North Carolina

1. Introduction

Though immigrants make up only 7.5 percent of the state’s total population, North Carolina is one of fourteen states where the immigrant population grew by double or more the rate of the national average over the last decade. Today, the state’s immigrant population comes in at just under 720,000 people. North Carolina has become a hub for Asian and Latino immigrants in particular; the Latino share of North Carolina’s population has grown from 1.2 percent in 1990 to 8.4 percent in 2010. And although these immigrants make up a relatively small number of voters in the state, they exceeded the margin of victory by which Barack Obama defeated John McCain in 2008.

  • 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, India, El Salvador

2. Economic Impact

Between 2008 and 2018, science, technology, engineering, and math--or “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 North Carolina, fixing the US immigration system to make it easier for foreign students trained in STEM fields at American universities to remain in the country after graduation will be critical: a 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. That translates into a huge employment boost for North Carolina, a state where, in 2010, 20.1 percent of STEM workers with an advanced degree were foreigners – more than double their share of the STEM workforce 10 years earlier. In 2009, more than 32 percent of the students earning Master’s or PhDs in STEM from the state’s research-intensive universities were foreign-born. And more than 60 percent of the students earning engineering PhDs in the state in recent years were also noncitizens.

  • 32.2%

    Share of STEM graduates at state's most research-intensive schools who are foreign-born (2009): 32.2%

  • 14.4%

    Share of physicians who graduated from foreign medical schools, 2012: 14.4%

  • 60.1%

    Share of Engineering PhDs who were temporary residents (2006-2010): 60.1%

Immigration Reform = Economic Growth in North Carolina

Reforming our immigration system will generate millions of dollars and thousands of jobs across North Carolina. According to Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI), undocumented immigrants who enroll in a legal path to citizenship will generate more than 14,500 jobs and more than $1 billion 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 North Carolina between 2010 and 2013 will translate into 22,319 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 5,700 jobs and add more than $500 million to Gross State Product by 2014.

  • $745 million

    In North Carolina, creating a path to citizenship and expanding the high-skilled visa program would add a total of more than $745 million to Gross State Product in 2014.

Hispanics play an important role in all areas in North Carolina, but a report recently published by the Partnership for a New American Economy shows how significant their economic contribution is. Statewide, Hispanics account for $7.5 billion of the spending power. They also pay $2.5 billion in federal, state, and local taxes; $1.2 billion of that amount goes to Social Security and $300 million goes to the Medicare trust fund.

3. Foreign Innovators

In North Carolina, as in the rest of the country, immigrants play a significant role in driving economic growth and job creation through new business startups. In 2010, 8.4 percent of business owners in North Carolina were immigrants, despite making up just 7.5 percent of the state’s total population. From 2006 to 2010, immigrant-owned businesses also generated $1.7 billion in annual income for the state each year.

  • 8.4%

    Share of business owners who are immigrants: 8.4%

  • $1.7 billion

    Annual business income generated by immigrant-owned businesses: $1.7 billion

Immigrant entrepreneurs have long made significant contributions to New Carolina’s economy. Two of the state’s largest companies, Bank of America and Relativity Technologies, were founded by immigrants or their children. Together, these two companies employ almost more than 290,000 people and bring in more than more than $98 billion in revenues each year.

4. Immigrants and North Carolina's Workforce

Having an adequate number of farm workers is critical to the health of North Carolina’s agriculture and related industries. 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 this, the US currently lacks a temporary visa for farm workers that is easy—and financially feasible—for many small and medium-sized farms.

North Carolina, a state that receives 20 percent of its income from agriculture, feels this issue acutely. A recent report by the Center for Global Development and the Partnership for a New American Economy demonstrated the challenge farmers in the state have hiring native born workers. The study found that only a tiny fraction of native born unemployed North Carolinians would take and complete farm jobs offered to them, despite receiving repeated notification that the jobs were available. For example, in 2011, only 268 of the more than 500,000 people unemployed in the state (all US citizens) responded to postings for local farm jobs. Of those 268, only 163 showed up for the first day of work at a farm site, and only seven native born workers completed the entire growing season at a farm. To fill the gap, farmers offered the same jobs on the same terms to foreign workers, mostly from Mexico, under the H-2A program--in any given year native workers were over 30 times more likely to leave farm jobs than Mexican workers.

