Immigrants and the economy in:


Wisconsin is home to more than 300,000 immigrants. These largely working age new Americans are playing a valuable role in the workforce. They play outsize roles as everything from dairy workers to software developers, making them critical contributors to Wisconsin’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. While Wisconsin has experienced slow population growth, potentially depriving businesses of the customers and employers of a workforce they can depend on as the baby boomers retire, immigrants in Wisconsin are already helping to address some of these demographic challenges.

Age Group Foreign-Born Population Share Native-Born Population Share
0-15 7.4% 20.2%
16-64 80.8% 63.5%
65+ 11.8% 16.2%


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 Wisconsin, like the country as a whole, immigrants are currently punching above their weight class as entrepreneurs.

People employed by immigrant-owned firms 57,953
Immigrant entrepreneurs 13,357
Business income of immigrant-owned firms $280.6M
Fortune 500 companies in Wisconsin founded by immigrants or their children 50.0%

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

Immigrant Household Income $9.7B
Taxes Paid $2.6B
State & Local Taxes $856.7M
Federal Taxes $1.8B
Total Spending Power $7.0B


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 Wisconsin, where immigrants play a particularly large role as physicians and also in the animal slaughtering industry.

Educational Attainment by Nativity, Age 25+
Workforce Education Foreign-Born Population Native-Born Population
Less Than High School 25.1% 6.7%
High School & Some College 42.8% 63.7%
Bachelor's Degree 13.1% 20.1%
Graduate Degree 19.0% 9.6%
Top Industries with Highest Share of Foreign-Born Workers
Animal slaughtering and processing 26.7%
Computer systems design and related services 23.2%
Landscaping services 19.4%
Employment services 17.1%
Grocery and related product merchant wholesalers 16.7%
Top Occupations with Highest Share of Foreign-Born Workers
Software developers, applications and systems software 33.8%
Physicians and surgeons 28.7%
Miscellaneous agricultural workers 28.5%
Packers and packagers 18.6%
Preschool and kindergarten teachers 18.5%

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 Wisconsin remains a leading innovator in STEM fields like energy production and scientific consulting.

STEM workers who are immigrants 12.7%
STEM Master's students who are foreign nationals 25.0%
STEM PhD students who are foreign nationals 36.3%


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 Wisconsin, a state where more than 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 11:1
Doctors who were educated abroad 50.3%
Psychiatrists who were educated abroad 51.1%
Nurses who are foreign-born 4.6%
Health aides who are foreign-born 4.0%


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

Immigrant homeowners 62,171
Share of recent homebuyers who were foreign-born 6.0%
Housing wealth held by immigrant households $13.6B
Amount paid by immigrant-led households in rent $496.7M

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 Wisconsin, but they make a big impact.

Students at Wisconsin colleges and universities who are international students 3.5%
Economic contribution of international students $327.1M
Jobs supported by international students 4,021

Voting Power

The power of immigrant voters is likely to continue to be a large factor in upcoming elections. In states that have been historically seen tight margins of victory or that have undergone demographic shifts, newly naturalized immigrant voters could have an outsized impact on election outcomes in the coming years. This is certainly the case in Wisconsin, an important swing state where Donald Trump won by less than 23,000 in 2016.

Immigrants eligible to vote 127,894
Immigrants registered to vote 85,399
Immigrants eligible to vote in 2020 136,221
2016 presidential election margin of victory 22,748

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

Undocumented immigrants 75,481
Share of undocumented immigrants, working age 87.2%
Undocumented Household Income $1.3B
Taxes Paid $145.6M
State & Local Taxes $64.3M
Federal Taxes $81.3M
Total Spending Power $1.2B

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 10,561
Share of DACA Eligible Population in Labor Force that is Employed 92.2%
DACA-Eligible Household Income $128.3M
State & Local Taxes $10.1M
Federal Taxes $7.5M
Total Spending Power $110.7M

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 25,434
State's Share of all Likely Refugees 1.1%
Share of Overall State Population, Refugee 0.4%
Taxes & Spending Power
Refugee Household Income $649.4M
Taxes Paid $166.2M
State & Local Taxes $60.8M
Federal Taxes $105.4M
Refugee Spending Power $483.3M

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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…