Since the earliest days of the United States, immigrants have played very crucial roles in growing, shaping and contributing positively to this country. Everyone has a piece in the larger American story, whether as a person indigenous to this land, a descendant of enslaved people, or any one of many who came to the U.S. in search of a better life.

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June marks the celebration of Immigrant Heritage Month, a time for all Americans, regardless of immigration status, to celebrate the rich and diverse heritage of our country. This piece takes a look at how immigrants have played an important role in building up the economy of the United States.

Immigrants have always been vital assets to the U.S. economy and contribute greatly to the nation’s total economic output and tax revenue. Between 2013 and 2019, for example, immigrants added over $9.6 trillion to total U.S. gross domestic product according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Economists have found that immigrants complement native-born workers and increase the standard of living for all Americans. Additionally, as consumers in local communities, immigrants create demand for small businesses and strengthen the economy. Immigrant entrepreneurs have also played a significant role in advancing technological innovation and creating businesses.

Although immigrants’ economic contributions are significant, they could be even greater. If Congress enacts a legislative reform that includes a pathway to citizenship, then more unauthorized immigrants could participate in the formal economy.

An immigration activist participates in a rally near the U.S. Supreme Court as they demonstrate to highlight immigrant essential worker rights. The group marched on Capitol Hill as the Senate Judiciary Committee held a subcommittee hearing on the role of essential immigrant workers in America.” (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Some of the most influential entrepreneurs in the United States are immigrants or children of immigrants. This is especially true in the tech industry; including Google founder Sergey Brin, who fled the Soviet Union as a young boy almost 44 years ago; Yahoo founder Jerry Yang, who emigrated from Taiwan at age 10; and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who emigrated from India. In fact, more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies in 2010 were founded by immigrants or their children. This includes both major companies from the past few decades—such as AT&T, Apple, and Google—and also older giants, such as McDonald’s, General Electric, and Bank of America. Fortune 500 companies are a tremendous part of the national economy; in particular, the 40 percent founded by immigrants or children of immigrants generated more than $1.7 trillion in revenue and employed 3.6 million people in the United States in 2010 alone.

Apart from immigrant’s contributions in big businesses, they have also made an impact as small-business entrepreneurs. Immigrants make up about 38 percent of small-business owners and are two times more likely to become entrepreneurs than the native-born population. In 2010, immigrant-founded small businesses generated more than $775 billion in sales and $100 billion in income and paid more than $126 billion in payroll taxes. On average, immigrant-owned small businesses each employ about eight employees and collectively provide jobs for about 4 million people in the United States.

Colorado’s immigrant-owned businesses generated a whopping $975 million in revenue in 2022, according to a five-year average from the American Community Survey. According to a recent study conducted by a research organization in New York, there are over 19,000 immigrant-owned small businesses in Colorado.

A father holds his child during a naturalization ceremony in Greeley, Colorado, on July 3, 2014. Credit: The Greeley Tribune

The report, Immigrant Small Business Owners: A Significant and Growing Part of the Economy, details the number and characteristics of immigrant small business owners across the country and Colorado’s number of immigrant owned businesses. Another interesting finding, the report says, is that immigrants in Colorado are 15 percent more likely to own a small business than their U.S.-born counterparts.

The report also stated that immigrant-owned small businesses employ over 7 million people and bring in nearly $900 billion in receipts. Nearly 800,000 immigrants – or 13% of the state population – call Colorado home. They pay nearly $4.2 billion in local, state and federal taxes and hold nearly $13 billion in spending power, according to research by New American Economy. They also fuel economic growth: more than 38,000 immigrant entrepreneurs have created more than 102,000 jobs across the state.

The common-sense approach would be to adopt a policy or framework that welcomes workers through an effective legal immigration system, protecting the country’s borders and recognizing the positive impact immigrants make in Colorado and the United States as workers, taxpayers and consumers.  This isn’t a call to throw the borders wide open. It is an opportunity to continue to refresh and bring new talent and services to our country while ensuring that everyone who enters is known, documented and what they contribute.

Scores of immigrants have come to the US over the years and many have shown that the American dream is very much alive. With outstanding perseverance and fortitude, they have founded some of the greatest business institutions of our country and helped build America.

People take oath during a naturalization ceremony at Ellis Island in New York, September 17, 2022. Credit: REUTERS

Immigration no doubt benefits the American people and the economy by driving entrepreneurship, job creation, and innovation. Any restrictions on recruiting high-skilled immigrants may result in losing our most innovative companies and creating competition abroad.

Immigration has equally propelled the U.S. job market further than just about anyone expected, helping cement the country’s economic rebound from the pandemic as the most robust in the world.

That momentum picked up aggressively over the past year. About 50 percent of the labor market’s extraordinary recent growth came from foreign-born workers between January 2023 and January 2024, according to an Economic Policy Institute analysis of federal data. And even before that, by the middle of 2022, the foreign-born labor force had grown so fast that it closed the labor force gap created by the pandemic, according to research from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

Immigrant workers also recovered much faster than native-born workers from the pandemic’s disruptions, and many saw some of the largest wage gains in industries eager to hire. Economists and labor experts say the surge in employment was ultimately key to solving unprecedented gaps in the economy that threatened the country’s ability to recover from prolonged shutdowns.

Fresh estimates from the Congressional Budget Office this month said the U.S. labor force will have grown by 5.2 million people by 2033, thanks especially to net immigration. The economy is projected to grow by $9 trillion more over the next decade than it would have without new influxes of immigrants, according to the CBO.

Experts argue that the strength of the U.S. economy has benefited American workers and foreign-born workers alike. Each group accounts for roughly half of the labor market’s impressive year-over-year growth since January 2023, according to an Economic Policy Institute analysis that used three-month rolling averages in labor force participation to account for data volatility.

Immigrants have historically played an important role in the building of the United States, and they continue to carry that legacy till today. It is up to Congress to reform the immigration system so that it will be both humane and beneficial to the nation.

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