1. Introduction

Originally a home to many settlers from England, Ireland, and Germany, Ohio’s population grew rapidly in the 1950s as more and more immigrants began settling in the area. According to the 2013 American Community Survey, Ohio was home to more than 460,000 foreign-born residents. Though they make up only 4 percent of the state’s total population, between 2000 to 2013, the number of immigrants in the state grew more than 33 percent, above the national average, helping to offset slow state population growth over the same period.

  • 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

    India, China, and Mexico

The growing influx of immigrants to Ohio in the last two decades has greatly added to the state’s diversity. Columbus, a city in the central part of the state, is currently home to an estimated 45,000 Somali refugees, one of the largest such concentrations in the country. And while other states have taken steps to pass restrictive immigration laws in the last two years, in 2011, Dayton passed the “Welcome Dayton” plan, legislation designed to reverse the city’s economic decline by making it more welcoming to immigrants and top talent from around the world.

The growing number of foreign-born citizens in Ohio will also cause a demographic shift that has the potential to drastically shifting 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 Ohio, there are a total of 76,000 unregistered Asian and Latino voters. Between 2012 and 2016 there will be a total of 54,089 newly eligible Hispanic and Asian voters, by 2020 that number is expected to grow to 115,049. In a high impact scenario, this demographic change could result in 9,867 additional democratic voters in 2016 and 19,262 by 2020

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. Fixing the US immigration system to make it easier for students trained in Ohio to remain in the country after graduation will be critical. In 2013, almost half of the students earning Masters or PhD degrees in STEM from the state’s research-intensive universities were foreign-born. More than three in five students earning engineering PhDs in the state in recent years were also noncitizens.

  • 47.3%

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

  • 61.4%

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

  • 25.1%

    Share of physicians who graduated from foreign medical schools (2012)

Foreign-born students create jobs for Ohioans 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 graduate 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. That translates into a large employment boost for Ohio, a state where, in 2010, one in every eight STEM workers with an advanced degree was a foreigner, a percentage that has grown in the last decade. By 2020, Ohio will need to fill 248,850 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 Ohio

Reforming our immigration system will generate millions of dollars and thousands of jobs across Ohio. In the Columbus metropolitan area, 2007 and 2008 H-1B visa denials cost U.S.-born tech workers as many as 2,298 additional jobs and as much as $20,134,000 in missed wages by 2010. According to Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI), undocumented immigrants who enroll in a legal path to citizenship will generate more than 10,600 jobs and more than $928 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 Ohio between 2010 and 2013 will translate into 11,855 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 6,500 jobs and add more than $581 million to Gross State Product by 2014.

  • $766 million

    In Ohio, creating a path to citizenship and expanding the high-skilled visa program would add a total of more than $766 million to Gross State Product in 2014.

Hispanics play an important role in all areas in Ohio, but a report recently published by the Partnership for a New American Economy shows how significant their economic contribution is. Statewide, Hispanics account for $4.3 billion of the spending power. They also pay $1.6 billion in federal, state, and local taxes; $730 million of that amount goes to Social Security and $171 million goes to the Medicare trust fund.

Immigrants are helping to grow housing wealth in some key Ohio counties as well. Between 2000 and 2010, more than 37,000 immigrants arrived in Franklin County, the area that includes the capital city of Columbus. By moving into neighborhoods formerly in decline, immigrants play a role in adding to the housing wealth of the neighborhood’s residents. That influx of immigrants added $4,277 to the value of the average home in the county, or more than $2.04 billion to housing wealth there overall. Hamilton County, the county in the southwestern part of the state that includes Cincinnati, gained 8,566 immigrants between 2000 and 2010. Those immigrants contributed $990 to the value of the average home in the county, growing housing wealth there by over $330 million over the course of a decade.

3. Foreign Innovators

Immigrants have been integral in helping Ohio grow economically in recent years as the state has struggled, along with the rest of the country, to drive new business and create American jobs. 5.1 percent of businesses in Ohio are currently owned by immigrants, despite them making up just under 4 percent of the state’s population. From 2006 to 2010, those businesses brought in an average of almost $1.3 billion in business income each year, or 5.7 percent of the state total.

  • 5.1%

    Share of business owners who are immigrants

  • $1.3 billion

    Annual business income generated by immigrant-owned businesses

Immigrant entrepreneurs have long made significant contributions to the Ohio economy. Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble was co-founded by immigrants from England and Ireland. Eaton Corporation, a Fortune-500 manufacturer based in the state, was co-founded by Viggo Torbensen, an immigrant from Denmark, who invented the company’s first product, a gear-driven rear truck axle. Four other Fortune 500 firms based in the state—Kroger, Limited Brands, Big Lots, and Owens-Illinois—also had at least one founder who either immigrated to the United States or was the child of an immigrants. Together, these six companies employ almost 700,000 people today and bring in more than more than $213 billion in annual revenue.

