Immigrants and the economy in:

North Carolina

North Carolina is currently home to more than 780,000 immigrants. While just 1.7 percent of the state’s population was foreign-born in 1990, that figure had more than quadrupled by 2010, reaching 7.7 percent. These new Americans serve as everything from computer programmers to farm laborers, making them critical contributors to North Carolina’s economic success overall.

  • 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 North Carolina, 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 5.1% 21.2%
16-64 86.3% 62.8%
65+ 8.7% 16.0%


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 North Carolina, like the country as a whole, immigrants are currently punching above their weight class as entrepreneurs, with almost 48,000 immigrants owning their own business in the state.

People employed by immigrant-owned firms 120,828
Immigrant entrepreneurs 47,956
Business income of immigrant-owned firms $864.3M
Fortune 500 companies in North Carolina founded by immigrants or their children 41.7%

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

Immigrant Household Income $22.9B
Taxes Paid $5.8B
State & Local Taxes $1.8B
Federal Taxes $4.0B
Total Spending Power $17.1B


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 North Carolina, where immigrants play a particularly large role as agricultural workers, painters, and software developers.

Educational Attainment by Nativity, Age 25+
Workforce Education Foreign-Born Population Native-Born Population
Less Than High School 31.4% 10.8%
High School & Some College 37.0% 58.8%
Bachelor's Degree 17.4% 19.8%
Graduate Degree 14.1% 10.5%
Top Industries with Highest Share of Foreign-Born Workers
Nail salons and other personal care services 55.7%
Crop production 43.7%
Animal slaughtering and processing 25.7%
Animal production and aquaculture 24.9%
Construction 24.3%
Top Occupations with Highest Share of Foreign-Born Workers
Miscellaneous agricultural workers 61.5%
Software developers, applications and systems software 38.8%
Packers and packagers 37.6%
Construction laborers 36.6%
Painters and paperhangers 36.1%

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 North Carolina remains a leading innovator in industries like aerospace and aviation.

STEM workers who are immigrants 17.5%
STEM Master's students who are foreign nationals 28.3%
STEM PhD students who are foreign nationals 35.0%


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 North Carolina, a state where nearly 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 7:1
Doctors who were educated abroad 15.9%
Psychiatrists who were educated abroad 21.6%
Nurses who are foreign-born 6.1%
Health aides who are foreign-born 6.3%


In 2014, the agriculture industry contributed $5.8 billion to North Carolina’s gross domestic product (GDP)— placing the state among the top 15 in the country in terms of the size of that contribution. It also provided employment to more than 55,000 North Carolinians. Within North Carolina’s agriculture industry, fresh fruits and vegetables play a prominent role. In 2014, growers in the state produced $666.2 million worth of fresh fruits, vegetables, and tree nuts.

Share of fresh fruit and vegetable farms 13.2%
Share of misc. agriculture workers, foreign-born 58.2%
Share of all agriculture workers, foreign-born 29.7%
Amount that agriculture directly contributes to North Carolina's economy $5.8B


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

Immigrant homeowners 174,713
Share of recent homebuyers who were foreign-born 10.4%
Housing wealth held by immigrant households $39.8B
Amount paid by immigrant-led households in rent $1.3B

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 North Carolina, but they make a big impact.

Students at North Carolina colleges and universities who are international students 3.5%
Economic contribution of international students $526.0M
Jobs supported by international students 7,075

Voting Power

In 2016, North Carolina was home to more than 306,000 foreign-born residents who were eligible to vote, including an estimated 220,000 foreign-born residents who had formally registered. Those numbers are particularly meaningful given the narrow margins of victory that have decided elections in the state in recent years. In 2016, Republican Donald Trump won North Carolina by roughly 173,000 votes.

Immigrants eligible to vote 306,578
Immigrants registered to vote 220,906
Immigrants eligible to vote in 2020 334,082
2016 presidential election margin of victory 173,315

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

Undocumented immigrants 291,922
Share of undocumented immigrants, working age 92.0%
Undocumented Entrepreneurs 12,676
Undocumented Household Income $5.3B
Taxes Paid $559.1M
State & Local Taxes $226.3M
Federal Taxes $332.8M
Total Spending Power $4.7B

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 37,894
Share of DACA Eligible Population in Labor Force that is Employed 90.7%
DACA-Eligible Household Income $479.4M
State & Local Taxes $35.7M
Federal Taxes $28.4M
Total Spending Power $415.4M

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 40,891
State's Share of all Likely Refugees 1.8%
Share of Overall State Population, Refugee 0.4%
Taxes & Spending Power
Refugee Household Income $1.1B
Taxes Paid $273.6M
State & Local Taxes $91.4M
Federal Taxes $182.2M
Refugee Spending Power $831.0M

View All States & Districts

Explore Key Issues in: North Carolina

31 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…