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 2013 American Community Survey.

  • Size of foreign-born population (2013)


  • Percent of state’s population that is immigrant


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


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.

While changes in immigration policy are necessary to encourage growth in Illinois’, the state should also celebrate and continue to grow its Hispanic population, which contributes significantly to spending power and tax revenue. A recent study by the Partnership for a New American Economy found that Hispanics account for $23 billion in Illinois spending power. Hispanics also contributed $8.3 billion in combined federal, state, and local taxes. A total of $3.9 billion of those taxes went to Social Security and $906 million was paid to the Medicare trust fund.

  • 94,000

    Potential foreign visitors

  • $376 million

    Potential revenue

  • 2,800

    Potential 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. By 2020, Illinois will need to fill 266,480 new STEM jobs and immigrants could play a key role in occupying these positions and continuing to promote economic growth.

Illinois may also need to recruit immigrants to address a coming shortage of medical professionals. The federal government has estimated that by 2030, Illinois could be short over 18,240 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

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. In the Chicago metropolitan area, 2007 and 2008 H-1B visa denials cost U.S.-born tech workers as many as 16,642 additional jobs and as much as $233,509,000 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 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. The new H-1B visas awarded to Illinois between 2010 and 2013 will translate into 37,669 new jobs for U.S.-born workers in the state by 2020. 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

Between 1990 and 2010, Illinois' supply of less-skilled workers born in the U.S. dropped by 749,193. Over that same period, the state's foreign-born, less-skilled labor force grew by 340,321, leaving a difference of 408,872 openings that immigrants could be filling.

Immigrants are helping to grow housing wealth in some key Illinois counties, as well. Between 2000 and 2010, more than 22,000 immigrants arrived in Cook County, the area that includes the citiy of Chicago. 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 $2,562 to the value of the average home in the county, or more than $5 billion to housing wealth there overall.

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


Share of Immigrant-founded new businesses in state

$5.4 billion

Annual business income generated by immigrant-owned businesses

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 2013 more than 51 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.

  • 51.1%%

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

  • 31.5%

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

  • 65.1%

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

  • 31.4%

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

  • 27.6%

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

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)

  • 65.0%

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

  • $15.2 million

    University of Illinois System licensing/royalty revenue from patents (2010)

Seasonal and temporary workers in Illinois also help to create jobs in the state. According to the US Department of Labor, Illinois employers were granted certifications to bring in 1,303 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 Illinois, that means the 1,303 visas authorized in FY 2013 alone supported 6,046 American jobs.

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