A project of the Partnership for a New American Economy
Between 2000-2011, the foreign born population in Maine increased by 19.6 percent, and in 2011, immigrants made up 3.3 percent of Maine’s 1.3 million residents according to analysis by the Pew Hispanic Center. Although the majority of immigrants are from Canada, the United Kingdom, and Vietnam, African immigrants make up more than 14 percent of the foreign born population in Maine, compared to four percent for the entire US.
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, 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 Maine, 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 one in three students earning a Master’s or PhD degree 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. Almost 42 percent of students earning PhDs in STEM fields from Maine schools were non-citizens.
Share of STEM graduates at state's most research-intensive schools who are foreign born (2009): 32.9%
Immigration Reform = Economic Growth in Maine
Reforming our immigration system will generate millions of dollars and thousands of jobs across Maine. According to Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI), undocumented immigrants who enroll in a legal path to citizenship will generate more than 1,300 jobs and more than $92 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 630 jobs and add more than $47 million to Gross State Product by 2014.
In Maine, creating a path to citizenship and expanding the high-skilled visa program would add a total of more than $64 million to Gross State Product in 2014.
Immigrants have been integral in helping Maine 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 Maine, immigrant-owned businesses generate more than $119 million in annual business income, or 3.3 percent of the state’s total. The Asian population in Maine has increased by 33 percent over the last decade, and in 2007 there were 1,143 Asian-owned businesses in Maine, employing 2,543 people, with sales and receipts of $284 million in all sectors of the economy.
Share of businesses in Maine owned by immigrants: 3.2%
Annual business Income generated by immigrant-owned businesses: $120 million
Immigrant entrepreneurs have long made significant contribution to Maine’s economy. Two of the state’s largest companies, Fairchild Semiconductor International and the American Skiing Company, were founded by immigrants or their children. With corporate offices in South Portland, Fairchild Semiconductor International employs almost 8,000 people worldwide and brings in more than $1.5 billion in revenue each year. Although the American Skiing Company sold its Maine ski resorts in 2007, their investment and expansion led to two resorts that employ a total of 400 people year round and more than 2,000 seasonal workers.
In part because of some of the challenges students face remaining in the state after graduation, Maine is currently short of the professional workers it needs in critical science, technology, engineering, and mathematics--or STEM--areas, fields that help the state’s economy remain innovative and competitive. According to the nonpartisan advocacy group Change the Equation, from 2009 to 2011 more than three STEM jobs were posted online in Maine for every one unemployed STEM worker in the state. Foreign born workers in STEM fields are already helping to fill this gap. From 2000 to 2010 Maine saw a more than 50 percent increase in the advanced degree holding foreign born workers with jobs in STEM fields.
Ratio of STEM jobs to unemployed STEM workers: 3.3:1
Share of foreign born advanced degree workers in STEM fields (2000): 6.6%
Share of foreign born advanced degree workers in STEM fields (2010): 10.1%
Increase in share of foreign born STEM workers: 52%
Maine may also need to recruit immigrants to address a coming shortage of medical professionals. By 2020, the federal government estimates Maine could be short more than 5,200 registered nurses, leaving more than 30 percent of RN positions in the state vacant. Immigrants are already playing a role in filling such labor gaps: in 2010, more than 12 percent of physicians in the state were graduates of foreign medical schools, a population that is overwhelmingly immigrant.
Number of physicians per 100,000 residents: 307
Share of physicians who graduated from foreign medical schools, 2010: 12.4%
According to the US Department of Labor, Maine employers were granted certifications to bring in 1,242 workers on H-2B visas in 2011. 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 jobs are created or preserved for American born workers. In Maine, the visas authorized in FY 2011 supported 5,763 American jobs.
Maine H-2B Visas (FY 2011): 1,242
Jobs Created: 5,763
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. With a more streamlined visa program, job creation in the state could be greater.
Shukri Ali and her husband Mahamed Mahamud fled Somalia during the 1990s and arrived in Lewiston, Maine in 2002. By the following year Ali had already begun working double shifts as an interpreter in the community so that she and her husband, a hospital chef, could open their own restaurant. Five years later, they opened The Taste of Three One Cafe, a downtown spot that serves Somali food as well as Caribbean, East African, and other international fare. “We wanted to create a restaurant where everyone was welcome, a real community space,” Ali says. By early this year as many as 200 people were cycling through 15-seat restaurant on its busiest days.
Years ago Mahamud’s application for asylum in the US was denied, and he has remained in the country temporarily, slated for deportation if the situation in Somalia improves. Ali says his uncertain status kept the couple from expanding their restaurant. “We achieved the American dream, but we could only take it so far, never knowing where things stood or what would happen next year,” Ali says. This March, the couple made what Ali calls a “heartbreaking” decision to close their profitable restaurant. They are now focused on finding asylum elsewhere.
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.