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

Immigrants and the economy in:

South Carolina

South Carolina is home to almost 240,000 immigrants. They are giving back to the state’s economy by paying taxes and creating jobs. In fact, the only Fortune 500 company in South Carolina, which generates $12.5 billion in revenues and employs over 13,000 people globally, was founded by a British immigrant. Immigrants also play key roles in the state’s agriculture and hospitality industries.

  • 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 South 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 5.7% 20.4%
16-64 80.0% 62.8%
65+ 14.3% 16.8%


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 South Carolina, like the country as a whole, immigrants are currently punching above their weight class as entrepreneurs, with more than 15,500 immigrants owning their own business in the state.

People employed by immigrant-owned firms 47,098
Immigrant entrepreneurs 15,678
Business income of immigrant-owned firms $436.1M
Fortune 500 companies in South Carolina founded by immigrants or their children 100.0%

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

Immigrant Household Income $6.6B
Taxes Paid $1.6B
State & Local Taxes $464.8M
Federal Taxes $1.1B
Total Spending Power $5.0B


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 South 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 30.7% 12.3%
High School & Some College 42.3% 60.2%
Bachelor's Degree 15.9% 18.0%
Graduate Degree 11.1% 9.5%
Top Industries with Highest Share of Foreign-Born Workers
Crop production 32.4%
Private households 23.4%
Landscaping services 21.2%
Traveler accommodation 20.0%
Services to buildings and dwellings 16.2%
Top Occupations with Highest Share of Foreign-Born Workers
Maids and housekeeping cleaners 33.7%
Carpenters 29.3%
Grounds maintenance workers 19.0%
Construction laborers 18.0%
Postsecondary teachers 17.7%

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 South Carolina remains a leading innovator in industries like precision manufacturing and aviation.

STEM workers who are immigrants 6.4%
STEM Master's students who are foreign nationals 24.2%
STEM PhD students who are foreign nationals 43.4%


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 South Carolina, 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 8:1
Doctors who were educated abroad 14.7%
Psychiatrists who were educated abroad 19.6%
Nurses who are foreign-born 5.5%
Health aides who are foreign-born 2.2%


In 2014, the agriculture industry contributed $1.6 billion to South Carolina’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It also directly employed almost 22,000 South Carolinians. Within this large industry, fresh fruits and vegetables play a prominent role. In 2014, farmers in South Carolina grew over $148 million worth of fresh fruits, vegetables, and tree nuts. They also sold more than $68.3 million worth of peaches, the state fruit.

Share of fresh fruit and vegetable farms 19.1%
Share of misc. agriculture workers, foreign-born 47.1%
Share of all agriculture workers, foreign-born 27.3%
Amount that agriculture directly contributes to South Carolina's economy $1.6B


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

Immigrant homeowners 56,103
Share of recent homebuyers who were foreign-born 6.2%
Housing wealth held by immigrant households $12.3B
Amount paid by immigrant-led households in rent $358.8M

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 South Carolina, but they make a big impact.

Students at South Carolina colleges and universities who are international students 2.0%
Economic contribution of international students $139.9M
Jobs supported by international students 1,483

Voting Power

In 2016, South Carolina was home to more than 87,000 foreign-born residents who were eligible to vote, including an estimated 48,000 foreign-born residents who had formally registered. Those numbers are unlikely to sway a presidential election in this relatively safe Republican state, where Republican Donald Trump won by roughly 300,000 votes in 2016. Still, it can make a difference in closer statewide contests and primaries.

Immigrants eligible to vote 87,670
Immigrants registered to vote 48,568
Immigrants eligible to vote in 2020 98,422
2016 presidential election margin of victory 300,016

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 South Carolina, where undocumented immigrants contribute tens of millions of dollars in taxes each year.

Undocumented immigrants 86,566
Share of undocumented immigrants, working age 90.3%
Undocumented Entrepreneurs 6,917
Undocumented Household Income $1.7B
Taxes Paid $186.2M
State & Local Taxes $62.6M
Federal Taxes $123.6M
Total Spending Power $1.5B

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 7,473
State's Share of all Likely Refugees 0.3%
Share of Overall State Population, Refugee 0.2%
Taxes & Spending Power
Refugee Household Income $225.9M
Taxes Paid $53.4M
State & Local Taxes $15.9M
Federal Taxes $37.5M
Refugee Spending Power $172.4M

View All States & Districts

Explore Key Issues in: South Carolina

22 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…