1. Introduction

The growth of Nevada’s immigrant population has been fairly recent, with most immigrants arriving only over the past two or three decades, but very strong. According to data from the American Community Survey, from 2000 to 2013 Nevada’s foreign-born population grew by 64 percent, reaching more than 500,000 people by 2010. Today, nearly one in five Nevada residents is foreign-born, significantly above the national average.

  • Size of foreign-born population (2013)


  • Percent of state’s population that is immigrant


  • Growth in foreign-born population 2000-2013


The growing number of foreign-born citizens in Nevada will also cause a demographic shift that has the potential to drastically shift the electoral map. According to a study by the Partnership for a New American Economy, the foreign-born Hispanic and Asian populations in particular could cause the the electoral makeup of 18 key states to change substantively. In Nevada, there are a total of 154,000 unregistered Asian and Latino voters. Between 2012 and 2016 there will be a total of 83,647 newly eligible Hispanic and Asian voters, by 2020 that number is expected to grow to 176,602. In a high impact scenario, this demographic change could result in 25,359 additional democratic voters in 2016 and 37,541 by 2020

2. Economic Impact

In the coming years, science, technology, engineering, and math--or “STEM”--fields, are projected to be a key part of US economic growth, adding jobs 73 percent faster than the rest of the economy. Fixing the US immigration system to make it easier for students trained in Nevada to remain in the country after graduation will be critical. In 2013, almost one in three students earning Master’s or PhD degrees in STEM from the state’s research-intensive universities were foreign-born. In recent years, noncitizens have also earned more than 72 percent of the engineering PhDs granted in the state.

  • 26.7%

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

  • 72.1%

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

Foreign-born students create jobs for Nevadans 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 stay in the United States working in a STEM field, 262 jobs are created for Americans. In 2010, almost one out of every six STEM workers with an advanced degree in Nevada was a foreigner. By 2020, Nevada will need to fill 37,190 new STEM jobs and immigrants will play a key role in occupying these positions and continuing to promote economic growth.

Immigration Reform = Economic Growth in Nevada

Reforming our immigration system will generate millions of dollars and thousands of jobs across Nevada. According to Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI), undocumented immigrants who enroll in a legal path to citizenship will generate more than 9,200 jobs and more than $789 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 Nevada between 2010 and 2013 will translate into 1,222 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 1,300 jobs and add more than $121 million to Gross State Product by 2014.

  • $278 million

    In Nevada, creating a path to citizenship and expanding the high-skilled visa program would add a total of more than $278 million to Gross State Product in 2014.

Hispanics play an important role in all areas of Nevada, but a report recently published by the Partnership for a New American Economy shows how significant their economic contribution is. Statewide, Hispanics account for $8.1 billion, or almost 16 percent, of the spending power. The foreign-born population alone accounts for $4.6 billion of Nevada’s spending power. They also pay $2.3 billion in federal, state, and local taxes; $1.3 billion of that amount goes to Social Security and $300 million goes to the Medicare trust fund.

Immigrants are helping to grow housing wealth in some key Nevada counties as well: Between 2000 and 2010, 170,692 immigrants arrived in Clark County, the area that includes the cities of Las Vegas and Henderson. By moving into neighborhoods formerly in decline, these immigrants played a role adding to the housing wealth of the neighborhood’s residents. That influx of immigrants added $19,718 to the value of the average home in the county, or more than $14 billion to housing wealth there overall. Washoe County, a county in the western corner of the state, gained 15,316 immigrants between 2000 and 2010. Those immigrants contributed $1,769 to the value of the average home in the county, growing housing wealth there by almost $290 million over the course of a decade.

3. Foreign Innovators

Foreign-born residents currently own more than one in five Nevada businesses, and their firms generate more than $1.1 billion in business income per year. Nevada has the eighth highest rate of immigrant business ownership in the country, ranking not far behind California, Florida, and New York - all well known for their large immigrant populations.

  • 20.7%

    Share of business owners in Nevada who are immigrants

  • 1.1 billion

    Annual business income generated by immigrant-owned businesses

Immigrant entrepreneurs have long been a critical part of Nevada’s economic success. Jake Freedman, the principle founder of Las Vegas Sands, the international resort company, originally immigrated to the US from Russia as a teenager. MGM Resorts International, another major force in the state’s massive hospitality and leisure industry, was co-founded by the child of an Armenian immigrant. Together, those two firms generate $17.3 billion in annual revenues and employ more than 100,000 people.

