Immigration is Changing Virginia’s Economic, Educational and Electoral Makeup

Communications Associate

March 1, 2016

Virginia has been rapidly diversifying due to immigration over the past two decades. Between 2000 and 2010, the foreign-born population in Virginia grew twice as fast as the foreign-born population in the U.S. as a whole, and between 2007 and 2013, Virginia’s foreign-born population grew three times as fast as did the native-born population (19 percent versus 6 percent). Though immigrants in the state comprise nearly 12 percent of Virginia’s total population, more than 14 percent of workers in the state are immigrants. The Washington, D.C. suburbs of northern Virginia have since become one of the nation’s most diverse areas, emerging as a new immigrant gateway.


What we see as our responsibility will increase with the presidential elections. We are going to be called upon more and more … to help explain who immigrants are, why immigrants come to the U.S. and that immigrants are not a threat but a blessing to our country and our churches.

Greg Smith, LUCHA Ministries, Fredericksburg, Va.

Virginia is Becoming More Diverse, with its Washington Suburbs Serving as a New Immigrant Gateway

Early in the last century, immigrants came to America and settled in a handful of traditional immigrant gateways. New York, Chicago and Boston were the top destinations in the second decade of the 1900s. In the second decade of the 2000s, in addition to the traditional gateway cities, new immigrant gateways have emerged, and in these new destinations, the majority of immigrants are settling in the suburbs.

The Washington, D.C., metropolitan area is one of these new gateways, and the Washington suburbs in Virginia have seen tremendous growth in their immigrant population.

More than two-thirds (68.6 percent) of Virginia’s foreign-born residents live in the towns and suburbs of the Washington metropolitan area, making this part of Virginia one of the most diverse areas of the country. In fact, Lorton, in Fairfax County, is in the top 15 most diverse places in the U.S., and more than 170 languages are spoken in the homes of Fairfax County elementary school students.

Immigrant Workers and Entrepreneurs are Vital to Virginia’s Prosperity

While immigrants make up just 11.6 percent of the state’s population, more than one in seven workers in the state are immigrants. Nearly three-quarters (73.7 percent) of Virginia’s foreign-born population is in the workforce, compared to less than two-thirds of the native born population (65.6 percent). In part, this is because the state’s immigrants are younger, on average, than the native-born. Three-quarters of immigrants in Virginia are between the ages of 25 and 64, compared to approximately half of native Virginians.

Immigrants in Virginia’s workforce are highly educated compared to immigrants in other states and compared to Virginia’s native-born. More than 40 percent of Virginia’s foreign-born have a bachelor’s degree or an advanced degree, compared to about 35 percent of the native born. The rate of attainment of bachelor’s or advanced degrees by Virginia’s foreign-born is fourth highest in the nation. This level of education is reflected in the industries in which Virginia’s immigrants are employed. Virginia’s foreign-born workers have the highest rate of employment in the professional, scientific, management, and administrative and waste management services sector of any U.S. state.

The state’s immigrants are also creating jobs through their entrepreneurship. Between 2000 and 2010, immigrants were responsible for 40 percent of the growth in entrepreneurship in Virginia, and approximately 17 percent of the state’s entrepreneurs are immigrants.

In northern Virginia, immigration is helping to boost home values. In Fairfax County, immigration is estimated to have contributed more than $7,400 to the value of an average home, while in Prince William County, home values are $5,600 greater than they would be without immigration. Naturalized U.S. citizens, in particular, are interested in home ownership. In Virginia, the home ownership rate of immigrants who have become U.S. citizens is slightly higher (69.7 percent) that it is for the native-born (67.1 percent).

Immigrants in Virginia have Higher Incomes and Lower Poverty Rates

In 2014, the median income for immigrant households in Virginia ($70,127), was higher than the median income for native-born households ($63,177), according to the Census Bureau. The median income for foreign-born households in Virginia was second highest in the nation among immigrant households in 2013.

Looking at the low end of the income scale, the poverty rate among the foreign-born in Virginia is low relative to other states. In fact, the percentage of the foreign-born living below the federal poverty level in Virginia is third lowest in the nation — 11.7 percent — and is not substantially different from the poverty rate for the native-born (11.5 percent).

Foreign Students Make Important Contributions

In the 2014-2015 academic year, there were more than 18,000 foreign students attending colleges and universities in Virginia, contributing more than $543 million to the state’s economy in tuition, fees and living expenses. These students supported more than 7,100 jobs statewide.

In 2009, foreign students were awarded 29.3 percent of master’s degrees and 46.2 percent of doctoral degrees from Virginia educational institutions in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). They could, if immigration reform someday allowed these students to remain in the U.S., play an important role in Virginia’s technology industries.

Undocumented Immigrants Make Important Contributions to the Economy

In 2013, there were an estimated 247,000 immigrants not authorized to be in the United States. Most have lived in the U.S. for more than five years. They make up approximately three percent of Virginia’s population, but are a larger fraction of the state’s workforce — about 4.7 percent. According to Virginia’s Commonwealth Institute, undocumented immigrants in Virginia pay between $200 million and $300 million in state and local sales, income and property taxes.

If Virginia’s undocumented immigrants were granted legal status, as proposed in immigration reform legislation introduced in Congress, their state and local tax contribution would rise an estimated $76 million. On the other hand, if all of Virginia’s undocumented immigrants were removed from the country, as some politicians propose, the state would lose approximately $11.2 billion in economic activity and 63,000 jobs would disappear.

A subset of Virginia’s undocumented immigrants — those brought to the U.S. as children — have been provided temporary relief from deportation and work permits in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). By Virginia policy, these immigrants can attend Virginia’s public colleges and universities at the in-state tuition rate. Although this benefit costs the state when it cannot collect the higher out-of-state tuition, the investment pays off many times over. According to the Commonwealth Institute, if 10 percent of DACA-approved students in Virginia as of September 2014 enrolled in four-year Virginia colleges and earned bachelor’s degrees, there would be a total increase in their expected lifetime earnings of $1.2 billion collectively. The cost to the state would be $25,800 per student, or a mere $24.4 million.

Latino and Asian New Americans are an Important Voting Constituency

In the 2014 elections, Asians and Latinos still comprised a small percentage of Virginia voters — 4.3 percent of voters were Asian and 2.4 percent of voters were Latino. Between now and 2020, however, the Latino and Asian population eligible to vote will grow considerably. Already, immigrants in Virginia are naturalizing at a higher rate than the norm in the U.S.: between 2000 and 2010, the growth in the number of Virginia’s naturalized citizens was 9th highest in the nation.

Between 2012 and 2020, there will be an estimated 237,000 newly eligible Hispanic and Asian voters, including Hispanic and Asian citizens turning 18 and new citizens 18 years and older. Those votes can make a big difference in a state where elections are won with small margins. The margin of victory in the 2012 presidential election was approximately 149,000 votes statewide.

Virginia Faith, Law Enforcement and Business Media Availability

Greg Smith, LUCHA Ministries and the Baptist General Association of Virginia

Sue Smith, LUCHA Ministries

Tony Suarez, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference

Richard Myers, Police Chief of Newport News

Please contact Cathleen Farrell to arrange interviews.