But the bureaucratic challenges and expense involved in participating in the H-2A put the program out of reach for many farm owners in the state. Although the state currently uses about 15 percent of all H-2A visas awarded in the US each year, Peter Daniel, assistant to the President of the N.C. Farm Bureau, estimates that 90 percent of the state’s farm workers are undocumented.

According to the US Department of Labor, North Carolina employers were also granted certifications to bring in almost 2,000 workers on H-2B visas in fiscal year 2011. These visas, often used to staff places like amusement parks, hotels, or landscaping services with seasonal labor, have a powerful impact on job creation. 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 North Carolina that means the visas authorized in FY 2011 alone supported almost 9,200 American jobs.

[Insert Graphic: Number of H-2B Visas Granted in North Carolina in FY 2011: 1,977.
Number of Jobs Created by those H-2B Workers: 9,173.]

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.

North Carolina 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 20,851 registered nurses, leaving 27 percent of RN positions vacant due to lack of qualified workers. Potential physician shortages are also a concern in North Carolina. An aging population coupled with an aging medical workforce and an increase in chronic diseases means that the need for more healthcare services is likely to increase just as the medical workforce is decreasing. The North Carolina Institute of Medicine projects that the state may experience a 21 percent decrease in the ratio of provider-to-population by 2030. In many states, like New York and New Jersey, immigrants are already helping fill these labor gaps, and could help fill coming shortages in North Carolina as well.

Due in part to some of the challenges students face remaining in the state after graduation, North Carolina is also 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 1.7 STEM jobs were posted online in North Carolina for every one unemployed STEM worker in the state. Fixing this problem is critical to North Carolina, which is home to a host of major technology companies, including SAS, Red Hat, and Relativity Technologies. Microsoft, Facebook, and IBM also have offices in the Research Triangle area.

  • 1.7:1

    Ratio of available STEM jobs to available STEM workers: 1.7:1

According to a study by the Center for American Progress and the Partnership for a New American Economy, North Carolina would also benefit significantly if Congress passed the federal DREAM Act, a bill that would legalize the 2.1 million undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children. In North Carolina, legalizing the 53,000 so-called DREAMers in the state would have an estimated $7.8 billion induced economic impact and also create almost 36,000 new jobs by 2030. These benefits would result by incentivizing these young people to earn a higher education degree and by allowing them to work legally, in turn giving the DREAMers more to earn and spend on products ranging from cars to houses to computers.

  • DREAMers in the state: 53,000

  • $7.8 billion

    Economic impact of passing the DREAM act

  • 35,935

    Number of jobs created by DREAM act by 2030

5. Spotlight

Nancy Nguyen, Founder and Designer, Sweet T
Nancy Nguyen came to the US from Vietnam when she was just two months old because her parents were determined to make a better life for her. Nancy did not even learn what the word “entrepreneur” meant until she was getting her MBA. But after graduation, she realized that she could be a successful business owner. “I was always thinking about new ideas and exciting possibilities,” she says. “Being an immigrant gives you a strong work ethic and the courage to take risks.” Her first idea was for a fashion line, called Sweet T, inspired by the country music concerts she was going to in her adopted home state of North Carolina. After working at a neighborhood beauty salon to fund her idea, Nguyen ultimately founded three Sweet T companies for what she says are three passions in life: business, beauty and philanthropy.

“I am an immigrant and an entrepreneur and I am dedicated to helping more people like me succeed in this country,” says Nancy. “I understand the struggle and the work that it takes to be successful but I also know that immigrants are a crucial sector of entrepreneurs and business leaders in the United States.” Nancy is a mentor in several organizations including the Collegiate Entrepreneur Organization and she speaks at national conferences, does interviews -- she also wrote a book, The Networking Diary, about succeeding in business. “I am committed to advocating for immigrants like myself who are driven, passionate and innovative,” she says. “Everyone in this country has something to offer and immigrants want to be a part of a thriving future here in the United States.“

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