Immigrants in Iowa

July 6, 2020

Iowa has a small but growing community of immigrants, many of whom emigrated from Mexico. Six percent of Iowa residents were born in another country, and 5 percent are native-born Americans who has at least one immigrant parent. While relatively few in number, immigrants help support Iowa’s economy and remain a critical component of the state’s labor force: one-tenth of all residents working in the computer and math sciences are immigrants, as are one-sixth of production employees. The majority of immigrants speak English well and are naturalized citizens or eligible for naturalization. As neighbors, business owners, taxpayers, and workers, immigrants are an integral part of Iowa’s diverse and thriving communities and make extensive contributions that benefit all.

Six percent of Iowa residents are immigrants, while five percent of residents are native-born U.S. citizens with at least one immigrant parent.

  • In 2018, 175,137 immigrants (foreign-born individuals) comprised 6 percent of the population.
  • Iowa was home to 80,326 women, 79,165 men, and 15,646 children who were immigrants.
  • The top countries of origin for immigrants were Mexico (26 percent of immigrants), India (6 percent), Vietnam (5 percent), China (4 percent), and Thailand (4 percent).
  • In 2018, 139,444 people in Iowa (5 percent of the state’s population) were native-born Americans who had at least one immigrant parent.

Nearly two out of five immigrants in Iowa are naturalized U.S. citizens.

  • 68,344 immigrants (39 percent) had naturalized as of 2018, and 31,320 immigrants were eligible to become naturalized U.S. citizens in 2017.
  • Three in four (76 percent) immigrants reported speaking English “well” or “very well.”

Immigrants in Iowa are distributed across the educational spectrum.

  • More than a quarter (28 percent) of adult immigrants had a college degree or more education in 2018, while nearly a third (30 percent) had less than a high school diploma.

Education Level

Share (%) of All Immigrants

Share (%) of All Natives

College degree or more

28

29

Some college

19

33

High school diploma only

23

31

Less than a high school diploma

30

6

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2018 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates.

Nearly 28,000 U.S. citizens in Iowa live with at least one family member who is undocumented.

  • 50,000 undocumented immigrants comprised 31 percent of the immigrant population and 2 percent of the total state population in 2016.
  • 58,956 people in Iowa, including 27,561 U.S. citizens, lived with at least one undocumented family member between 2010 and 2014.
  • During the same period, about 3 percent of children in the state were U.S. citizens living with at least one undocumented family member (20,915 children in total).

Iowa is home to thousands of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.

  • 2,460 active DACA recipients lived in Iowa as of 2019, while DACA has been granted to 9,348 people in total since 2012.
  • As of 2019, 60 percent of DACA-eligible immigrants in Iowa had applied for DACA.
  • Fewer than 2,000 residents of the state would satisfy all but the educational requirements for DACA, and fewer than 1,000 would become eligible as they grew older.

Immigrants are vital members of the Iowa labor force across industries.

  • 126,469 immigrant workers comprised 7 percent of the labor force in 2018. 
  • Immigrant workers were most numerous in the following industries:

Industry

Number of Immigrant Workers

Manufacturing

33,963

Health Care and Social Assistance

17,239

Accommodation and Food Services

14,651

Educational Services

14,176

Retail Trade

9,537

Source: Analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey 1-year PUMS data by the American Immigration Council.

  • The largest shares of immigrant workers were in the following industries:

Industry

Immigrant Share (%)
(of all industry workers)

Administrative & Support; Waste Management; and Remediation Services

13

Manufacturing

12

Accommodation and Food Services

11

Wholesale Trade

8

Real Estate and Rental and Leasing

8

Source: Analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey 1-year PUMS data by the American Immigration Council.

Immigrants are an integral part of the Iowa workforce in a range of occupations.

  • In 2018, immigrant workers were most numerous in the following occupation groups:

Occupation Category

Number of Immigrant Workers

Production

26,169

Transportation and Material Moving

12,821

Building and Grounds Cleaning & Maintenance

12,491

Food Preparation and Serving Related

11,255

Management

10,397

Source: Analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey 1-year PUMS data by the American Immigration Council.

  • The largest shares of immigrant workers were in the following occupation groups:

Occupation Category

Immigrant Share (%)
(of all workers in occupation)

Production

16

Building and Grounds Cleaning & Maintenance

16

Military Specific

13

Farming, Fishing, and Forestry

13

Computer and Mathematical

10

Source: Analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey 1-year PUMS data by the American Immigration Council.

  • Undocumented immigrants comprised 2 percent of Iowa’s workforce in 2016.

Immigrants in Iowa have contributed more than a billion dollars in taxes.

As consumers, immigrants add billions of dollars to Iowa’s economy.

  • Iowa residents in immigrant-led households had $3.9 billion in spending power (after-tax income) in 2018.

Immigrant entrepreneurs in Iowa generate tens of millions of dollars in business revenue.

  • 10,918 immigrant business owners accounted for 6 percent of all self-employed Iowa residents in 2018 and generated $172.7 million in business income.

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