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 26 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
Percent of state’s population that is immigrant
Growth in foreign-born population 2000-2010
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.
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 2009 more than 35 percent of the students earning Master’s or PhDs 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. More than 60 percent of the students earning engineering PhDs in the state in recent years were also noncitizens.
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. 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.
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 2020, the federal government estimates that the state will be short 16,529 registered nurses, leaving almost half of RN positions vacant.
Share of nursing positions vacant: 46.4%
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.