A project of the Partnership for a New American Economy
Over the past decade, Vermont’s almost 25,000 foreign born residents have helped to temper a declining population statewide, and several prominent immigrants have become well-known in Vermont. Edgar May, a longtime state legislator and US Senator, and his sister Madeleine Kunin, Vermont’s 77th governor, immigrated to Vermont from Switzerland in 1940. Nationally, Senator Patrick Leahy, Vermont’s Senator for the past 37 years, has been a leader on immigration reform, sponsoring the H-2A Improvement Act to help farmers hire legal, year-round workers to meet the demands of farms across Vermont and the country. Vermont has also been an early adopter of the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Regional Center pilot program, which provides a path to citizenship for foreigners who create at least ten jobs and invest at least $500,000 in local economies.
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. However, like many other states, Vermont’s ability to produce a STEM workforce has lagged behind this growing demand. The state needs to fill 19,000 STEM-related jobs by 2018. In these areas, immigrants have been helping to close the shortfall. In 2009, more than one in four STEM graduates at the state’s most research-intensive universities were foreign born temporary residents. The Partnership for a New American Economy and the American Enterprise Institute found that for every 100 foreign born graduate 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.
But our immigration policy hampers those contributions and keeps immigrants in STEM fields from reaching their productivity potential in the US The federal government caps new H-1B temporary work visas at 65,000 and there are only an additional 20,000 new H-1B visas available to individuals with US advanced degrees. This means far more skilled workers are waiting for US visas than can be admitted under current law, and many students who graduate here have no clear path to stay in America. Fixing this will be critical to ensuring Vermont’s continued growth and competitiveness.
Share of STEM graduates at state's most research-intensive schools who are foreign born (2009): 26.4%
Share of Engineering PhDs who were temporary residents (2006-2010): 28%
Immigration Reform = Economic Growth in Vermont
Reforming our immigration system will generate millions of dollars and thousands of jobs across Vermont. According to Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI), undocumented immigrants who enroll in a legal path to citizenship will generate more than 780 jobs and more than $51 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 370 jobs and add more than $27 million to Gross State Product by 2014.
In Vermont, creating a path to citizenship and expanding the high-skilled visa program would add a total of more than $36 million to Gross State Product in 2014.
Across the US, immigrants start more than a quarter of all businesses in seven of eight sectors of the economy that the federal government expects to grow the fastest over the next decade, including healthcare, construction, retail, and educational services. Immigrant entrepreneurs entrepreneurs in Vermont make major contributions to the state’s economy: in 2007, the last year for which data is available, the state’s 470 Latino-owned businesses had sales and receipts of $184.9 million and employed more than 300 people, while 649 Asian-owned businesses had sales and receipts of $265.5 million and employed more than 2,000 people.
Vermont’s economy is heavily dependent on agriculture, but native Vermonters do not always meet farmers’ demand for labor. As a result, farmers have to rely on the H-2A visa program, which allows immigrants to fill temporary agricultural jobs to harvest the state’s robust apple crop, among others. However, there are gaps in what the labor the program can provide: Vermont’s dairy farms – its chief agricultural industry with almost half a billion dollars in annual revenue – do not benefit from the H-2A program because dairy is not a seasonal product. This has helped contribute to a dairy worker shortage that is affecting the state economy. Vermont lawmakers have introduced numerous bills in Washington, including the H-2A Improvement Act. This bill sought to allow dairy farmers to hire foreign nationals for up to three years with an ensuing path to permanent residency, but was not enacted.
Vermont’s immigrants also play an important role in filling gaps in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) pipeline. According to the nonpartisan advocacy group Change the Equation, there are currently almost five STEM jobs available for every unemployed STEM worker in Vermont. In other words, employers can’t find enough qualified candidates to fill the STEM jobs needed, even as more immigrants become advanced degree holders. This shortage has likely been exacerbated by the 6 percent decline in foreign born STEM workers with advanced degrees over the past decade.
Similar to trends in other states, healthcare, and other service industries have experienced high growth rates in Vermont. Although Vermont is currently ranked 6th in the nation in the number of active physicians per 100,000 people, over a quarter of the state’s doctors are over 60 years old and will plan to retire soon. Immigrants are already helping to fill some of these critical labor gaps in Vermont. Eight percent of state’s doctors are graduates of overseas medical schools, a population that is overwhelmingly foreign born.
Share of physicians who graduated from foreign medical schools: 8%
Share of physicians age 60 or older: 27.8%
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.