Recent state-level immigration battles are often characterized by a great deal of negative attention and not enough positive information about immigrants living in those states.  Unfounded claims about the costs of immigration overlook the benefits and contributions immigrants make to American communities.  Fortunately, some organizations are dedicated to pushing back on the negativity and publishing accurate data about the role immigrants play in state economies.

The Commonwealth Institute of Virginia recently released a new report called Critical Assets: The State of Immigrants in Virginia’s Economy that finds that Virginia is home to a growing and diverse population of highly educated immigrants who work, prosper, and start businesses in the state.  Among the key findings:

  • Virginia is home to over 903,000 foreign-born residents representing 11 percent of the population.  This is slightly below the national level of 13 percent. Approximately 67 percent of all immigrants live in Northern Virginia.  Between 2000 and 2010, Virginia’s foreign-born population grew 62 percent — almost twice as fast as the immigrant population of the U.S.
  • Virginia’s immigrants are more diverse than in other states.  No single country accounts for ten percent or more of the immigrant population.  The top five countries of origin are El Salvador (9.7%), Mexico (7.2%), India (6.7%), Korea (6.2%), and Vietnam (5.2%).  Nationally Mexicans make up 29.4% of the foreign born population.
  • In 2010, 45.7 percent of foreign-born Virginians were naturalized citizens.  Virginia also has the 9th largest permanent resident population eligible to naturalize.
  • 38 percent of Virginia’s foreign-born residents held a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 34 percent of the state’s native-born population and 28.5 percent of the national native-born population.  About three-fourths of the state’s immigrants speak English “very well” or “well,” and fewer than 6 percent of Virginia’s immigrants speak English “not at all,” which is roughly half of the national rate.
  • The labor force participation of Virginia’s foreign-born residents was 74.7 percent, compared to 65.5 percent for the state’s native-born population.  Immigrants work in roughly the same industries as the native-born population.  Unlike the rest of the country, few immigrants work in manufacturing or agriculture in Virginia.
  • While immigrants comprise 11 percent of Virginia’s population, they are responsible for 17 percent of all entrepreneurial activity in the state.

The Commonwealth Institute concluded that “Immigrants have played a key role in the Commonwealth’s success.  Without a better understanding and appreciation of what a critical asset the foreign-born population is, Virginia’s ability to reach its full economic potential is threatened.” Hopefully organizations in more states will issue similar reports and educate policymakers and voters about the critical role of immigrants in their economic well-being.