Immigrants in South Carolina

October 5, 2017

South Carolina has a small but growing immigrant population. While roughly 5 percent of the state’s residents are immigrants, they are a vital share of South Carolina’s labor force. Combined, immigrants account for nearly 25 percent of all residents working in fishing, forestry, and farming, as well as nearly 15 percent in construction and extraction jobs. As workers, business owners, taxpayers, and neighbors, immigrants are an integral part of South Carolina’s diverse and thriving communities and make extensive contributions that benefit all.

Nearly 5 percent of South Carolina residents are immigrants, while almost 4 percent are native-born U.S. citizens with at least one immigrant parent.

  • In 2015, 232,749 immigrants (foreign-born individuals) comprised 4.8 percent of the population.
  • South Carolina was home to 105,708 women, 110,484 men, and 16,557 children who were immigrants.
  • The top countries of origin for immigrants were Mexico (28.2 percent of immigrants), India (5.7 percent), Philippines (4.5 percent), China (4.5 percent), and Germany (4.1 percent).
  • In 2016, 188,884 people in South Carolina (3.9 percent of the state’s population) were native-born Americans who had at least one immigrant parent.

Two in five immigrants in South Carolina are naturalized U.S. citizens.

  • 92,001 immigrants (39.5 percent) had naturalized as of 2015, and 42,918 immigrants were eligible to become naturalized U.S. citizens in 2015.
  • Three-quarters of immigrants (75.9 percent) reported speaking English “well” or “very well.”

Immigrants in South Carolina are distributed across the educational spectrum.

  • Two in seven adult immigrants had a college degree or more education in 2015, while 3 in 10 had less than a high school diploma.

Education Level

Share (%) of All Immigrants

Share (%) of All Natives

College degree or more

28.4

26.7

Some college

18.2

30.8

High school diploma only

23.3

29.8

Less than a high-school diploma

30.1

12.6

Nearly 50,000 U.S. citizens in South Carolina live with at least one family member who is undocumented.

  • 85,000 undocumented immigrants comprised 37 percent of the immigrant population and 1.8 percent of the total state population in 2014.
  • 107,798 people in South Carolina, including 45,307 born in the United States, lived with at least one undocumented family member between 2010 and 2014.
  • During the same period, 1 in 25 children in the state was a U.S.-citizen child living with at least one undocumented family member (40,205 children in total).

About 6,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients live in South Carolina.

  • As of 2016, 74 percent of DACA-eligible immigrants in South Carolina, or 7,150 people, had applied for DACA.
  • An additional 4,000 residents of the state satisfied all but the educational requirements for DACA, and another 2,000 would be eligible as they grew older.

Immigrants are an integral part of the South Carolina workforce across industries.

  • 149,740 immigrant workers comprised 6 percent of the labor force in 2015.
  • Immigrant workers were most numerous in the following industries:

Industry

Number of Immigrant Workers

Manufacturing

26,275

Accommodation and Food Services

24,191

Construction

21,470

Retail Trade

15,857

Health Care and Social Assistance

12,527

Analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 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)

Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing & Hunting

19.3

Construction

12.3

Accommodation and Food Services

9.3

Administrative & Support; Waste Management; and Remediation Services

8.0

Manufacturing

7.1

Analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey 1-year PUMS data by the American Immigration Council.

Immigrants are critical to the South Carolina workforce in a range of occupations.

  • In 2015, immigrant workers were most numerous in the following occupation groups:

Occupation Category

Number of Immigrant Workers

Construction and Extraction

20,387

Production

18,395

Building and Grounds Cleaning & Maintenance

17,038

Food Preparation and Serving Related

15,864

Sales and Related

15,310

Analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 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)

Farming, Fishing, and Forestry

24.8

Construction and Extraction

14.7

Building and Grounds Cleaning & Maintenance

13.3

Computer and Mathematical Sciences

11.5

Architecture and Engineering

11.0

Analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey 1-year PUMS data by the American Immigration Council.

  • Undocumented immigrants comprised 2.6 percent of the state’s workforce in 2014.

Immigrants in South Carolina have contributed billions of dollars in taxes.

  • Immigrant-led households in the state paid $958.2 million in federal taxes and $379.2 million in state and local taxes in 2014.
  • Undocumented immigrants in South Carolina paid an estimated $67.8 million in state and local taxes in 2014. Their contribution would rise to $86.2 million if they could receive legal status.
  • DACA recipients in South Carolina paid an estimated $11.8 million in state and local taxes in 2016.

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

  • South Carolina residents in immigrant-led households had $4.1 billion in spending power (after-tax income) in 2014.

Immigrant entrepreneurs in South Carolina generate hundreds of millions of dollars in business revenue.

  • 15,312 immigrant business owners accounted for 7.3 percent of all self-employed South Carolina residents in 2015 and generated $176.3 million in business income.
  • In 2015, immigrants accounted for 11.8 percent of business owners in the Charlotte/Gastonia/Concord metropolitan area (which spans North and South Carolina).

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