Immigrants can move to the United States for a variety of reasons.
Giri Narahari and his wife Sailaja, for example, are from India and came to the United States to work. Narahari is now an IT professional based in Kansas City, Kansas.
Kevin Yu, who lives in Overland Park, came to the United States from China almost 30 years ago to attend college at the University of Kansas. He is now an employee there.
Alice Ng and her husband Tiong Tan, both from Malaysia, also came to the United States to complete a college education. They moved to Wichita State University in 1996, where Ng studied business administration and Tan studied mechanical engineering.
But regardless of where immigrants come from and why – be it for education, employment or other opportunities – they contribute in many ways to the local and state economies in the areas in which they settle. And Kansas is no exception.
Some immigrants – like the Naraharis, Yu, Ng, and Tan – can even become US citizens.
They joined more than a hundred other immigrants late last month in a series of citizenship ceremonies held at the Frank Carlson Federal Building in downtown Topeka on May 25.
“We are very proud and very patriotic,” said Ng. “We thought about becoming citizens for many, many years, but we always postponed it. We decided it was time.”
Given the renewed debate on immigration reform at the national level – and given the withdrawal by President Joe Biden of a number of his predecessor’s immigration-related executive orders in recent months that reduced the number of visas issued to immigrants – such economic implications for national ones may be crucial and nationwide discussion of the topic.
Immigrants contribute to the national, state economy
According to a 2020 Pew Research Center report, The United States has more immigrants than any other country in the world, and immigrants make up nearly 14% of the US population.
The proportion of immigrants in the country’s population has risen steadily since about 1970 and is approaching the record high of 14.8% from 1890, according to Pew Research. And with higher percentages comes greater economic clout.
The Brookings Institution, a Washington, DC-based think tank, pointed out in a report published in late 2019 that US economic output will be higher as more immigrants enter the workforce. And an estimate quoted by Brookings says that foreign-born workers contribute about $ 2 trillion to U.S. gross domestic product annually.
Immigrants in Kansas therefore contribute to the economic productivity of the country, but also of the state.
Hugh Cassidy, labor economist and assistant professor at Kansas State University, said it was difficult to come up with an overarching dollar amount that illustrates the overall economic impact of immigrants in Kansas.
“We have this thing called economics, and it’s massive and incredibly complex, and it’s got a lot of different characteristics and facets,” said Cassidy. “So if we want to look at the impact of immigration, we have to think about what we are actually trying to measure.”
He pointed out that a single number like gross domestic product may not always be the most important number.
“There are a variety of effects,” he said.
Impact on the Kansas Workforce
Some of the effects of immigration are directly related to the state workforce.
According to Cassidy, immigrants make up 7.3% of the state’s population in Kansas but are slightly over-represented in the workforce at 9.7%.
While this does not apply to all immigrants in the state, many tend to focus on “very typical occupations for immigrants,” Cassidy said, with such employment being largely educationally driven.
“Southwest Kansas, as you probably know, is a large meat packing and processing area,” said Cassidy. “About 50-60% of the meat workers in Kansas are immigrants, so this profession is very immigrant. You won’t see this nearly as often in other states.
“But in general,” he added, “we have immigrants who are disproportionately represented in jobs similar to other parts of the country. They are much more like butchers. 55 percent of roofers in Kansas are immigrants. 35 percent of housekeepers are immigrants, around 40 percent of painters are immigrants. “
But just as they are highly represented in low-education jobs, immigrants also make up a significant portion of the state’s highly skilled workforce, according to Cassidy – suggesting that immigrants are concentrated on the lower and upper end of the educational spectrum.
“We have immigrants who are high in doctors, so 20% of doctors in Kansas are immigrants,” he said. “Medical scientists – about half of them are immigrants. A third of chemists are immigrants. About 30% of electrical engineers (are immigrants). “
Cassidy challenged the notion that immigrants take jobs from native workers or do jobs that locals don’t want to do.
“Economists don’t like to think in these terms for a number of reasons,” he said.
He said it was possible that immigrants entering the labor market could increase competition for some jobs in the short term. But in the long run, companies and workers adapt.
He said some jobs might not exist without immigrants, and as they participated in the economy, they would increase the demand for goods and services, which could lead to new job opportunities for native-born workers.
“Immigrants buy things too,” said Cassidy. “They have demands for housing and food and the like, and that increases the demand for things that non-immigrants provide. So there are both shifts in supply and demand.”
Immigrants can also create jobs directly by starting their own business.
When it comes to the argument that immigrants are doing jobs that native-born workers don’t want to do, Cassidy says there is more to it than that.
“The question really is not, ‘Are non-immigrants not going to do these jobs?’ but it is the wage they are willing to do it for, “he said.” It is simpler and much more accurate to say that immigrants are more willing to work for lower wages.
Regardless of the job or wage an immigrant might take, they still contribute to the local and federal economies by paying taxes – wage, sales, property taxes, etc. – “just like any other working member of society, of the state, ”said Cassidy.
Other notable effects
But Kansas immigrants also often have a peripheral impact on the state and its economy.
On the one hand, immigrants bring their food and culture with them when they move, thereby expanding the country’s cultural diversity.
For example, those who took their citizenship oath at the May 25 ceremonies in Topeka came from countries such as Algeria and Togo in Africa, Israel and Syria in the Middle East, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in Asia, and Hungary and the UK in Europe.
“What we say at these ceremonies … is, bring your culture, religion, food, ethnicity here to the United States and we will celebrate with you,” said Debbie Cannon, US public affairs officer Citizenship and Immigration Service. “You don’t have to leave any of this behind.”
Immigrants also contribute to the growth of the state’s population.
According to Reporting at the beginning of the year by The Topeka Capital-Journal, Kansas has seen a 3% growth rate over the past decade, according to 2020 data from the US Census Bureau – the lowest growth the state has seen since the 1910 census. The state’s population is now around 2,937,880, meaning it ranks 35th in the nation for population size.
“In a state like Kansas … we’re low on our growth rate,” Cassidy said. “Immigrants are a source of growth that Kansas would not otherwise have.”
According to data from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services website, 946 people immigrated to Kansas in fiscal year 2020 and 1,193 people immigrated to the state in fiscal year 2019.
“They choose Kansas … for a number of reasons,” said Cassidy. “They don’t accidentally stumble into Kansas and then find a job. They choose a place where they might be happiest for a variety of reasons – better work and family and so on.”
And if immigrants choose to stay in the state long term, and perhaps even raise families in Kansas, the economic impact on the region can multiply.
This is the case with Ng and Tan, two of the immigrants who became citizens in Topeka late last month.
“We have two children,” said Ng. “We want to keep raising her here in Kansas. I think Kansas has better education, colleges for the kids, and more opportunities to grow.”