A project of the Partnership for a New American Economy
In 2007, Oklahoma passed one of the country’s strictest anti-immigrant laws, the Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act. Among other things, House Bill 1804 eliminated public assistance and taxpayer-funded benefits for undocumented immigrants, made it a felony to assist or transport any undocumented person, prohibited undocumented immigrants from getting any form of state identification, and required police to check the immigration status of anyone suspected of being in the US illegally. Beyond impacting undocumented immigrants, this legislation has had negative effects on legal immigrants and on the state economy. A study by the Urban Institute estimates that the bill may have caused a much as a 1.3 percent drop in economic output statewide and $1.3 billion in economic losses. Another study by the same group found that this legislation has had ripple effects on the citizen children of undocumented immigrants, decreasing their access to public benefits and university financial aid.
Despite these restrictions, however, Oklahoma has continued to experience an increase in the size of its foreign born population. Between 2000 and 2011 the foreign born population here grew by more than 61 percent, placing Oklahoma’s non US-born population among the top 10 fastest growing in the country. Oklahoma’s 200,000 immigrants now comprise 5.5 percent of the state’s workforce, with immigrant entrepreneurs and consumers adding an estimated $8.2 billion to the state’s economy.
Size of foreign-born population
Percent of state’s population that is immigrant
Growth in foreign-born population 2000-2010
Top countries of origin
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 Oklahoma to remain in the country after graduation will be critical: in 2009 more than 55 percent of the students earning Master’s or PhD degrees in STEM from the state’s research-intensive universities were temporary residents, a group with no clear path to stay in America after collecting their diplomas. In recent years, noncitizens have earned more than 70 percent of the engineering PhDs granted in the state. The 8,400 foreign students in Oklahoma contributed more than $174 million to the state’s economy in tuition, fees, and living expenses during the 2008-2009 academic year.
Share of Science/Engineering graduate students who were temporary residents (2010): 33.2%
Share of STEM graduates at state's most research-intensive schools who are foreign born (2009): 55.1%
Share of Engineering PhDs who were temporary residents (2006-2010): 70.3%
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. This estimate translates into an employment boost for Oklahoma, where one in ten STEM workers with an advanced degree is an immigrant.
Immigration Reform = Economic Growth in Oklahoma
Reforming our immigration system will generate millions of dollars and thousands of jobs across Oklahoma. According to Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI), undocumented immigrants who enroll in a legal path to citizenship will generate more than 3,900 jobs and more than $317 million for the state by 2020. Expanding the number of both high-skilled (H-1B) visas will also have positive economic effects. REMI estimates that expansion of the H-1B program would result in more than 1,500 jobs and add more than $140 million to Gross State Product by 2014.
In Oklahoma, creating a path to citizenship and expanding the high-skilled visa program would add a total of more than $210 million to Gross State Product in 2014.
Across the US, immigrants start more than a quarter of all businesses in seven of the eight sectors of the economy that the federal government expects to grow the fastest in the next decade-- including healthcare, construction, retail, and educational services. In Oklahoma, as in other places around the country, immigrants make an outsized contribution to this new business growth: in 2010, nearly seven percent of business owners in Oklahoma were immigrants, despite making up 5.6 percent of the state’s population, a small but significant difference. From 2006 to 2010, immigrant-owned businesses generated more than $475 million in annual income for the state. These businesses also create jobs: Oklahoma’s 7,700 Latino-owned businesses employed nearly 9,000 people in 2007, while the state’s 6,700 Asian-owned businesses employed 15,700 people.
Share of business owners who are Immigrants: 6.9%
Number of immigrant-founded businesses in the state: 11,983
Immigrants in Oklahoma help to revitalize struggling towns. The Council on Foreign Relations has found that immigrants, along with immigrant-owned businesses, have helped depopulated and financially depressed small towns become stronger economically, including Guymon, OK.
In part because of some of the challenges Oklahoma’s international university students face remaining in America after graduation, the state 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 three STEM jobs were posted online in Oklahoma for every one unemployed STEM worker in the state. Oklahoma will have 81,000 open STEM positions by 2018.
Ratio of STEM jobs to unemployed STEM workers: 2.9:1
Share of foreign born STEM advanced degree workers (2000): 16.3%
Share of foreign born STEM advanced degree workers (2010): 10.0%
Percent Decrease: 38.5%
Oklahoma may also need to recruit immigrants to address a coming shortage of medical professionals. By 2020, the state will be short 7,744 registered nurses, leaving more than one in four positions vacant. Oklahoma is currently lacking 7,406 needed physicians, and was ranked last in the nation by a New England Journal of Medicine survey assessing patient access to healthcare.
Immigrants are already playing a role filling these gaps: in 2010 more than one in six active physicians in Oklahoma were graduates of foreign medical schools, a population that is overwhelmingly immigrant.
Oklahoma ranks in the bottom 10 states in number of active physicians per capita, specialists per capita, and age of active physicians.
Number of physicians per 100,000: 198.8
Current shortage of doctors: 7,406
Nursing shortage by 2020: 7,744
Share of physicians who graduated from foreign medical schools: 16.6%
Foreigners in Oklahoma are also creating jobs through seasonal and temporary work. According to the US Department of Labor, Oklahoma’s employers were granted certifications to bring in more than 1,100 workers on H-2B visas in 2011. A 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. The 1,106 visas authorized in Oklahoma 2011 supported more than 5,100 American jobs.
Number of Oklahoma H-2B Visas (FY 2011): 1,106
Jobs Created: 5,132
The H-2B visa, however, 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, the program’s job creation effects in the state could be greater.
At eight years old, Ed Sanchez boarded an airplane with his mother and two sisters, all of them passengers on a 1966 US-government “Freedom Flight” that transported political refugees out of Cuba. Born in Guantanamo, about 50 miles from the eponymous naval base, Sanchez arrived in Florida to a cramped apartment shared by seven family members.
In Miami, Sanchez got his first paying job working at a McDonald’s part-time. Soon after, at just 18 years old, he was promoted to store manager. Sanchez began to climb the corporate ladder quickly, becoming area supervisor and then traveling to Puerto Rico and the Caribbean to open new McDonald’s stores. He stayed at McDonald’s for 27 years, eventually becoming president of McDonald’s Canada and Latin America, and he became an American citizen on the 200th anniversary of America’s birth: July 4, 1976.
He joined Lopez Foods in 2004 as President. A food processing company with more than 1,000 employees, Lopez Foods has three plants, including ones in Oklahoma City and Ponca City. He now counts his former employer, McDonalds, as well as giants like Costco, Walmart, and Burger King, among his clients.
Sanchez has felt the impact of immigration policy on his business. Despite offering a competitive salary and bonus program, he says that it is difficult to hire and retain good people. “Our immigrants have a great work ethic. They’re hungry for success, and want to make something of themselves, and provide for their families.”
He hopes to see a “common-sense” approach to immigration reform, one that recognizes immigrants for their entrepreneurship and contributions. “[T]his is the greatest country in the world,” says Sanchez. “After all, where else could an immigrant like me could become one of the top guys at a multinational corporation?”
Immigrants are helping to grow the US economy everywhere, not just in the places—like our biggest cities—that we expect. They are helping to fill labor shortages on America’s farms, starting businesses that employ US workers, and developing the cutting-edge products that make America the world’s preeminent innovation hub.
Click on a state to learn more about the contributions immigrants are making to the local economy.