A project of the Partnership for a New American Economy
Kansas, known for its agricultural, manufacturing, and transportation industries, has increasingly come to rely on immigrants for growth. In the last ten years, Kansas’s population has grown by only 20,000 overall and without immigrants, that growth would be even slower, as native Kansans have left the state at a faster rate than immigrants have arrived. According to the 2011 US Census, Liberal, Kansas – a town of 23,000 people on the border of Oklahoma, had one of the country’s highest shares of foreign-born residents. One out of every four people is from a different country, a higher proportion than many of the nation’s largest and most diverse cities. These shifting demographics have brought immigration to the forefront of the policy debate. Kansas was one of the first states to pass a state DREAM Act, which confers certain state benefits to undocumented immigrants. The state legislature also debated a bill that would make it easier for immigrants – both illegal and legal – to fill labor shortages without visas, but this bill ultimately failed to pass.
Size of foreign-born population
Percent of state’s population that is immigrant
Growth in foreign-born population 2000-2010
Top countries of origin
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. Kansas will need to fill 80,000 STEM jobs by 2018, but the state’s ability to produce a skilled workforce has lagged behind this growing demand. Immigrants have been helping to close the shortfall in these areas. 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. This translates into a huge employment boost for Kansas, a state where, in 2010, 15.4 percent of STEM workers with an advanced degree was a foreigner. Additionally, more than half of all STEM graduates at the most research-intensive universities are foreign-born, and nearly four out of every five engineering PhDs are temporary or permanent residents. From 2006 to 2012, immigrant founders of engineering and technology companies employed roughly 560,000 workers and generated an estimated $63 billion in sales.
The federal government limits new H-1B temporary work visas for private sector workers at 65,000 per year, and there are only an additional 20,000 new H-1B visas available to individuals with US advanced degrees. This means far more skilled workers are waiting for US visas than can be admitted under current law, and many students who graduate here have no clear path to stay in America. Fixing this broken system will be critical to ensuring Kansas’ continued growth and competitiveness.
Share of Science/Engineering graduate students who were foreign-born (2009): 51.0%
Share of Engineering PhDs who were temporary residents (2006-2010): 77.2%
Immigration Reform = Economic Growth in Kansas
Reforming our immigration system will generate millions of dollars and thousands of jobs across Kansas. According to Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI), undocumented immigrants who enroll in a legal path to citizenship will generate more than 3,000 jobs and more than $259 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 1,400 jobs and add more than $118 million to Gross State Product by 2014.
In Kansas, creating a path to citizenship and expanding the high-skilled visa program would add a total of more than $172 million to Gross State Product in 2014.
Immigrants have been integral in helping Kansas 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. 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. In Kansas, like many places around the country, immigrants have made considerable contributions as entrepreneurs. The state’s 5,800 Latino-owned businesses had sales and receipts of $1.3 billion and employed nearly 8,000 people, while 4,800 Asian-owned businesses had sales and receipts of $1.4 billion and employed almost 13,000 people.
Share business owners in Kansas who are immigrants: 5.7%
Number of immigrant founded new businesses, 2006-2010: 7,378
Annual business income generated by immigrant-owned businesses: $350 million
Although the foreign-born share of Kansas’s population is 6.7 percent, the foreign-born share of the state’s labor force is 8.3 percent, a small but significant difference. The top three industries of immigrant workers in Kansas are manufacturing, educational services, and healthcare and social assistance. According to the nonpartisan advocacy group Change the Equation, there are more than 2 STEM jobs available for every unemployed STEM worker in Kansas. Employers cannot find enough qualified candidates to fill the STEM jobs needed, even with the current number of immigrant STEM workers.
Ratio of STEM jobs to unemployed STEM workers: 2:1
Kansas may also need to recruit immigrants to address a coming shortage of medical professionals. Kansas currently ranks 39th in the nation in the number of doctors per 100,000 people in the population. Given that more than a quarter of the state’s physicians are age 60 or older and more than 40 percent of all medical school trainees leaving the state, Kansas needs international medical graduates to help fill the workforce shortfall. International medical graduates compose approximately 18 percent of all active physicians in Kansas and play a critical role in our healthcare system.
Number of physicians per 100,000 residents: 213.2
Share of physicians who graduated from foreign medical schools, 2012: 17.2%
Share of active physicians who are over age 60: 26%
Share of medical trainees who leave state after graduation: 43.4%
Kansas H-2B Visas (FY 2011): 731
Jobs Created: 3,392
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. Recognizing the need for reform, a coalition of business interests across Kansas backed a new state House bill in 2012 which would make it easier for immigrants to enter the labor force without visas, but the bill failed to pass.
The descendant of Indian merchants, Anil Shah was born in Zanzibar, East Africa, now a region of Tanzania. At a young age, he was drawn to the United States. “I had learned about Henry Ford and other entrepreneurs. I always admired the forward-thinking spirit of America.”
Mr. Shah’s interest in innovation drew him to engineering in high school. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in metallurgic engineering, Mr. Shah arrived in the small town of Rolla, Missouri to begin his Master’s degree studies in 1973. He was ultimately hired by a large foundry company, Grady Foundries, that eventually helped him apply for a green card. Mr. Shah became a US citizen in 1981.
For the past 39 years, Mr. Shah has lived in Wichita, Kansas, where he works for Cessna as a materials engineer, testing materials for use in the design, renovation, and upgrade of aircraft. Many of his engineer and scientist colleagues are also immigrants or children of immigrants who are contributing to advancements in flight.
Shah has also noticed a change in Witchita’s demographics. “When I first arrived in Wichita, there were a handful of people of Indian origin, maybe eight or ten Indian families. Now, there are a much larger number of immigrants … people from countries like China, India, Bangladesh who are professors or in medical fields or students or engineers.”
Mr. Shah is hopeful about immigration reform for the next generation of foreign-born engineers and scientists. “Accepting people from all over the world … is a win-win in my opinion. Most people who come here are motivated to do better and when they get the opportunity, they have a willingness to work hard and better themselves. We can improve the economy [and] employ immigrants without displacing Americans.”
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.