Round III of the Gateways for Growth Challenge is Now Open!
Learn More

Immigrants and the economy in:


Today, California is home to more than 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 2015, the foreign-born population in California grew by more than 525,000 people. By 2014, 27 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

  • Immigrant Spending Power

  • 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
0-15 3.3% 27.0%
16-64 79.9% 60.6%
65+ 16.8% 12.5%


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.

People employed by immigrant-owned firms 1,460,099
Immigrant entrepreneurs 823,378
Business income of immigrant-owned firms $21.8B
Fortune 500 companies in California founded by immigrants or their children 47.1%

Taxes & Spending Power

Nationally, immigrants earned $1.4 trillion in 2016 and contributed more than $117 billion in state and local taxes, as well as almost $262 billion in federal taxes. This left them with more than $1.0 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 $367.6B
Taxes Paid $99.4B
State & Local Taxes $30.0B
Federal Taxes $69.4B
Total Spending Power $268.3B


Nationally, immigrants are 9.2 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 California, where immigrants play a particularly large role in crop production, software development, and clothing manufacturing.

Educational Attainment by Nativity, Age 25+
Workforce Education Foreign-Born Population Native-Born Population
Less Than High School 34.3% 7.9%
High School & Some College 37.9% 56.1%
Bachelor's Degree 17.1% 22.8%
Graduate Degree 10.7% 13.2%
Top Industries with Highest Share of Foreign-Born Workers
Cut and sew apparel 75.4%
Crop production 73.0%
Landscaping services 69.6%
Drycleaning and laundry services 68.9%
Private households 67.0%
Top Occupations with Highest Share of Foreign-Born Workers
Sewing machine operators 91.1%
Miscellaneous agricultural workers 83.8%
Tailors, dressmakers, and sewers 83.2%
Maids and housekeeping cleaners 81.6%
Graders and sorters, agricultural products 79.7%

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 39.3%
STEM Master's students who are foreign nationals 32.0%
STEM PhD students who are foreign nationals 23.9%


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 11:1
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 45.4%


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 2,039,611
Share of recent homebuyers who were foreign-born 30.6%
Housing wealth held by immigrant households $1.3T
Amount paid by immigrant-led households in rent $33.6B

International Students

International students in the United States contributed more than $36.9 billion to the U.S. economy in the 2016-2017 school year and supported more than 450,000 jobs through their tuition payments and day-to-day spending. Research has also 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 students 5.2%
Economic contribution of international students $4.8B
Jobs supported by international students 54,838

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 2016, for instance, Hillary Clinton won California by roughly 4.3 million votes—a far smaller margin than the number of eligible foreign-born voters in the state.

Immigrants eligible to vote 5,243,797
Immigrants registered to vote 2,959,853
Immigrants eligible to vote in 2020 5,481,400
2016 presidential election margin of victory 4,269,978

Undocumented Immigrants

The United States is currently home to an estimated 11.0 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 2,258,554
Share of undocumented immigrants, working age 91.8%
Undocumented Entrepreneurs 170,666
Undocumented Household Income $46.8B
Taxes Paid $5.5B
State & Local Taxes $1.9B
Federal Taxes $3.6B
Total Spending Power $41.3B

The DACA-Eligible Population

Our analysis of the 1.3 million DACA-eligible individuals nationwide found that DACA-eligible people were contribution billions of dollars to the U.S. economy. But DACA, of course, gains more resonance when we look beyond the national picture. Every state in the country is currently home to hundreds—or in many cases, thousands—of DACA-eligible people. Clawing back the protections afforded to this group upsets community networks and schools, and can hurt local employers and businesses dependent upon Dreamers to serve as workers and customers.

Number of DACA Eligible Residents 316,205
Share of DACA Eligible Population in Labor Force that is Employed 89.4%
Number of DACA-Eligible Entrepreneurs 8,905
DACA-Eligible Household Income $4.9B
State & Local Taxes $380.4M
Federal Taxes $367.7M
Total Spending Power $4.2B

The Economic Impact of Refugees

Despite leaving extreme and dangerous situations in their home countries, refugees are often able to rebound and prosper as they become more integrated into American society. Nationwide, we find that refugees hold billions of dollars in spending power and pay more than $20 billion in tax contributions to federal, state, and local governments each year. At the state level, they contribute millions of added dollars to local economies, making them an important driver of growth and prosperity for communities around the country.

Key Stats
Number of Likely Refugees 645,437
State's Share of all Likely Refugees 28.1%
Share of Overall State Population, Refugee 1.7%
Taxes & Spending Power
Refugee Household Income $24.0B
Taxes Paid $6.7B
State & Local Taxes $1.9B
Federal Taxes $4.8B
Refugee Spending Power $17.2B

View All States & Districts

Explore Key Issues in: California

163 Results

About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…