1. Introduction

Missouri experienced several waves of immigration beginning in the 1830s, culminating in an influx of Bosnians, Latino, and Asians in more recent years. Due to these shifting demographics, approximately four percent of the state’s residents are foreign-born, totaling nearly 250,000 people, according to analysis by the Pew Hispanic Center. Over the past decade, Missouri’s immigrant population has grown by nearly 63 percent, more than double the national average. Immigrants have contributed considerably to the state’s economy, comprising nearly 5 percent of the workforce; the 2010 purchasing power of Latinos alone totaled $4.9 billion—an increase of 577 percent since 1990, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth.

The Missouri state legislature passed several anti-immigration laws in 2008 and additional measures have since been introduced. For example, Senate bill 590 requires school administrators to report the immigration status of students and their parents, while House Bill 167 requires the state to offer driver’s license exams in English without an interpreter.

  • Size of foreign-born population


  • Percent of state’s population that is immigrant


  • Growth in foreign-born population 2000-2010


  • Top countries of origin

    Mexico, China, India

2. Economic Impact

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. However, Missouri’s ability to produce a STEM workforce has lagged behind this growing demand and immigrants have been helping to close the shortfall. More than 30 percent of all Missouri science and engineering graduate students are temporary residents and almost 65 percent of engineering PhD graduates are foreign-born. The 13,360 foreign students in the state contributed $335.9 million to the economy in tuition, fees, and living expenses for the 2009-2010 academic year.

Foreign-born students create jobs for Missouri residents and often provide the technological innovations that drive economic growth in the state. 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 estimate translates into an employment boost for Missouri, where nearly one in 10 STEM workers with an advanced degree is an immigrant.

  • 43.1%

    Share of STEM graduates at state's most research-intensive schools who are foreign-born (2009): 43.1%

  • 30.1%

    Share of Science/Engineering graduate students who were temporary residents (2010): 30.1%

  • 65%

    Share of Engineering PhDs who were temporary residents (2006-2010): 65%

Immigration Reform = Economic Growth in Missouri

Reforming our immigration system will generate millions of dollars and thousands of jobs across Missouri. According to Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI), undocumented immigrants who enroll in a legal path to citizenship will generate more than 6,500 jobs and more than $574 million 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 Missouri between 2010 and 2013 will translate into 6,115 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 3,100 jobs and add more than $277 million to Gross State Product by 2014.

  • $380 million

    In Missouri, creating a path to citizenship and expanding the high-skilled visa program would add a total of more than $380 million to Gross State Product in 2014.

Hispanics play an important role in all areas in Missouri, but a report recently published by the Partnership for a New American Economy shows how significant their economic contribution is. Statewide, Hispanics account for $2.2 billion of the spending power. They also pay $743 million in federal, state, and local taxes; $366 million of that amount goes to Social Security and $85 million goes to the Medicare trust fund.

3. Foreign Innovators

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 Missouri, immigrants are more likely than native born Americans to be entrepreneurs: in 2010, 4.6 percent of business owners in this state were immigrants, despite comprising just 4.1 percent of the state’s total population, a small but significant difference. From 2006 to 2010, immigrant-owned businesses generated more than $650 million in annual income for the state.

  • 4.6%

    Share of business owners in Missouri who are immigrants: 4.6%

  • 11,414

    number of immigrant business owners in state (2006-2010): 11,414

Immigrant entrepreneurs have long made significant contribution to Missouri’s economy. The Partnership for a New American Economy found that immigrants or their children founded 40 percent of the 2010 Fortune 500 companies, and Missouri is no different. Nearly all of Missouri’s ten Fortune 500 companies have ties to immigrants. Immigrants or their children founded Missouri-based companies Emerson Electric and Anheuser-Busch, and the CEOs of Monsanto, Sigma Aldrich, and Express Scripts were also born abroad. Anheuser-Busch alone employs more than 30,000 people today and brings in more than $4.56 billion in revenues each year.

