A project of the Partnership for a New American Economy
Immigrants in Oregon make up almost 10 percent of the state’s total population, and have increased in size over last decade by more than 30 percent. More than half of the current foreign-born population arrived in the 1990s, and 75 percent of the Latinos, now the largest immigrant group in the state, came between 1995 and 2005. Today, nearly one in six Oregon residents is Latino or Asian, and these groups have a large impact on Oregon’s economy. According to the Selig Center for Economic Growth, together they had purchasing power totaling almost $13 billion 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
While other states, including Arizona and Alabama, have passed restrictive state immigration laws, Oregon has moved in the other direction. In May 2013, Gov. John Kitzhaber signed Senate Bill 833, which grants driving privileges to undocumented immigrants, a controversial step but one that reflects this state’s new demographic reality.
The growing number of foreign-born citizens in Oregon will also cause a demographic shift that has the promise of 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
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 Oregon, fixing the US immigration system to make it easier for students trained in the state to remain in the country after graduation will be critical. In 2013, more than 30 percent of the students earning Master’s or PhDs in STEM from the state’s research-intensive universities were foreign-born. More than 60 percent of the students earning engineering PhDs in the state in recent years were also noncitizens. By 2020, Oregon will need to fill 93,130 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 Oregon
Reforming our immigration system will generate millions of dollars and thousands of jobs across Oregon. According to Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI), undocumented immigrants who enroll in a legal path to citizenship will generate more than 6,700 jobs and more than $492 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 Oregon between 2010 and 2013 will translate into 2,183 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 2,000 jobs and add more than $178 million to Gross State Product by 2014.
In Oregon, creating a path to citizenship and expanding the high-skilled visa program would add a total of more than $293 million to Gross State Product in 2014.
Immigrants, Hispanics specifically, also play a key role in Oregon's spending power. A recent study by the Partnership for a New American Economy found that Hispanics account for $4.7 billion in Oregon’s spending power and also contributed $1.4 billion in combined federal, state, and local taxes. A total of $762 million of those taxes went to Social Security and $178 million was paid to the Medicare trust fund.
Immigrants are helping to grow housing wealth in some key Oregon counties as well. Between 2000 and 2010, more than 23,175 immigrants arrived in Washington County, the area that includes the cities of Hillsboro and Beaverton. 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 $2,677 to the value of the average home in the county, or more than $537 million to housing wealth there overall.
In Oregon, as in many other places around the country, immigrants have an outsized role in business ownership: between 2006 and 2010, 10.7 percent of business owners in the state were immigrants, slightly above their share of the state’s population. From 2006 to 2010, immigrant-owned businesses generated more than $1 billion in annual income for Oregon.
Immigrant entrepreneurs have long contributed to Oregon’s economy. Russian immigrant Sam Schnitzer founded one of the state’s largest companies, Schnitzer Steel. Today it employs more than 3,600 people and brings in more than $3.3 billion in revenues each year.
Oregon’s $5.3 billion a year agriculture industry relies heavily on labor-intensive crops, making manual farm labor vitally important to the prosperity of the state. However, the US Department of Agriculture estimates that Oregon was short 10,000 workers in the field over the last two picking seasons, resulting in losses for many Oregon farms. Foreign laborers may have been able to alleviate this shortage, but the US currently lacks a temporary visa for farm workers that is easy—and financially feasible—for many small and medium-sized farms. Instead, many farmers are turning to mechanization to harvest crops, a process that decreases the crops’ value.
In part because of some of the challenges Oregon’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—or Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math—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 two STEM jobs were posted online in Oregon for every one unemployed STEM worker in the state.
Oregon 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 11,321 registered nurses, leaving almost half of RN positions vacant.
Share of nursing positions vacant
Attaining the H-2B visa, however, can be costly and cumbersome. 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.
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.