A project of the Partnership for a New American Economy
According to analysis by the Pew Hispanic Center, Tennessee’s foreign born population grew by almost 60 percent between 2000 and 2011. The biggest change was in immigrants from Mexico, who increased 2,166 percent between 1990 and 2000, and now make up about one-third of all foreign born residents in Tennessee. Immigrants from India and China are the next largest groups, in contrast to 1990 when German-, UK- and Canadian-born immigrants were the largest groups.
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, 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 Tennessee, 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 more than one in three 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. Almost 60 percent of students earning engineering PhDs from Tennessee schools in recent years were noncitizens.
Share of Engineering PhDs who were temporary residents (2006-2010): 59%
Foreign born students create jobs for Tennesseans 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 graduates of a US Master’s or PhD program who stay in the United States working in a STEM field, 262 jobs are created for Americans. That translates into a large employment boost for Tennessee, where in 2010, more than 19 percent of STEM workers with an advanced degree were foreign born – a jump of more than 84 percent since 2000.
Share of foreign born STEM advanced degree workers (2010): 19.5%
Percent Increase: 84.8%
Immigration Reform = Economic Growth in Tennessee
Reforming our immigration system will generate millions of dollars and thousands of jobs across Tennessee. According to Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI), undocumented immigrants who enroll in a legal path to citizenship will generate more than 8,700 jobs and more than $668 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 3,200 jobs and add more than $268 million to Gross State Product by 2014.
In Tennessee, creating a path to citizenship and expanding the high-skilled visa program would add a total of more than $404 million to Gross State Product in 2014.
Immigrants have been integral in helping Tennessee 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 2010, almost 6 percent of business owners in the state were immigrants, despite making up 4.7 percent of the population, a small but significant difference. From 2006 to 2010, immigrant-owned businesses generated more than $850 million in annual income.
Immigrant entrepreneurs have long made significant contribution to Tennessee’s economy. International Paper, one of the state’s largest immigrant founded companies, is a global supplier of printing and industrial products that include many of the paper products for McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Subway and Starbucks.The company employs 60,000 people worldwide (including over 2,000 employees in Memphis alone), earns $26 billion in revenue annually, and ranks 111th in the 2012 Fortune 500.
After his father’s death, Canadian immigrant Hugh Chisholm and his brother sold papers on the train to help the family make ends meet. Soon after, the brothers started their own train and steamboat newspaper distribution business that quickly grew to control distribution rights on over 5,000 miles of travel routes and employed over 200 people. Chisholm later left this business and began to invest in pulp and paper mills around the East Coast and Canada. In 1898, the mills he founded merged to form the International Paper Company. Under Chisholm’s leadership, the company grew to control 60 percent of the American newsprint market by the time he stepped down as chairman. The International Paper Company continues to be the world’s largest paper manufacturer. Today, it is working with Starbucks to make 100 percent of the coffee chain’s paper cups recyclable by 2015.
In part because of some of the challenges Tennessee’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 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 some 2.1 STEM jobs were posted online in Tennessee for every one unemployed STEM worker in the state.
Tennessee may also need to recruit immigrants to address a coming shortage of medical professionals. By 2020, the federal government estimates Tennessee could be short about 36,200 registered nurses, leaving 35 percent of nursing positions in the state vacant. Immigrants are already playing a role filling labor gaps: in 2010, 16.6 percent of physicians in the state were graduates of foreign medical schools, a population that is overwhelmingly immigrant.
Nursing shortage by 2020: 36,205
Share of RN positions vacant by 2020: 35%
Share of Physicians who graduated from foreign medical schools: 16.6%
Immigrants in Tennessee are creating jobs through their seasonal and temporary work. According to the US Department of Labor, Tennessee employers were granted certifications to bring in 435 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 Tennessee, the visas authorized in 2011 supported more than 2,000 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.
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.