Study: Immigrants Play Increasingly Key Role in State’s Economy

Immigrants in Virginia are well educated, more prosperous than their counterparts nationally, and more likely to be business owners than native-born Virginians, a new study by the Richmond-based Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis finds.

“Immigrants play a key role in Virginia having such a productive, highly educated, high earning workforce,” says Michael Cassidy, President and CEO of the Commonwealth Institute, a non-profit, non-partisan economic and fiscal analysis organization. “Immigrants are the backbone of an economy routinely ranked as a powerhouse.”

The report, “Critical Assets: the State of Immigrants in Virginia’s Economy,” documents major economic and demographic trends among Virginia’s foreign-born population. Among the report’s key findings:

• Virginia’s immigrant population is growing and diverse. With over 903,000 foreign-born residents, Virginia in 2010 had the ninth-largest immigrant population in the U.S. Between 2000 and 2010, the Commonwealth’s foreign-born population grew almost twice as fast as the nation’s. No single country of origin accounts for more than 10 percent of the state’s immigrants.

• Virginia’s immigrants are well-educated. Nearly four of every 10 foreign-born residents in Virginia held a bachelor’s or an advanced degree in 2010. Only six other states and the District of Columbia are home to more immigrants with a college education or higher. Roughly three-quarters of the state’s immigrants speak English well or very well. Such knowledge and skills are crucial to success in today’s economy.

• A major share of the workforce is foreign-born and prospering. Roughly one of every seven Virginia workers in 2010 was foreign-born, even though immigrants make up about one of every 10 people in the state. Over the past decade, the median income of foreign-born workers in Virginia grew 6.1 percent, while immigrants’ incomes fell by a similar amount nationwide. The poverty rate for Virginia immigrants is lower than it is for immigrants nationwide and lower than that of native-born Virginians.

• Business ownership is widespread among Virginia’s immigrants. Foreign-born Virginians work in all sectors of the state’s economy, but they are more likely than native-born Virginians to be business owners. While immigrants comprise about 11 percent of Virginia’s population, they represent roughly 17 percent of its entrepreneurs. Immigrants accounted for over 40 percent of the growth in entrepreneurship in Virginia between 2000 and 2010.

“Virginia’s foreign-born population is a critical asset for keeping the Commonwealth’s competitive edge sharp,” says Cassidy.

The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis provides independent and accessible information and analyses of fiscal and economic issues with particular attention to the impacts on low- and moderate-income persons. Its products inform fiscal and budget policy debates and contribute to sound decisions that improve the well-being of individuals, communities and Virginia as a whole.