The second round of the Gateways for Growth Challenge is open for applications.
Learn More

Immigrants and the economy in:


Illinois is home to nearly 1.8 million immigrants, the sixth-largest population of foreign-born residents of any state in the country. These new Americans serve as everything from software developers to metalworkers, making them critical contributors to the state’s economic success overall. While immigrants account for nearly 14 percent of the state’s population, they make up 22 percent of its entrepreneurs. In 2014, their businesses generated $2.6 billion in business income for the state.

  • 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 Illinois, 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 11.0% 36.4%
25-64 74.9% 49.8%
65+ 14.1% 13.8%


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 Illinois, like the country as a whole, immigrants are currently punching far above their weight class as entrepreneurs. Foreign-born workers currently make up 22.1 percent of all entrepreneurs in the state, despite accounting for 13.7 percent of Illinois’s population.

People employed by immigrant-owned firms 281,090
Immigrant entrepreneurs 113,939
Business income of immigrant-owned firms $2.6B
Fortune 500 companies in Illinois founded by immigrants or their children 56.3%

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 Illinois play an important role contributing to the state’s economy, both as consumers and taxpayers.

Immigrant Household Income $55.0B
Taxes Paid $14.9B
State & Local Taxes $5.2B
Federal Taxes $9.8B
Total Spending Power $40.1B


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. This holds true in Illinois, where immigrants play a particularly large role as packers, metal workers, and software developers.

Workforce Education Foreign-Born Population Native-Born Population
Less Than High School 27.0% 8.2%
High School & Some College 42.8% 58.2%
Bachelor's Degree 17.4% 20.8%
Graduate Degree 12.8% 12.8%
Top Industries with Highest Share of Foreign-Born Workers
Services to buildings and dwellings  41.8%
Landscaping services  38.0%
Not specified industries  35.1%
Private households  34.5%
Traveler accommodation  33.3%
Top Occupations with Highest Share of Foreign-Born Workers
Packers and Packagers, hand 50.9%
Miscellaneous metal workers and plastic workers, including milling and planing machine setters, multiple machine tool setters, and lay-out workers 46.9%
Maids and Housekeeping cleaners 43.0%
Software developers, applications and systems software 37.7%
Miscellaneous food preparation and serving-related workers, including dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers 34.8%

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 Illinois remains a leading innovator in industries like pharmaceuticals and mathematics.

STEM workers who are immigrants 23.1%
STEM Master’s students who are foreign nationals 32.6%
STEM PhD students who are foreign nationals 34.6%


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 Illinois, a state where more than one out of every 7 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 5:1
Doctors who were educated abroad 31.7%
Psychiatrists who were educated abroad 37.4%
Nurses who are foreign-born 17.0%
Health aides who are foreign-born 15.2%


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 Illinois, immigrants are actively strengthening the state’s housing market.

Immigrant homeowners 443,342
Share of recent homebuyers who were foreign-born 15.5%
Housing wealth held by immigrant households $110.4B
Amount paid by immigrant-led households in rent $300.2M

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 boosts innovation and patent creation. International students represent a small portion of all students in Illinois, but they make a big impact.

Students at Illinois colleges and universities who are international 5.0%
Economic contribution of international students $1.2B
Jobs supported by international students 17,127

Voting Power

In 2014, Illinois was home to almost 870,000 foreign-born residents who were eligible to vote, including an estimated 472,000 foreign-born residents who had formally registered. Those numbers are unlikely to sway a presidential election in this relatively safe Democratic state, where President Barack Obama won by roughly 884,000 votes in 2012. Still, it can make a difference in closer statewide contests and primaries. "

Immigrants eligible to vote 869,027
Immigrants registered to vote 471,514
Immigrants eligible to vote in 2020 942,073
2012 presidential election margin of victory 884,296

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 Illinois, where undocumented immigrants contribute hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes each year.

Undocumented immigrants 474,666
Share of undocumented immigrants, working age 88.5%
Undocumented entrepreneurs 32,571
Undocumented Household Income $7.9B
Taxes Paid $977.2M
State & Local Taxes $400.2M
Federal Taxes $577.0M
Total Spending Power $6.9B

View All States & Districts

Explore Key Issues in: Illinois

49 Results

About Us

New American Economy brings together more than 500 mayors and business leaders who support immigration reforms that will help create jobs for Americans today. More…

We can help you stay up to speed on the latest news about immigration and the economy.
Follow us on Facebook