4. Immigrants and Ohio's Workforce

Ohio 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 more than two STEM jobs were posted online in Ohio for every one unemployed STEM worker in the state. Ohio may also need to recruit immigrants in the coming years to answer the state’s looming shortage of medical professionals. The federal government has projected the state could be short 3,630 registered nurses by 2030, leaving 30 percent of positions in the field vacant. As recently as 2009, Ohio hospitals had vacancy rates topping 20 percent for some key positions—including occupational therapists, respiratory therapists, and medical technologists. In many other states, immigrants, including foreign-born graduates of foreign medical schools, are already helping fill these labor gaps.

  • 3,630

    Nursing Shortage by 2030

  • 30%

    Share of nursing positions vacant by 2020

Immigrants in Ohio are also helping to create jobs in the state through seasonal and temporary work. Between 1990 and 2010, Ohio's supply of less-skilled workers born in the U.S. dropped by 604,784. Over that same period, the state's foreign-born, less-skilled labor force grew by 48,457, leaving a difference of 556,327 openings that immigrants could be filling. According to the US Department of Labor, Ohio employers were granted certifications to bring in over 1,600 temporary workers under the H-2B visa program in fiscal year 2013. These visas, often used to staff places like amusement parks, hotels, or landscaping services during peak seasons, have a significant impact on job creation. 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 Ohio the 1,640 visas authorized in FY 2013 supported more than 7,610 American jobs.

  • 1,640

    Number of Ohio H-2B workers (FY 2013)

  • 7,610

    Jobs created

Similarly, the more than 12,500 migrant farm workers living in Ohio in 2011 are also critical to the state’s economy. 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.

  • 12,500

    Number of Ohio migrant farm workers (FY 2011)

  • 37,500

    Jobs created

Temporary labor visas, however, can be costly and cumbersome to attain. Employers typically spend $2,500 for each H-2B visa they sponsor and apply to multiple federal agencies in the process. The US also currently lacks a temporary visa for farm workers that is easy—and financially feasible—for many small and medium-sized farms.

Moreover, from 2000 to 2010, a period when tourists from Brazil, China, and India boosted international travel spending globally, Ohio also saw its share in the international tourism market decline due to the U.S.'s inefficient visa system. This drop amounted to roughly 29,000 lost visitors, as well as $116 million in spending and more than 875 jobs.

5. Spotlight

Eduardo Gonzalez, the founder and CEO of the steel company Ferragon Corporation, says his parents, who had been attorneys before fleeing Cuba in the 1960s, arrived in America and needed to start from scratch, ultimately finding new careers as Spanish literature professors. "Seeing your parents cope with unimaginable hardships," Gonzalez says, "You gain real strength from that." Gonzalez studied economics at University of Michigan, and began working in the steel industry in his mid 20s. By age 28, he used $35,000 he had saved—as well as loans from family and friends—to buy a bankrupt steel toll processor, a firm that converts raw steel into usable parts. “I’d always wanted to be an entrepreneur,” Gonzalez explains, “and after watching the owner of the steel company I worked for, I felt like I could do things better.”

Gonzalez says when he first began Ferragon in Cleveland he only had five employees—and enough cash on hand to last just three months. He took advantage of government loans, and heeded requests from his customers to build steel processing operations closer to their manufacturing plants. Today, Gonzalez runs five interrelated companies he founded, all within the steel toll processing industry. His businesses—based in Kentucky, Mississippi, Cleveland, and Detroit—employ 300 people and generate $50 million in revenue each year. And many of the jobs he created have gone to workers born in America: Gonzalez estimates 70 to 80 percent of his workforce is US-born.

Gonzalez’s companies, which mold steel into everything from car frames to sections of oil drilling platforms, have contributed to a variety of major American brands, including the thin metal door panels for the Ford F150 pickup truck. Gonzalez says that because defects are so easy to spot on surfaces like these door panels, “It’s often harder to do that job right than it is to make a luxury vehicle.”

Gonzalez has also been able to protect American jobs through the Great Recession. “I feel lucky every day to be in the steel industry,” Gonzalez says, and cites Ferragon’s ability to survive the financial crisis as one of his biggest accomplishments. Today he says the company is stronger than ever.

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