Immigrants and the economy in:


Washington has emerged in recent decades as an increasingly popular destination for America’s immigrants, boasting the 10th-largest immigrant population. Immigrant entrepreneurs are a critical part of Washington’s economic success story, from Main Street businesses to Fortune 500 companies they are generating high revenue and employing hundreds of thousands of people. The immigrants who are working in Washington also contribute to a wide range of different industries in the state, pay billions in taxes, and bolster the agriculture and housing markets.

  • 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 Washington, 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% 22.2%
16-64 81.3% 62.7%
65+ 13.6% 15.0%


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 Washington, firms with at least one immigrant owner provided jobs to roughly 141,000 Americans in 2007.

People employed by immigrant-owned firms 141,483
Immigrant entrepreneurs 57,239
Business income of immigrant-owned firms $1.6B
Fortune 500 companies in Washington founded by immigrants or their children 60.0%

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

Immigrant Household Income $37.8B
Taxes Paid $10.3B
State & Local Taxes $3.0B
Federal Taxes $7.3B
Total Spending Power $27.5B


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 Washington, where immigrants play a particularly large role in the warehousing and storage 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 25.0% 5.9%
High School & Some College 40.1% 59.2%
Bachelor's Degree 19.6% 22.5%
Graduate Degree 15.2% 12.4%
Top Industries with Highest Share of Foreign-Born Workers
Crop production 65.5%
Services to buildings and dwellings 37.9%
Computer systems design and related services 36.6%
Traveler accommodation 35.8%
Electronic shopping 33.4%
Top Occupations with Highest Share of Foreign-Born Workers
Miscellaneous agricultural workers 77.5%
Software developers, applications and systems software 46.3%
Maids and housekeeping cleaners 44.2%
Cooks 30.8%
Grounds maintenance workers 29.7%

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 Washington remains a leading innovator in STEM fields like software development and biotechnology.

STEM workers who are immigrants 27.0%
STEM Master's students who are foreign nationals 19.2%
STEM PhD students who are foreign nationals 27.1%


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 Washington, 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 14:1
Doctors who were educated abroad 18.0%
Psychiatrists who were educated abroad 19.0%
Nurses who are foreign-born 15.1%
Health aides who are foreign-born 25.0%


In 2014, the agriculture industry contributed nearly $7.5 billion to Washington's GDP. Within that massive industry, fresh produce played a prominent role. In 2014, Washington farms grew almost $4.4 billion worth of fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts—goods that almost always must be harvested by hand. This makes the state’s agriculture industry inherently reliant on immigrants. In 2014, almost 70 percent of all hired farmworkers in the state of Washington were born abroad.

Share of fresh fruit and vegetable farms 58.4%
Share of misc. agriculture workers, foreign-born 73.5%
Share of all hired farmworkers in Washington that are immigrants 69.5%


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

Immigrant homeowners 227,646
Share of recent homebuyers who were foreign-born 15.6%
Housing wealth held by immigrant households $95.9B
Amount paid by immigrant-led households in rent $2.5B

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 Washington, but they make a big impact.

Students at Washington colleges and universities who are international students 6.3%
Economic contribution of international students $666.5M
Jobs supported by international students 6,413

Voting Power

Nationwide, the power of immigrant voters is likely to continue to be a large factor in upcoming elections. In 2016, Washington was home to more than 463,000 foreigh-born residents who were eligible to vote—a group that made up more than one in 12 of the state's eligible voters. Although few would call Washington a swing state, the sheer size of the immigrant voting bloc here means it has a powerful impact on the way the state votes in both national and state elections. In 2016, for instance, Hillary Clinton won Washington by almost 521,000 votes. The total number of eligible immigrant voters in the state is only 58,000 less than that margin.

Immigrants eligible to vote 463,068
Immigrants registered to vote 290,193
Immigrants eligible to vote in 2020 490,887
2016 presidential election margin of victory 520,971

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

Undocumented immigrants 237,935
Share of undocumented immigrants, working age 92.0%
Undocumented Entrepreneurs 10,971
Undocumented Household Income $6.1B
Taxes Paid $768.3M
State & Local Taxes $277.4M
Federal Taxes $490.9M
Total Spending Power $5.4B

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 28,054
Share of DACA Eligible Population in Labor Force that is Employed 91.5%
DACA-Eligible Household Income $503.7M
State & Local Taxes $53.2M
Federal Taxes $40.5M
Total Spending Power $409.9M

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 88,080
State's Share of all Likely Refugees 3.8%
Share of Overall State Population, Refugee 1.3%
Taxes & Spending Power
Refugee Household Income $2.8B
Taxes Paid $742.6M
State & Local Taxes $242.0M
Federal Taxes $500.6M
Refugee Spending Power $2.1B

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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…