Immigrants and the economy in:

Rhode Island
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Though it is our nation’s smallest state, Rhode Island is home to almost 150,000 immigrants. The state’s immigrants are mostly of working age and play a valuable role in both the manufacturing and software industries. They are also bolstering the housing market by buying the wave of homes coming on the market as baby boomers retire; all of these positive contributions are critical to the success of Rhode Island’s economy.

  • Immigrant Residents

  • Immigrant Share of Population

  • Immigrant Taxes Paid

  • Immigrant Spending Power

  • Immigrant Entrepreneurs

  • Employees at Immigrant-Owned Firms (Combined with Vermont)



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 Rhode Island, 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 5.2% 19.2%
16-64 78.2% 64.4%
65+ 16.6% 16.4%


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. Rhode Island is currently home to more than 4,400 foreign-born entrepreneurs. Such business owners are creating real and meaningful economic opportunities to local, U.S.-born workers.

People employed by immigrant-owned firms (combined with Vermont) 27,605
Immigrant entrepreneurs 4,407
Business income of immigrant-owned firms $123.6M

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

Immigrant Household Income $4.6B
Taxes Paid $1.2B
State & Local Taxes $446.2M
Federal Taxes $797.1M
Total Spending Power $3.4B


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 Rhode Island, where immigrants play a particularly large role as assemblers, software developers, and chefs.

Educational Attainment by Nativity, Age 25+
Workforce Education Foreign-Born Population Native-Born Population
Less Than High School 27.7% 8.2%
High School & Some College 46.8% 55.5%
Bachelor's Degree 13.9% 22.3%
Graduate Degree 11.5% 14.1%
Top Industries with Highest Share of Foreign-Born Workers
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) 24.6%
Colleges, universities, and professional schools 18.0%
Restaurants and other food services 17.5%
Hospitals 14.5%
Construction 13.1%
Top Occupations with Highest Share of Foreign-Born Workers
Driver/sales workers and truck drivers 23.2%
Postsecondary teachers 20.2%
Cashiers 12.2%
Retail salespersons 10.8%
First-line supervisors of retail sales workers 9.6%

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 Rhode Island remains a leading innovator in industries like IT services and software development.

STEM workers who are immigrants 18.1%
STEM Master's students who are foreign nationals 30.5%
STEM PhD students who are foreign nationals 34.3%


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 Rhode Island, a state where nearly one out of every 6 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 17:1
Doctors who were educated abroad 23.7%
Psychiatrists who were educated abroad 23.1%
Nurses who are foreign-born 7.9%
Health aides who are foreign-born 32.2%


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

Immigrant homeowners 31,614
Share of recent homebuyers who were foreign-born 14.5%
Housing wealth held by immigrant households $7.9B
Amount paid by immigrant-led households in rent $328.0M

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 Rhode Island, but they make a big impact.

Students at Rhode Island colleges and universities who are international students 6.2%
Economic contribution of international students $210.2M
Jobs supported by international students 2,288

Voting Power

In 2016, Rhode Island was home to almost 79,000 foreign-born residents who were eligible to vote, including an estimated 50,000 foreign-born residents who had formally registered. Those numbers are unlikely to sway a presidential election in this relatively safe Democratic state, where Hillary Clinton won by roughly 71,000 votes in 2016. Still, it can make a difference in closer statewide contests and primaries.

Immigrants eligible to vote 79,200
Immigrants registered to vote 50,647
Immigrants eligible to vote in 2020 85,119
2016 presidential election margin of victory 71,982

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 8,087
State's Share of all Likely Refugees 0.4%
Share of Overall State Population, Refugee 0.8%
Taxes & Spending Power
Refugee Household Income $282.9M
Taxes Paid $82.1M
State & Local Taxes $26.1M
Federal Taxes $56.0M
Refugee Spending Power $200.8M

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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…