4. Immigrants and Nevada's Workforce

From 2000 to 2010, a period when tourists from Brazil, China and India boosted international travel spending globally, the US saw its share in the global tourism market decline. This drop cost Nevada 105,000 potential visitors over that period, as well as almost $420 million in spending and more than 3,100 jobs. The Nevada economy depends on jobs in the hospitality and leisure sector - the single largest industry in the state, employing 325,000 people.

Nevada may also need to recruit immigrants to address a coming shortage of medical professionals. The state ranks 45th in the nation in the number of doctors per 100,000 residents. A study by the University of Nevada School of Medicine projected that Nevada will be short more than 4,800 doctors by 2014. The supply of Registered Nurses is predicted to be low in the coming years as well: by 2030, the state could be short more than 19,398 nurses, leaving 27.5 percent of needed positions empty due to a lack of qualified workers. Immigrants are already helping to fill some of the state’s medical professional labor needs. In 2012 more than one in four physicians in the state were graduates of foreign medical schools, a population that is overwhelmingly immigrant.

  • 198

    Number of physicians per 100,000 residents

  • 45th

    Physician Density rank relative to other states

  • 28.3%

    Share of Physicians who graduated from foreign medical schools, 2012

5. Spotlight

Caesar’s Palace, a luxury 4,000 room resort on the Las Vegas Strip, certainly exerts a big draw on all sorts of tourists, both from the United States and abroad. The hotel where much of the hit movie The Hangover was filmed, its restaurant, Spago, was home to the first celebrity chef in Las Vegas. It boasts a world-class concert venue, and its complex known as The Forum Shops, a selection of 230 stores on site, offer marquis brands like Louis Vuitton and Cartier to discerning shoppers. But as Gary Selesner, the president of Caesar’s Palace knows, it’s not always easy for those attracted to the hotel to visit—especially when they’re coming from abroad. In the decade from 2000 to 2010, Selesner says he often heard from tourism operators and potential visitors telling him the process of obtaining a US tourism visa was so daunting or expensive they opted go to other countries they perceived as more friendly, like Australia, Vietnam, or Canada. Some prominent travelers, including CEOs, complained to him of visa rejections. “I was so frustrated by the situation, I made it my job to talk about how this situation needed to be improved,” Selesner says. He thinks Caesar’s was only “scratching the surface” of the international tourists it could attract.

Selesner’s viewpoint is certainly not an uncommon one. From 2000 to 2010, a surge of new wealth in countries like China caused the number of international long-haul trips to grow by 40 percent globally. But during that time, many tourists in places like China or Brazil began facing incredibly long waits—sometimes as much as 140 days—for the mandatory interviews they had to undergo at US consulates to obtain their tourism visas. US market share of international trips dropped precipitously—from 17 percent in 2000 to just 12 percent by 2010. Selesner says although his hotel has still done well and boasted almost full occupancy rates in recent years, the lost opportunity from international visitors was no doubt was costly to the property. Some VIP international travelers at Caesar’s Palace, he says, spend 100 times more than the average visitor, helping his sprawling property—which employs 3,000 people in their hotel and 5,000 workers in the shops—hire more workers and continue to expand. It’s a dynamic in much of Nevada, a state that employs 325,000 in the leisure and hospitality industry—the largest industry in the state. “I think the start of the recession would’ve been less devastating to Nevada,” Selesner says, “If our doors had been wide open to international visitors during that period.” As of July 2012, Nevada had the highest unemployment rate in the country.

But fortunately, Selesner sees some things improving. The US State Department increased staffing at consulates in China and Brazil by 40 percent earlier this year, helping reduce interview wait times, and the local airport made major improvements too. “It’s getting somewhat easier for people to come now,” Selesner says, “but there is still a lot of work to be done.” On a recent trip to Beijing, Selesner says he still saw “well over 1,000 people” waiting outside a consulate in the rain for their interview appointments. He believes the perception also remains in many circles abroad that the US is highly difficult to visit. “All of us in the Las Vegas hospitality industry see enormous potential for our city coming from international tourists,” Selesner says. He says he hopes continued improvements will help them realize it.

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