1. Introduction

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 2013, the number of foreign-born residents in the Georgia grew by more than 60 percent (more than double the national average), topping more than 950,000 people in 2013, according to the American Community Survey.

  • Size of foreign-born population

    950,670 (2013)

  • Percent of state’s population that is immigrant


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


  • Top countries of origin

    Mexico, India, Korea

The growing number of foreign-born citizens in Georgia will also cause a demographic shift that has the potential to drastically shift the electoral map. According to a study by the Partnership for a New American Economy, the foreign-born Hispanic and Asian populations in particular could cause the the electoral makeup of 18 key states to change substantively. In Georgia, there are a total of 210,000 unregistered Asian and Latino voters. Between 2012 and 2016 there will be a total of 100,043 newly eligible Hispanic and Asian voters, by 2020 that number is expected to grow to 215,966. In a high impact scenario, this demographic change could result in 57,391 additional democratic voters in 2016 and 81,170 by 2020

2. Economic Impact

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: a study by the Partnership for a New American Economy and the American Enterprise Institute found that for every 100 foreign-born graduates of a US Master’s or PhD program who stay in the United States working in a STEM field, 262 jobs are created for Americans. That translates into a huge employment boost for Georgia, a state where, in 2010, more than one in five STEM workers with an advanced degree were foreigners. In 2013, almost half of the students earning Masters or PhD degrees in STEM from the state’s research-intensive universities were foreign-born. And three in five students earning engineering PhDs in the state in recent years were also noncitizens. By 2020, Georgia will need to fill 189,830 new STEM jobs and immigrants will play a key role in occupying these positions and continuing to promote economic growth.

  • 43.6%

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

  • 30.6%

    Share of Science/Engineering graduate students who were temporary residents (2010)

  • 60.0%

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

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. In the Atlanta metropolitan area, 2007 and 2008 H-1B visa denials cost U.S.-born tech workers as many as 11,052 additional jobs and as much as 134,608 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 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 addition, the new H-1B visas awarded to Georgia between 2010 and 2013 will translate into 15,708 new jobs for U.S.-born workers in the state by 2020.

  • $909 million

    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.

Immigrants are helping to grow housing wealth in some key Georgia counties, as well. Between 2000 and 2010, almost 100,000 immigrants arrived in Gwinnett County, the state's second-most populous county. 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 $11,448 to the value of the average home in the county, or more than $3 billion to housing wealth there overall.

3. Foreign Innovators

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.


Share of business owners in Georgia who are immigrants


Share of immigrant-founded new businesses in state

$2.9 billion

Annual business income generated by immigrant-owned businesses

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.

4. Immigrants and Georgia's Workforce

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. Seasonal and temporary workers in Georgia also help to create jobs in the state. According to the US Department of Labor, Georgia employers were granted certifications to bring in 1,818 H-2B visas in fiscal year 2013. 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 found that for every 100 H-2B visa workers, 464 American jobs are created or preserved. In Georgia, that means the 1,818 visas authorized in FY 2013 alone supported 8,436 American jobs.

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 2030, 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 43,075 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.

Despite the harmful effects of House Bill 87, Georgia’s current Hispanic population plays an important role in its economy. A recent study by the Partnership for a New American Economy found that both native and foreign-born Hispanics in Georgia account for $8.5 billion of the states spending power, with foreign-born Hispanics contributing $5.2 billion of that total. They also pay $2.9 billion in federal, state, and local taxes with $1.4 billion going towards Social Security and $300 million to the Medicare trust fund. These economic contributions should also be taken into account when advocating for new legislation that makes Georgia a more welcoming state for immigrants.

  • 207

    Number of physicians per 100,000 residents

  • 41st

    Physician density rank relative to other states

  • 20.6%

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

Georgia would also benefit heavily if Congress passed the federal DREAM Act, a bill that would legalize the 2.1 million illegal immigrants who came to the country as children. By incentivizing these young people to pursue higher education and by 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 Georgia, legalizing the state’s 71,000 so-called DREAMers would have an estimated $1.07 billion induced economic impact and also create almost 48,200 new jobs by 2030.

  • 71,000

    DREAMers in the state

  • $1.07 billion

    Economic impact of passing the DREAM act

  • 48,172

    Number of jobs created by DREAM act by 2030

From 2000 to 2010, a period when tourists from Brazil, China, and India boosted international travel spending globally, Georgia saw its share in the international tourism market decline due to the U.S.'s inefficient visa system. This drop amounted to roughly 40,000 lost visitors, as well as $160 million in spending and more than 1,200 jobs.

5. Spotlight

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.”

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