1. Introduction

According to the 2013 American Community Survey, Montana’s immigrant population makes up just 2 percent of the state’s total, but it grew at more than double the rate of the national average between 2000 and 2013. Latinos and Asians have added significantly to this growth, with a powerful impact on the state’s economy, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth, these groups had purchasing power totaling more than $850 million in 2010.

  • Size of foreign-born population (2013)


  • Percent of state’s population that is immigrant


  • Growth in foreign-born population 2000-2013


  • Top countries of origin

    Canada, Germany, United Kingdom

2. Economic Impact

Between 2008 and 2018, STEM industries are projected to play a key role in US economic growth, adding jobs 73 percent faster than the rest of the economy. For Montana, 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 13 percent of the students earning Master’s or PhDs in STEM from the state’s research-intensive universities were foreign-born. More than 36 percent of the students earning engineering PhDs in the state in recent years were also noncitizens. By 2020, Montana will need to fill 20,980 new STEM jobs and immigrants will play a key role in occupying these positions and continuing to promote economic growth.

  • 13.6%

    Share of STEM graduates at state’s most research-intensive schools who are foreign-born (2013)

  • 36.4%

    Share of Engineering PhD recipients who were temporary residents

Immigration Reform = Economic Growth in Montana

Reforming our immigration system will generate millions of dollars and thousands of jobs across Montana. According to Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI), undocumented immigrants who enroll in a legal path to citizenship will generate more than 1,000 jobs and more than $84 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 Montana between 2010 and 2013 will translate into 173 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 340 jobs and add more than $25 million to Gross State Product by 2014.

  • $39 million

    In Montana, creating a path to citizenship and expanding the high-skilled visa program would add a total of more than $39 million to Gross State Product in 2014.

In addition to providing valuable support to Montana’s workforce, immigrants, specifically Hispanics, are also contributing to Montana's economy. A recent study by the Partnership for a New American Economy found that Hispanics account for $312 million in STATE’s spending power. Hispanics also contributed $98 million in combined federal, state, and local taxes. A total of $51 million of those taxes went to Social Security and $12 million was paid to the Medicare trust fund.

Immigrants are helping to grow housing wealth in some key Montana counties as well. Between 2000 and 2010, more than 800 immigrants arrived in Gallatin County, the area that includes the cities of Bozeman and Big Sky. By moving into these neighborhoods, immigrants played a role in adding to the housing wealth of the neighborhood’s residents. That influx of immigrants added $97 to the value of the average home in the county, or more than $3.5 million to housing wealth there overall.

3. Foreign Innovators

Immigrants have been integral in helping Montana grow economically in recent years especially as the state has struggled, along with the rest of the economy, to drive new business and create American jobs. Though the share of business owners in Montana who are immigrants--1.5 percent--is smaller than their share of the state’s population, these businesses generated more than $44 million in annual income for the state between 2006 to 2010.

  • 1.5%

    Share of Immigrant-owned businesses in state

  • $44,083,000

    Annual Business Income Generated by Immigrant-Owned Businesses

4. Immigrants and Montana's Workforce

In part because of some of the challenges students face remaining in the state after graduation, Montana is currently short of the professional workers it needs in critical 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 almost 3 STEM jobs were posted online in Montana for every one unemployed STEM worker in the state.

Montana may also need to recruit immigrants to address a coming shortage of medical professionals. By the year 2030, the federal government estimates that the state will be short almost 3,479 registered nurses, leaving 25 percent of RN positions vacant. Potential physician shortages are also a concern in Montana, a state with no medical schools. The distribution of physicians is also heavily weighted towards the urban areas, meaning rural Montanans have limited access to primary care; 37 percent of Montana’s primary care physicians work in only three of its cities. According to a report put out by the Montana Office of Rural Health, there are 7 counties without any hospitals, 12 counties without primary care physicians, and 9 counties without any physicians at all.

Immigrants in Montana are creating jobs in the state through their seasonal and temporary work. According to the US Department of Labor, Montana employers were granted certifications to bring in more than 250 workers on H-2B visas in 2013. 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 Montana the visas authorized in the 2013 supported 1,225 American jobs.

  • 264

    Montana H-2B Visas (FY 2013)

  • 1,225

    Jobs Created

5. Spotlight

Don Steinbresser runs a 9,500-acre farm on the eastern border of Montana. His farm typically grosses about $13 million a year, but he has been forced to cut back on production, slowly but surely, for the past decade. He says it is so hard to find help that the farm just has to do without, which means producing fewer crops. Foreign migrant workers are a crucial source of labor; they are willing and able to do the kind of work farmers need at wage rates that farmers can afford. However, many farmers like Steinbresser are experiencing labor shortages due to increasingly fewer migrant workers. The recent passage of strict immigration laws in states like Arizona, Alabama, and Georgia has only exacerbated the shortages that Steinbresser and other farmers like him are experiencing.

For some crops, farmers can adapt. Steinbresser has switched to a strain of sugar beets that requires fewer people to harvest. Even so, he was forced to cut back one-third on sugar beet acres in order to use the land for less labor-heavy crops. This year, he had to cut back on potatoes by half. “At this point, I employ 100 percent Americans. [The] migrant workforce – there is none. If there still were a migrant labor force, we wouldn’t have a problem. Everyone is feeling the shortage.”

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