4. Immigrants and Missouri's Workforce

According to the nonpartisan advocacy group Change the Equation, there are currently more than three STEM jobs available for every unemployed STEM worker in Missouri. Employers cannot find enough qualified candidates to fill the STEM jobs needed, even with the current number of immigrant STEM workers. Foreign STEM workers help to fill these shortages in other states, but a declining share of immigrants in the Missouri’s STEM workforce from 2000 to 2010 likely exacerbated these shortages.

  • 3.1:1

    Ratio of STEM jobs to unemployed STEM workers: 3.1:1

  • 19.6%

    Share of foreign-born advanced degree workers in STEM fields (2000): 19.6%

  • 9.9%

    Share of foreign-born advanced degree workers in STEM fields (2010): 9.9%

  • 23.1%

    Decrease in share of foreign-born STEM workers: 23.1%

Although the Greater St. Louis area is the 15th largest city in the country, it has the lowest share of immigrants of any top 20 city, and the second lowest immigrant growth rate. A study from the St. Louis Economic Council showed that if the city had experienced inflows of immigrants similar to other large metropolitan areas, income growth would have been 4-7 percent greater, and the region’s income would be 7-11 percent larger over the past decade.

Similar to trends in other states, healthcare and other service industries have experienced the highest rates of growth in Missouri. Yet Missouri may also need to recruit immigrants to address a coming shortage of medical professionals. The federal government projects a shortage of more than 1,757 registered nurses by 2030, leaving a quarter of the state’s RN positions vacant. Although Missouri currently has 246.6 physicians per 100,000 residents, on par with physician density in other states, nearly a quarter of Missouri’s physicians are older than 60 and will soon transition out of the workforce. Meanwhile, more than half of all medical school students leave the state after graduation. International medical graduates make up nearly one fifth of all active physicians in Missouri today; the state needs this group to help soften the doctor shortfall likely to come as more of the state’s current doctors exit the workforce.

  • 246.6

    Number of physicians per 100,000 residents: 246.6

  • 19.9%

    Share of physicians who graduated from foreign medical schools, 2012: 19.9%

  • 24.5%

    Share of active physicians who are over age 60: 24.5%

  • 45.5%

    Share of medical trainees who leave the state after graduation: 45.5%

Immigrants in Missouri are creating jobs through seasonal and temporary work. According to the US Department of Labor, Missouri’s employers were granted certifications to bring in more than 2,200 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 Missouri, the visas authorized in 2011 supported more than 10,400 American jobs.

  • 2,247

    Missouri H-2B Visas (FY 2011): 2,247

  • 10,426

    Jobs Created: 10,426

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.

5. Spotlight

Daewun Sin, born in Chicago to immigrants from Korea, studied biology at the University of Missouri before going to New York City to pursue his dreams of becoming a professional chef. All the while, his mother Chong continued to run the Asian food market that she started 21 years ago, working 80-90 hour weeks, seven days a week. At the time, the store was the only one catering to Asian immigrant customers in the Columbia, MO area.

When his mother passed away in 2011, Dae took over the family business. “I didn’t have any background in entrepreneurship or business management”, he says, “but I did have the lessons my mom taught me, growing up in the store.” Today, Chong’s Oriental Market is expanding quickly because of an influx of international students at the University of Missouri. The university dorms are within walking distance of the store, and a flourishing exchange program has brought in Chinese, Thai, Filipino, and Vietnamese customers, and now more African and Latino customers as well. As a result, Dae has modified the store to cater to a more international demographic. “We’ve had to replace all our shelves to maximize our space. We increased our refrigeration, and added 20 percent more products. I would love to see this store turn into an international marketplace.”

Dae employs four people now and he is in talks to buy several properties and move forward with his second small business – in commercial real estate. “It’s a lot of responsibility to be able to help people get through life, by providing employment. I want to do more for them,” he says.

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