs by doing more machine harvesting—a process that damages many blueberries and makes them sell at a lower value. “What we want is an affordable guest-worker program that would let us hire the labor we need,” Berry says. But for now, looking at a polarized Congress, he says, “I’m not so hopeful that will happen.”
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.