Immigrant Heritage Month provides time to recognize the abundance newcomers bring

A CapitolBeatOK Report,
adapted from press releases and referenced data

Today, Oklahoma is home to nearly 220,000 immigrants. These new Americans work in every industry, including college administration, construction and healthcare. June is Immigrant Heritage Month, promoting the success stories of hard-working people. Immigrant Heritage Month celebrates the abundance of knowledge and value these newcomers have brought and continue to bring to Oklahoma.
According to a 2016 study from New American Economy, over 10,000 foreign-born people settled in the state from 2010 to 2014. Nearly six percent of Oklahoma’s population is made up of immigrants and refugees. Undocumented immigrants make up an additional 2.6 percent. The vast majority of state immigrants reside in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metro areas, with an additional 45,000 immigrants living in rural areas.
With this demographic, immigrants play a key role in Oklahoma’s economy. In 2014, our immigrants contributed over $1.1 billion in taxes and $3.2 billion in spending to the economy.
Immigrant entrepreneurs are a crucial component of the economy. It is brave and risky to leave home and start anew in a foreign land. These characteristics epitomize the start-up spirit. More than 10,000 of state immigrants are self-employed. Immigrant-owned firms and companies garnered $201.4 million in income in 2014, employing nearly 30,000 Oklahomans.
Immigrants and refugees fill noticeable gaps in the workforce. Foreign-born and foreign-educated immigrants are often hired in areas where job postings vastly outnumber available professionals. Oklahoma’s healthcare industry is ranked 47th in the nation for ratio of physicians to population, but in 2014, nearly 20 percent of the state’s practicing doctors and 34 percent of psychiatrists graduated from international medical schools. Immigrants improve our ranking by playing a key support system in many small businesses.
Immigrants and refugees aren’t just benefiting us now — they’re on track to help the state more. One of the biggest fields benefiting from the influx is science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). With nearly 5,000 immigrants holding STEM jobs, the newcomers help ensure Oklahoma remains a leader in oil and gas research and in the IT industry.
In 2014, international students on temporary visas made up about 25 percent of STEM Master’s degree students and 47.9 percent of STEM PhD-level degree students in Oklahoma.
These new Americans are putting down roots. Almost one-third of our immigrants become naturalized citizens. Many are eligible for citizenship, but have not yet undergone the process. Immigrants who achieve citizenship are more likely to pursue higher education than non-citizen immigrants. Further degrees allows for better paying jobs, and money back into our economy.
There is no way to quantify all the ways immigrants have benefited Oklahoma and the U.S.A. With foreign-born people making up an increasing part of the population, they contribute to the economy through taxes and spending, as well as hiring fellow Oklahomans. They improve every industry by filling crucial roles left in the workforce and keeping Oklahoma at the top of its fields. Increasingly more of Oklahoma’s immigrants become or will become citizens, bringing even more prosperity to the state. The entire nation, especially Oklahoma, benefit from the knowledge and experience that immigrants bring.