1. Introduction

For much of its history, Illinois has been home to a large and thriving immigrant population. From 1960 until the late 1990s, Illinois was among the seven states that attracted more than 60 percent of all immigrants to the US during that period. Though the state’s immigrant population growth has slowed in recent years, Illinois is still is home to almost 1.8 million people born abroad, according to the 2010 American Community Survey.

  • Size of foreign-born population


  • Percent of state’s population that is immigrant


  • Growth in foreign-born population 2000-2010


2. Economic Impact

Current immigration policy has been harmful to Illinois’ economy. From 2000 to 2010, a period when a flood of tourists from Brazil, China, and India boosted international travel spending globally, Illinois saw its market share of the international tourism market decline. This decline is estimated to have cost the state more than 94,000 potential visitors, $376 million in spending, and 2,800 new jobs from 2000 to 2010. Industry experts have blamed the lengthy delays and expenses involved in obtaining a US tourist visa as a major source of lost economic activity across the nation during that period.

  • 94,000

    94,000 potential foreign visitors

  • $376 million

    $376 million in revenue

  • 2,800

    2,800 new jobs

The state also is also experiencing a shortage of workers in the STEM fields that help the economy remain innovative and competitive. According to the nonpartisan advocacy group Change the Equation, from 2009 to 2011 some 1.6 STEM jobs were posted online in Illinois for every unemployed STEM worker in the state. Foreign STEM workers could help fill some of these gaps, as they have in other states.

Illinois may also need to recruit immigrants to address a coming shortage of medical professionals. The federal government has estimated that by 2020, Illinois could be short over 21,000 additional registered nurses, leaving almost 20 percent of the state’s RN positions unfilled.

  • 1.63:1

    Ratio of STEM jobs to unemployed STEM workers: 1.63:1

Illinois is one of many states that could benefit greatly if Congress passed the DREAM Act, a bill that would legalize the 2.1 million undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children. By incentivizing 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. That increased consumption would have a powerful ripple effect on the Illinois’ economy: legalizing the 99,000 so-called DREAMers in the state would generate an estimated $14 billion of increased output and create almost 59,000 new jobs by 2030.

  • 99,000

    DREAMers in the state

  • $14 billion

    Economic impact of passing the DREAM act

  • 58,992

    Number of jobs created by DREAM act by 2030

Immigration Reform = Economic Growth in Illinois

Reforming our immigration system will generate millions of dollars and thousands of jobs across Illinois. According to Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI), undocumented immigrants who enroll in a legal path to citizenship will generate more than 21,000 jobs and more than $1.7 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 11,000 jobs and add more than $1.1 billion to Gross State Product by 2014.

  • $1.5 billion

    In Illinois, creating a path to citizenship and expanding the high-skilled visa program would add a total of more than $1.5 billion to Gross State Product in 2014.

3. Foreign Innovators

Immigrants have been integral in helping Illinois grow economically in recent years, especially as the state has struggled, along with the rest of the country, to drive new business and create American jobs. In Illinois, as in the rest of the country, immigrants have led the charge in new business growth: in recent years, foreign-born residents have founded almost one in three of the state’s new businesses. Illinois now boasts the ninth highest rate of immigrant business ownership in the country, not far behind well-known immigration hubs like California, Florida, and New York.


Share of business owners who are immigrants: 20.3%


Share of Immigrant-founded new businesses in state: 32.1%

$5.4 billion

Annual business income generated by immigrant-owned businesses: $5.4 billion

Immigrant entrepreneurs have long been a critical part of the Illinois economy. Food-industry giants Sara Lee and Kraft Foods were both founded or co-founded by immigrants, as were McDonald’s, The Boeing Company, and the pharmaceutical firm Baxter International. Together, these five companies employed almost 685,000 people in 2011 and bring in more than $140 billion in annual revenues.

4. Immigrants and Illinois's Workforce

Illinois is also known as a hub of scientific advancement, due in part to preeminent research institutions like the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a school that US News and World Report consistently ranks among the top five graduate-level engineering programs in the country. In the coming years, science, technology, engineering, and math (“STEM”) fields are projected to be a key part of US economic growth, adding jobs 73 percent faster than the rest of the economy. For Illinois, 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 more than 56 percent of the students earning Master’s or PhD degrees in STEM fields from the state’s research-intensive universities were foreign-born. In recent years, non-citizens have also earned almost two out of every three engineering PhDs granted in the state.

  • 56.4%

    Share of STEM Masters and PhDs at state's most research-intensive schools who are foreign-born (2009): 56.4%

  • 31.5%

    Share of Science/Engineering graduate students who were temporary or permanent residents residents (2010): 31.5%

  • 65.1%

    Share of Engineering PhDs who were temporary residents (2006-2010): 65.1%

  • 31.4%

    Share of physicians who graduated from foreign medical schools, 2012: 31.4%

  • 27.6%

    Share of foreign-born STEM advanced degree workers (2010): 27.6%

Foreign-born STEM students and graduates in Illinois are also driving economic growth that creates jobs for American workers. A recent study by the Partnership for a New American Economy and the American Enterprise Institute found that for every 100 foreign-born graduates of US Master’s and PhD programs that stay in the United States working in a STEM field, 262 jobs are created for Americans. That translates into a large employment boost for Illinois, a state where, in 2010, more than one out of every four STEM workers with an advanced degree was foreign-born.

Immigrants also contribute to Illinois’s economic competitiveness by earning patents on cutting-edge research and products. In 2011 more than 90 percent of patents awarded to the University of Illinois System 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.

  • 89.7%

    Share of University of Illinois patents with at least one foreign-born inventor (2011): 89.7%

  • 65.0%

    Share of those inventors who were students, postdoctoral fellows, or researchers, groups with no clear path to stay in America after graduation: 65.0%

  • $15.2 million

    University of Illinois System licensing/royalty revenue from patents (2010): $15.2 million

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