1. Introduction

Immigrants make up just over 6 percent of Nebraska’s total population, but they are growing quickly. Between 2000 and 2013, the state’s share of foreign-born residents grew by almost 60 percent, almost double the rate of the national average. Latinos contributed significantly to this growth. According to the Selig Center for Economic Growth, Nebraska’s Latinos had purchasing power totaling more than $3.3 billion in 2010. Immigrants from Mexico, Vietnam, and Guatemala have growing economic influence in the state as well. According to a study done by the University of Nebraska Omaha, Nebraska’s immigrant population spent as much as $2.4 billion in the state 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

    Mexico, Vietnam, Guatemala

2. Economic Impact

Immigrant students in Nebraska also contribute to science, technology, engineering, and math--or STEM--fields. 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 Nebraska, fixing the US immigration system to make it easier for students trained in America to remain in the country after graduation will be critical. 77 percent of the students earning engineering PhDs in the state in recent years were also noncitizens.

  • 41.0%

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

  • 77.4%

    Share of Engineering PhDs who were temporary residents

Foreign-born students create jobs for Nebraskans and often provide the technological innovations that drive economic growth in the state. 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 a US Master’s or PhD program who stays in the United States working in a STEM field, 262 jobs are created for Americans. In Nebraska, more than one in three advanced degree holders working in a STEM field in the state in 2000 were immigrants, a share larger than every state in the country except California, though this number has declined substantially in the past decade. By 2020, Nebraska will need to fill 40,340 new STEM jobs and, with reform, immigrants can play a key role in occupying these positions and continuing to promote economic growth.

  • 35.9%

    Share of advanced degree holders with jobs in STEM who were foreign-born in 2000

Immigration Reform = Economic Growth in Nebraska

Reforming our immigration system will generate millions of dollars and thousands of jobs across Nebraska. According to Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI), undocumented immigrants who enroll in a legal path to citizenship will generate more than 2,300 jobs and more than $188 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 Nebraska between 2010 and 2013 will translate into 1,836 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 930 jobs and add more than $78 million to Gross State Product by 2014.

  • $115 million

    In Nebraska, creating a path to citizenship and expanding the high-skilled visa program would add a total of more than $115 million to Gross State Product in 2014.

A recent study by the Partnership for a New American Economy also found that Hispanics account for $1.6 billion in Nebraska’s spending power. Hispanics also contributed $527 million in combined federal, state, and local taxes. A total of $267 million of those taxes went to Social Security and $63 million was paid to the Medicare trust fund.

Immigrants are helping to grow housing wealth in some key Nebraska counties as well. Between 2000 and 2010, more than 14,000 immigrants arrived in Douglas County, the area that includes the cities of Omaha and Waterloo. 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 $1,650 to the value of the average home in the county, or more than $333 million to housing wealth there overall.

3. Foreign Innovators

Immigrants have been integral in helping Nebraska grow economically in recent years as the state has struggled, along with the rest of the economy, to drive new business and create American jobs. While immigrants currently own four percent of Nebraska’s businesses, from 2006 to 2010, their firms generated more than $126 million in annual income for the state each year.

  • 3.9%

    Share of business owners in Nebraska who are immigrants

  • $126,155,000

    Annual business income generated by immigrant-owned businesses

A study by The Partnership for a New American Economy found that immigrants or their children founded more than 40 percent of the 2010 Fortune 500 companies. In Nebraska, ConAgra, one of the state’s largest companies, credits much of its success to immigrant entrepreneurs. Many of the brands now sold by ConAgra brands began as businesses founded by immigrants. Today ConAgra employs more than 26,000 people in the US, and earns more than $13 billion in revenue each year.

4. Immigrants and Nebraska's Workforce

In 2011 there were 46,800 farms in Nebraska that created $21 billion in revenue, largely from the sale of cattle, corn, soybeans, and hogs. According to one study by the American Farm Bureau Federation, restrictions on migrant farm workers may lead to labor shortages that could in turn create big losses for Nebraska farms. The US Department of Agriculture estimates that for every one on-farm job, more than three additional jobs are supported that could not exist otherwise, often in better-paying industries like manufacturing, packaging, and transportation. Despite that, the US currently lacks a temporary visa for farm workers that is easy—and financially feasible—for many small and medium-sized farms.

Due in part to some of the challenges students face remaining in the state after graduation, Nebraska is also 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 5 STEM jobs were posted online in Nebraska for every one unemployed STEM worker in the state. In recent years the share of advanced-degree holding workers in STEM fields in Nebraska who were immigrant has also heavily declined, reaching 5.4 percent in 2010, despite the state’s high concentration of foreign STEM workers in 2000.

Nebraska 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 238 registered nurses, leaving 30.2 percent of RN positions vacant. Rural areas of the state already have difficulty recruiting doctors. According to a report by the University of Nebraska Medical Center, there are currently 11 rural counties in Nebraska without any primary care physicians. The number of primary care physicians older than 65 has also grown by 78 percent in the last few years, meaning many will soon be retiring. Immigrants are already playing a major role filling these labor gaps: in 2012, more than one in eight physicians in the state were graduates of foreign medical schools, a population that is overwhelmingly immigrant.

  • 219.8

    Number of physicians per 100,000 residents

  • 34th

    Physician density rank relative to other states

  • 6,035

    Nursing shortage by 2020

  • 30.2%

    Share of nursing positions vacant by 2020

  • 13.3%

    Share of physicians who graduated from foreign medical schools, 2012

Immigrants in Nebraska are also helping to create jobs in the state through seasonal and temporary work. Between 1990 and 2010, Nebraska's supply of less-skilled workers born in the U.S. dropped by 87,456. Over that same period, the state's foreign-born, less-skilled labor force grew by 43,765, leaving a difference of 43,691 openings that immigrants could be filling. According to the US Department of Labor, Nebraska employers were granted certifications to bring in 580 workers on H-2B visas in fiscal year 2013. These visas, often used to staff places like amusement parks, hotels, or landscaping services during the high season, protect American jobs by allowing companies to take on more work and continue operations. 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 Nebraska the 580 visas authorized in fiscal year 2013 supported almost 2,700 American jobs.

  • 580

    Number of H-2B Visas Granted in Nebraska in FY 2013

  • 2,691

    Number of Jobs Created by those H-2B Workers

Attaining the H-2B visa, however, can be costly and cumbersome. The average employer spends $2,500 on each H-2B visa it sponsors, and applies to multiple federal agencies in the process. With a more streamlined visa program, more employers might consider using it.

5. Spotlight

Hector Boiardi came to the United States from Italy in 1914, and by 1924 had opened Il Giardino d’Italia, a successful Italian restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio. After many customers requested to take his spaghetti to go, Boiardi approached a manufacturer to can his spaghetti and sell it in supermarkets. The name of his brand was changed for ease of pronunciation to Chef Boyardee.

Isadore Pinkowitz, a Romanian immigrant, started selling kosher hot dogs from his wagon in the early 1900s. With the help of his son, he expanded to create what is now Hebrew National, a supplier of kosher frankfurters and deli meats.

La Choy was the first company to supply ingredients for Americans to cook Chinese food at home. Dr. Ilhan New from South Korea and his college friend, Wally Smith, started the company in 1922. All three companies, are now part of ConAgra’s packaged food business.

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