1. Introduction

Virginia’s immigrant population grew dramatically between 2000-2011 – almost 58 percent, bringing the total number of foreign-born Virginians to nearly 900,000 people. Virginia has also become a destination for specific groups of immigrants, many of which have contributed heavily to their new communities. The Dulles Corridor between Fairfax and Loudon counties has nearly 40,000 Indian immigrants, many of whom have helped make Fairfax and Loudon two of the highest-income counties in the nation, in large part due to the Indian immigrants’ high rate of entrepreneurship. Virginia is also home to large populations of Salvadoran and Korean immigrants. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 11.1 percent of Virginia’s total population is now foreign-born.

  • Size of foreign-born population


  • Percent of state’s population that is immigrant


  • Growth in foreign-born population 2000-2010


2. Economic Impact

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 Virginia, fixing the US immigration system to make it easier for students trained in America to remain in the country after graduation will be critical: in 2009, almost 40 percent of the students earning Master’s or PhD degrees in STEM from the state’s research-intensive universities were foreign-born. In recent years, non-citizens have also earned almost 57 percent of the engineering PhDs granted in the state.

  • 38.8%

    Share of STEM graduates at state's most research-intensive schools who are foreign-born (2009): 38.8%

  • 56.9%

    Share of Engineering PhDs who were temporary residents (2006-2010): 56.9%

Immigration Reform = Economic Growth in Virginia

Reforming our immigration system will generate millions of dollars and thousands of jobs across Virginia. According to Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI), undocumented immigrants who enroll in a legal path to citizenship will generate more than 10,800jobs and more than $950 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 Virginia between 2010 and 2013 will translate into 20,171 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 6,300 jobs and add more than $629 million to Gross State Product by 2014.

  • $815 million

    In Virginia, creating a path to citizenship and expanding the high-skilled visa program would add a total of more than $815 million to Gross State Product in 2014.

Hispanics play an important role in all areas in Virginia, but a report recently published by the Partnership for a New American Economy shows how significant their economic contribution is. Statewide, Hispanics account for $10.2 billion of the spending power. They also pay $3.4 billion in federal, state, and local taxes; $1.7 billion of that amount goes to Social Security and $394 million goes to the Medicare trust fund.

3. Foreign Innovators

Immigrant entrepreneurs are also contributing to significantly to Virginia’s economy. In 2010 17.5 percent of business owners in Virginia were immigrants, despite the fact the foreign-born made up just 11.1 percent of the total state population. Between 2006-2010, immigrant-owned businesses generated more than $3 billion in income annually for the state. Immigrant entrepreneurs will be critical in helping Virginia overcome the current economic slowdown by creating jobs. During the past 30 years, the single biggest driving force behind net job creation in America has been new business generation.

  • 17.5%

    Share of business owners in Virginia who are immigrants: 17.5%

  • $3 billion

    Annual business income generated by immigrant-owned businesses: $3 billion, or about 14.9% of the state’s total

Immigrant entrepreneurs have long made major contributions to Virginia’s economy. Three of the state’s largest companies, Capital One Financial, Advance Auto Parts, and MeadWestvaco, have founders who were immigrants or children of immigrants. Together, these businesses employed more than 100,000 people in 2011 and brought in almost $30.8 billion in revenue.

4. Immigrants and Virginia's Workforce

Due in part to some of the challenges students face remaining in the state after graduation, Virginia is currently short some of the professional workers it needs in critical STEM 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, 3.3 STEM jobs were posted online in Virginia for every one unemployed STEM worker in the state. A dramatically declining share of immigrants in the state’s STEM workforce from 2000 to 2010 only exacerbated these shortages.

  • 3.3:1

    Ratio of STEM jobs to unemployed STEM workers: 3.3:1

  • 19.1%

    Share of foreign-born STEM advanced degree workers (2000): 19.1%

  • 10.7%

    Share of foreign-born STEM advanced degree workers (2010): 10.7%

In addition to a dwindling number of scientists and engineers, the immigration system is creating a shortage of doctors and nurses, an issue that affects Virginia acutely. According to the Virginia Department of Health Professionals, the state is expected to be short almost 2,700 of the full-time physicians it needs by 2030. Additionally, by 2030, Virginia is expected to be short more than 32,464 nurses, with almost two out of five RN positions left vacant due to a lack of qualified workers. Already, immigrants are helping to alleviate the shortage of medical professionals. Over 20% of the state’s doctors graduated from a foreign medical school, a population that tends to be overwhelmingly immigrant.

  • 25,111

    Projected nursing shortage by 2020: 25,111

  • 20.9%

    Share of physicians who graduated from foreign medical schools, 2012: 20.9%

  • 36.4%

    Share of nursing positions vacant by 2020: 36.4%

Virginia would also benefit from passage of the federal DREAM Act, a bill that would legalize the 2.1 million illegal immigrants who came to the country as children. By incentivizing these young people to earn a higher education and allowing them to work legally, the DREAM Act would result in higher earnings and increased spending on products ranging from cars to houses to computers. In Virginia, legalizing the 38,000 so-called DREAMers in the state would have an estimated $5.2 billion induced economic impact and also create almost 20,300 new jobs by 2030.

  • 38,000

    DREAMers in the state

  • $5.2 billion

    Economic impact of passing the DREAM act

  • 20,280

    Number of jobs created by DREAM act by 2030

Immigrants in Virginia are also helping to create jobs in the state through seasonal and temporary work. According to the US Department of Labor, Virginia employers were granted certifications to bring in more than 4,100 workers on H-2B visas in fiscal year 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 Virginia the 4,156 visas authorized in FY 2011 alone supported more than 19,284 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.

Though their contributions look different in each state, immigrants are helping to grow the US economy everywhere. Click on a state to learn more.