A project of the Partnership for a New American Economy
South Carolina’s total population grew about two percent between 2000 and 2010, but its immigrant population grew at more than 85 percent, almost triple the rate of the national average. Along with seven other Senators, South Carolina’s senior Senator Lindsey Graham is part of the “Gang of 8,” the group of Senators helping to lead the push for immigration reform in Washington. Graham has been one of the most vocal proponents for immigration reform: in a February 2013 speech he said, “When it comes to immigration reform, now is the time. I’ve never seen a better political environment.”
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 (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 South Carolina, fixing the US immigration system so that it is easier for students trained in America to remain in the country after graduation will be critical: in 2009, 40 percent of students earning Master’s or PhD degrees in STEM from the state’s research-intensive universities were foreign-born.
Immigration Reform = Economic Growth in South Carolina
Reforming our immigration system will generate millions of dollars and thousands of jobs across South Carolina. According to Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI), undocumented immigrants who enroll in a legal path to citizenship will generate more than 5,200 jobs and more than $378 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 1,900 jobs and add more than $149 million to Gross State Product by 2014.
In South Carolina, creating a path to citizenship and expanding the high-skilled visa program would add a total of more than $227 million to Gross State Product in 2014.
Immigrants have been integral in helping South Carolina grow economically in recent years, especially as the state has struggled along with the rest of the country to drive new business and create American jobs. In South Carolina, like many places around the country, immigrants have made considerable contributions as entrepreneurs. They currently own 6.7 percent of the state’s businesses, almost 12,000 companies, despite making up 4.7 percent of the state’s population. Those businesses generated 5.3 percent of the state’s business income in 2010.
Immigrant entrepreneurs have long made significant contribution to South Carolina’s economy. The Partnership for a New American Economy found that immigrants or their children founded 40 percent of the 2010 Fortune 500 companies, and these companies are creating jobs in South Carolina. For example, the Dominion Tar and Chemical Company (DOMTAR), a Fort Mill based paper-producing titan was founded in 1848 by a British immigrant. Today, DOMTAR employs 8,700 people and brings in over $5.6 billion in annual revenues to the state.
In part because of some of the challenges South Carolina’s international university students face remaining in America after graduation, the state is also currently short some of the professional workers it needs in critical STEM—or Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math areas—the very fields that help the state’s economy remain innovative and competitive. According to the nonpartisan advocacy group Change the Equation, from 2009 to 2011, 1.8 STEM jobs were posted online in South Carolina for every one unemployed STEM worker in the state.
South Carolina may also need to recruit immigrants to address a coming shortage of medical professionals. By 2020, the federal government estimates South Carolina could be short 6,741 registered nurses, leaving almost 18 percent of positions in the state vacant. Immigrants are already playing a role filling labor gaps: in 2012, over 14 percent of physicians in the state were graduates of foreign medical schools, a population that is overwhelmingly immigrant.
share of nursing positions vacant by 2020: 17.8%
Share of physicians who graduated from foreign medical schools, 2012: 14.3%
Immigrants in South Carolina are creating jobs through seasonal and temporary work. According to the US Department of Labor, South Carolina employers were granted certifications to bring in almost 2,000 workers on H-2B visas in 2011. 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 South Carolina, the visas authorized in 2011 supported almost 6,000 American jobs.
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 even greater.
Every year, Roger Warren needs 150 seasonal employees to help his Kiawah Island Golf Resort get through the peak months for business. Even in a poor economy – South Carolina’s unemployment rate has not been lower than 8.5 percent since October 2008 – the resort president struggles to find Americans to fill positions.
“We offer them first to Americans. But we’re almost always forced to go outside the country because Americans just won’t take those jobs,” Warren said. While trying to fill the 150 openings over the last few years, Kiawah has never received more than 10 applications from US job seekers in a single season.
So Warren and his staff turn to the H-2B visa program, which allows Kiawah to bring immigrants to work as temporary employees. Thus far, Warren says, it has been a huge success – and a substantial boon for his business. “The people who come in on these temporary visa programs, they have been outstanding workers,” he said.
In turn, Kiawah has become highly dependent on the H-2B program. But the system is not without its flaws. The resort and many other businesses often face costly bureaucratic burdens in trying to acquire H-2B visas, considering it takes approximately eight weeks to process a visa and typically costs $2,500 per applicant.
Even so, H-2B visas have become a critical component for Warren’s business. He says that the federal government should reform the system because it has the potential to benefit Americans beyond leaders in the business community. In Kiawah’s case, H-2B has allowed the resort to grow over the last several years, creating more full-time non-seasonal job openings for local South Carolinians.
“When you have the opportunity to grow your business, you have the opportunity to grow the number of people employed by your business,” Warren said. “It’s not rocket science – it’s just understanding how business works.”
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.