Immigrants and the economy in:


The more than one million immigrants in Virginia today represent the 9th largest foreign-born population in the country. They contribute to the state as both taxpayers and consumers and bolster the Social Security and Medicare programs. Immigrants play outsize roles as everything from software developers to carpenters, making them an integral part of Virginia’s economy.

  • 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 Virginia, 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 4.9% 21.6%
16-64 82.9% 63.4%
65+ 12.2% 14.9%


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. Companies owned by immigrant entrepreneurs in Virginia alone generated $1.8 billion in business income in 2014.

People employed by immigrant-owned firms 168,003
Immigrant entrepreneurs 71,145
Business income of immigrant-owned firms $1.5B
Fortune 500 companies in Virginia founded by immigrants or their children 38.1%

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

Immigrant Household Income $39.2B
Taxes Paid $10.6B
State & Local Taxes $2.9B
Federal Taxes $7.7B
Total Spending Power $28.6B


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 Virginia where immigrants play a particularly large role in the traveler accommodation industry, as wells as in the computer systems design industry.

Educational Attainment by Nativity, Age 25+
Workforce Education Foreign-Born Population Native-Born Population
Less Than High School 19.8% 9.3%
High School & Some College 38.2% 53.3%
Bachelor's Degree 22.9% 21.5%
Graduate Degree 19.0% 15.9%
Top Industries with Highest Share of Foreign-Born Workers
Nail salons and other personal care services 58.1%
Services to buildings and dwellings 42.5%
Private households 39.8%
Traveler accommodation 31.6%
Beauty salons 31.2%
Top Occupations with Highest Share of Foreign-Born Workers
Miscellaneous personal appearance workers 75.9%
Taxi drivers and chauffeurs 52.2%
Maids and housekeeping cleaners 49.2%
Construction laborers 45.5%
Painters and paperhangers 44.8%

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 Virginia remains a leading innovator in STEM fields like aerospace and biotechnology.

STEM workers who are immigrants 22.3%
STEM Master's students who are foreign nationals 10.3%
STEM PhD students who are foreign nationals 39.0%


In the coming years, the American healthcare industry is projected to see incredibly rapid growth—adding more new positions from 2014 to 2024 than any other industry in our economy. In Virginia, a state where almost one out of every seven residents is currently elderly, finding enough healthcare workers remains a challenge—and one that will likely worsen in the future. Immigrants, however, are already helping fill gaps in the healthcare workforce.

Open healthcare jobs to unemployed healthcare workers 9:1
Doctors who were educated abroad 22.3%
Psychiatrists who were educated abroad 37.8%
Nurses who are foreign-born 11.9%
Health aides who are foreign-born 18.1%


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

Immigrant homeowners 224,988
Share of recent homebuyers who were foreign-born 15.3%
Housing wealth held by immigrant households $97.8B
Amount paid by immigrant-led households in rent $2.6B

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 Virginia, but they make a big impact.

Students at Virginia colleges and universities who are international students 3.2%
Economic contribution of international students $544.5M
Jobs supported by international students 7,276

Voting Power

Nationwide, the power of immigrant voters is likely to continue to be a large factor in upcoming elections. In 2016, Virginia was home to more than 510,000 foreign-born residents who were eligible to vote, including an estimated 341,000 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, Hillary Clinton won Virginia by 212,000 votes.

Immigrants eligible to vote 510,334
Immigrants registered to vote 341,038
Immigrants eligible to vote in 2020 554,864
2016 presidential election margin of victory 212,030

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

Undocumented immigrants 281,040
Share of undocumented immigrants, working age 88.2%
Undocumented Entrepreneurs 16,182
Undocumented Household Income $4.9B
Taxes Paid $538.0M
State & Local Taxes $189.7M
Federal Taxes $348.3M
Total Spending Power $4.3B

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 30,580
Share of DACA Eligible Population in Labor Force that is Employed 90.6%
DACA-Eligible Household Income $467.2M
State & Local Taxes $31.9M
Federal Taxes $38.4M
Total Spending Power $396.9M

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 86,847
State's Share of all Likely Refugees 3.8%
Share of Overall State Population, Refugee 1.1%
Taxes & Spending Power
Refugee Household Income $3.5B
Taxes Paid $964.2M
State & Local Taxes $260.0M
Federal Taxes $704.2M
Refugee Spending Power $2.6B

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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…