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Today, California is home to almost 10.5 million immigrants, the single largest foreign-born population in the country. The number of immigrants in the state also continues to rise: From 2010 to 2014, the foreign-born population in California grew by more than 325,000 people. By 2014, 27.0 percent of California’s population was immigrant, by far the largest share of any state in the country.

  • Immigrant Residents

  • Immigrant Share of Population

  • Immigrant Taxes Paid (2014)

  • Immigrant Spending Power (2014)

  • Immigrant Entrepreneurs

  • Employees at Immigrant-Owned Firms



In the United States, immigrants are more likely to be working-age than their U.S.-born counterparts. This allows them to contribute to the U.S. economy and to entitlement programs as they work and pay taxes. This is equally true in California, where immigrants are far more likely to be of working age than the U.S.-born population.

Age Group Foreign-Born Population Share Native-Born Population Share
0-24 10.1% 42.7%
25-64 74.2% 45.5%
65+ 15.7% 11.8%


In 2010, roughly one in 10 American workers with jobs at private firms were employed at immigrant-founded companies. Such businesses also generated more than $775 billion in annual business revenue that year. In California, like the country as a whole, immigrants are currently punching far above their weight class as entrepreneurs. Foreign-born residents currently make up 38.4 percent of all entrepreneurs in the state, despite accounting for 27.0 percent of California’s population.

People employed by immigrant-owned firms 1,460,099
Immigrant entrepreneurs 784,584
Business income of immigrant-owned firms $20.2B
Fortune 500 companies in California founded by immigrants or their children 44.2%

Taxes & Spending Power

Nationally, immigrants earned $1.3 trillion in 2014 and contributed more than $104 billion in state and local taxes, as well as almost $224 billion in federal taxes. This left them with nearly $927 billion in spending power. Immigrants in California play an important role contributing to the state’s economy, both as consumers and taxpayers.

Immigrant Household Income $323.3B
Taxes Paid $82.9B
State & Local Taxes $26.4B
Federal Taxes $56.5B
Total Spending Power $240.4B


Nationally, immigrants are 17.2 percent more likely to hold an advanced degree than the native-born. They are also more likely to have less than a high school education. Uniquely, this allows them to fill critical shortages at both ends of the skill spectrum, from high-tech fields to agriculture, hospitality, and service industries. In California, immigrants play a particularly large role in crop production, software development, and clothing manufacturing.

Workforce Education Foreign-Born Population Native-Born Population
Less Than High School 34.9% 8.1%
High School & Some College 38.7% 57.1%
Bachelor's Degree 16.4% 21.9%
Graduate Degree 10.0% 12.8%
Top Industries with Highest Share of Foreign-Born Workers
Cut and sew apparel  76.1%
Crop production  71.5%
Private households  63.6%
Landscaping services  63.2%
Services to buildings and dwellings  58.7%
Top Occupations with Highest Share of Foreign-Born Workers
Sewing machine operators 90.8%
Miscellaneous agricultural workers, including animal breeders 77.6%
Maids and Housekeeping cleaners 77.6%
Miscellaneous personal appearance workers 63.6%
Packers and Packagers, hand 63.2%

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math

Between 2014 and 2024, science, technology, engineering, and math—or “STEM”—fields are projected to play a key role in U.S. economic growth, adding almost 800,000 new jobs and growing 37.0 percent faster than the U.S. economy as a whole. Immigrants are already playing a huge part ensuring that California remains a leading innovator in industries like computer programming and biotechnology.

STEM workers who are immigrants 39.8%
STEM Master’s students who are foreign nationals 26.5%
STEM PhD students who are foreign nationals 27.5%


In the coming years, the American healthcare industry is projected to see rapid growth—adding more new positions from 2014 to 2024 than any other industry in our economy. In California, a state where more than one out of every 8 people is currently elderly, finding enough healthcare workers remains a challenge—and one that will likely worsen in the future.

Open healthcare jobs to unemployed healthcare workers 6:1
Doctors who were educated abroad 25.1%
Psychiatrists who were educated abroad 28.5%
Nurses who are foreign-born 37.3%
Health aides who are foreign-born 43.4%


In 2014, the agriculture industry contributed $37.7B billion to California’s gross domestic product—the largest amount for any state in the country. Within that massive industry, fresh fruits and vegetables played a prominent role—California also exported more fresh fruits than any other state in the country. Fresh fruits and vegetables, unlike commodity crops such as corn, soybeans, and wheat, are almost always harvested by hand, making the state’s agriculture industry inherently reliant on immigrants. In 2014, almost seven out of every 10 agriculture workers in the state were born abroad.

Share of fresh fruit and vegetable farms 52.2%
Share of misc. agriculture workers, foreign-born 82.2%
Share of all agriculture workers, foreign-born 69.2%
Amount agriculture directly contributes to California's economy $37.7B


Immigrant families have long played an important role helping to build housing wealth in the United States. In recent decades, the more than 40 million immigrants collectively in the country increased U.S. housing wealth by $3.7 trillion. Much of this was possible because immigrants moved into neighborhoods once in decline, helping to revitalize communities and make them more attractive to U.S.-born residents. In California, immigrants are actively strengthening the state’s housing market.

Immigrant homeowners 1,975,551
Share of recent homebuyers who were foreign-born 31.7%
Housing wealth held by immigrant households $1,022.5B
Amount paid by immigrant-led households in rent $2.8B

International Students

International students in the United States contributed more than $30.5 billion to the U.S. economy in the 2014-2015 school year and supported more than 370,000 jobs through their tuition payments and day-to-day spending. Research has found that increases in the number of international students at American universities boost innovation and patent creation. International students represent a small portion of all students in California, but they make a big impact.

Students at California colleges and universities who are international 4.8%
Economic contribution of international students $4.0B
Jobs supported by international students 45,402

Voting Power

Nationwide, the power of immigrant voters is likely to continue to be a large factor in upcoming elections. The sheer size of the immigrant voting bloc here means it has a powerful impact on the way California votes in both national and state elections. In 2012, for instance, Barack Obama won California by roughly 3 million votes—a far smaller margin than the number of eligible foreign-born voters in the state.

Immigrants eligible to vote 4,989,938
Immigrants registered to vote 2,894,546
Immigrants eligible to vote in 2020 5,349,564
2012 presidential election margin of victory 3,014,327

Undocumented Immigrants

The United States is currently home to an estimated 11.4 million undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of whom have lived in the country for more than five years. The presence of so many undocumented immigrants for such a long time presents many legal and political challenges. But while politicians continue to debate what to do about illegal immigration without any resolution, millions of undocumented immigrants are actively working across the country, and collectively, these immigrants have a large impact on the U.S. economy. This is true in California, where undocumented immigrants contribute billions of dollars in taxes each year.

Undocumented immigrants 2,480,293
Share of undocumented immigrants, working age 86.0%
Undocumented entrepreneurs 219,857
Undocumented Household Income $38.7B
Taxes Paid $4.4B
State & Local Taxes $1.6B
Federal Taxes $2.7B
Total Spending Power $34.3B

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