Latinos and Asians, Including Immigrants, Help Indiana Thrive

Communications Associate

May 2, 2016

More than 300,000 immigrants live in Indiana, according to 2014 Census estimates. More than a third (38.7 percent) of them have become citizens, and about 29 percent of Indiana’s foreign-born are undocumented. The remainder (about one-third) are legal permanent residents.

In 1990, only 1.7 percent of Indiana’s population was foreign-born. By 2014, that percentage had nearly tripled to 4.8 percent, and the state ranks 34th among all states in percentage of population that is foreign-born.

Indiana’s immigrants are not spread evenly around the state. The Indianapolis metropolitan area is home to 38.2 percent of the state’s foreign-born. By contrast, less than 30 percent of native-born people in Indiana live in the Indianapolis metro area.


“As one of the greatest free nations in the world, with so much to offer, our conscience should guide us to do the right thing and welcome those in need. Immigrants seeking a new beginning bring a sense of excitement and freshness to the workplace and the community.”

 –  Tom Morales, Co-Founder, President & CEO, Morales Group, Indianapolis

Indiana’s Diversity

Indiana’s immigrants come from many countries, but the top countries of origin are Mexico, China and India, according to 2014 Census estimates. Of the immigrants who arrived (or adjusted their status to permanent resident) most recently, the top source country is Mexico, followed closely by Myanmar, with China in third place.

The high numbers of immigrants from Myanmar are mostly not new arrivals. Instead, these immigrants are mostly refugees who, after one year, are entitled to adjust to permanent resident status. (The government counts anyone who adjusts to permanent resident status the same as a newly arrived legal immigrant.) Myanmar is by far the top source country for refugees resettled in the state.

Latinos make up 6.3 percent of the population, and Asians comprise just 1.8 percent. African Americans make up 9.1 percent of the population, and the remainder, 84.4 percent, is white.

Workers, Entrepreneurs, Consumers and Taxpayers

A slightly larger proportion of Indiana’s immigrants are in the workforce compared with the native-born: Nearly 67 percent of Indiana’s immigrants, vs. 64 percent of the native-born. Immigrants make up 5.6 percent of the state’s total workforce.

Undocumented immigrants are estimated to make up 3.5 percent of the labor force. Should all of Indiana’s undocumented immigrants be removed, the state would lose more than a big chunk of its workforce: It would lose more than $3 billion in economic activity and more than 40,000 jobs that all of those immigrants support. Additionally, the state would lose the $93 million in state and local taxes undocumented immigrants pay.

The loss of these workers would exacerbate a problem the state is already facing on both ends of the jobs spectrum. According to the Partnership for a New American Economy, the state lost about 201,000 workers from jobs considered “less-skilled” between 1990 and 2010, while during that period, immigrants filled in just 82,503 of those jobs. The state also faces a shortage of STEM workers and medical professionals. Immigration reform that included provisions to allow U.S.-educated foreign students to remain in the U.S. after they graduated from U.S. colleges and universities could ameliorate this shortage.

Immigrants contribute to Indiana’s economy in other ways. Indiana’s 25,000-plus Latino- and Asian-owned businesses had combined sales receipts totaling $8 billion in 2012, and they employed more than 49,000 people, according to the Census Bureau’s survey of business owners. An analysis of the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data from 2006 to 2010 determined that 5.2 percent of Indiana’s businesses were immigrant-owned. These businesses generated more than $700 million in income.

As consumers, the state’s Asians and Latinos had a combined purchasing power of about $13.6 billion in 2014. Those selling homes in Marion County (Indiana’s most populous) surely appreciate that immigration to the area has increased the value of the average home by an estimated $3,600.

Latinos in Indiana paid $514 million in state and local taxes in 2013, with foreign-born Latinos contributing about half of that total — $251 million.

Colleges and Universities Rank Among the Nation’s Most Attractive for Foreign Students

In the 2014-2015 academic year, more than 28,000 international students enrolled in Indiana’s colleges and universities. They contributed more than $900 million to the state economy in tuition, fees and living expenses, and they supported nearly 12,000 jobs statewide. Purdue University ranks seventh among schools in the U.S. for attracting foreign students (more than 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students in the 2014-2015 academic year), while Purdue and Indiana University rank in the top 10 nationwide for attracting students from China.

Foreign students are disproportionally in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). In 2009, foreign students were awarded 40 percent of master’s degrees and 56 percent of doctoral degrees from Indiana colleges and universities in the STEM fields.

Welcoming Indianapolis and Gateways for Growth

Nearly a quarter of Indiana’s immigrants live in the state’s largest city, Indianapolis, and that city’s foreign-born population is just under 9 percent of its total. By mayoral proclamation, April 7, 2015, was Welcoming Indianapolis Day.

Commenting on the fact that his city had officially become the nation’s 51st Welcoming America City, Mayor Greg Ballard said, “Immigrants not only enhance our workforce and contribute to a more vibrant and global economy, they broaden our perspective and make our neighborhoods and our city stronger.”

Earlier this year, Indianapolis was among 20 cities in the U.S. selected to participate in the Gateways for Growth Challenge. This program, sponsored by the Partnership for a New American Economy and Welcoming America, “supports the development and implementation of multi-sector strategic plans for welcoming and integrating new Americans.”

In taking these steps, Indianapolis has become part of a growing trend in which local government, business and community leaders are working together to make their cities more welcoming toward immigrants. Cities thrive when all members of the community are provided with the opportunity to succeed.

More Broadly, Indianan Residents Favor Immigration Reform

Despite Indiana’s relatively small immigrant population and even smaller undocumented immigrant population, residents are generally favorable to allowing undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States.

According to a survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute in 2015, when asked about immigration reform, 58 percent of Indiana adults said that immigrants living in the U.S. illegally should be allowed to become citizens if they meet certain requirements. An additional 14 percent of adults said these immigrants should be able to have legal residency but not citizenship.