Immigrants in Tennessee

October 6, 2017

Tennessee has a small but growing immigrant population, accounting for 5 percent of the state’s total population. While relatively few in number, immigrants are a vital share of the labor force. Nearly 23 percent of all Tennessee residents working in farming, fishing, and forestry are immigrants, as well as roughly 17 percent of life, physical, and social sciences employees. As workers, business owners, taxpayers, and neighbors, immigrants are an integral part of Tennessee’s diverse and thriving communities and make extensive contributions that benefit all.

Five percent of Tennessee residents are immigrants, while 4 percent are native-born U.S. citizens with at least one immigrant parent.

  • In 2015, 331,570 immigrants (foreign-born individuals) comprised 5 percent of the population.
  • Tennessee was home to 146,013 women, 154,709 men, and 30,848 children who were immigrants.
  • The top countries of origin for immigrants were Mexico (27.1 percent of immigrants), India (5.8 percent), Guatemala (4.5 percent), Egypt (3.5 percent), and the Philippines (3.4 percent).
  • In 2016, 285,789 people in Tennessee (4.3 percent of the state’s population) were native-born Americans who had at least one immigrant parent.

One in three immigrants in Tennessee is a naturalized U.S. citizen.

  • 120,762 immigrants (36.4 percent) had naturalized as of 2015, and 54,642 immigrants were eligible to become naturalized U.S. citizens in 2015.
  • Nearly three-quarters of immigrants (73.7 percent) reported speaking English “well” or “very well.”

Immigrants in Tennessee are distributed across the educational spectrum.

  • More than a quarter of adult immigrants had a college degree or more education in 2015, while nearly 30 percent had less than a high school diploma.  

Education Level

Share (%) of All Immigrants

Share (%) of All Natives

College degree or more

27.3

25.6

Some college

17.3

27.8

High school diploma only

25.8

33.6

Less than a high-school diploma

29.6

12.9

Over 70,000 U.S. citizens in Tennessee live with at least one family member who is undocumented.

  • 120,000 undocumented immigrants comprised 37 percent of the immigrant population and 1.9 percent of the total state population in 2014.
  • 151,743 people in Tennessee, including 63,621 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 (70,982 children in total).

Nearly 8,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients live in Tennessee.

  • As of 2016, 67 percent of DACA-eligible immigrants in Tennessee, or 9,321 people, had applied for DACA.
  • An additional 6,000 residents of the state satisfied all but the educational requirements for DACA, and another 3,000 would be eligible as they grew older.

Immigrants are an integral part of the Tennessee workforce across industries.

  • 211,557 immigrant workers comprised 6.6 percent of the labor force in 2015.
  • Immigrant workers were most numerous in the following industries:

Industry

Number of Immigrant Workers

Construction

32,587

Manufacturing

31,704

Health Care and Social Assistance

25,611

Accommodation and Food Services

25,399

Retail Trade

20,585

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

13.9

Construction

13.9

Administrative & Support; Waste Management; and Remediation Services

10.0

Accommodation and Food Services

8.0

Manufacturing

6.7

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 Tennessee labor force 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

30,939

Production

21,471

Building and Grounds Cleaning & Maintenance

19,888

Food Preparation and Serving Related

18,425

Sales and Related

18,275

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

22.7

Life, Physical, and Social Sciences

16.8

Construction and Extraction

15.7

Building and Grounds Cleaning & Maintenance

13.0

Computer and Mathematical Sciences

10.2

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

  • Undocumented immigrants comprised 2.8 percent of the state’s workforce in 2014.

Immigrants in Tennessee have contributed billions of dollars in taxes.

  • Immigrant-led households in the state paid $1.5 billion in federal taxes and $493.9 million in state and local taxes in 2014.
  • Undocumented immigrants in Tennessee paid an estimated $107.5 million in state and local taxes in 2014. Their contribution would rise to $118.3 million if they could receive legal status.
  • DACA recipients in Tennessee paid an estimated $21.3 million in state and local taxes in 2016.

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

  • Tennessee residents in immigrant-led households had $5.9 billion in spending power (after-tax income) in 2014.

Immigrant entrepreneurs in Tennessee generate hundreds of billions of dollars in business revenue.

  • 20,861 immigrant business owners accounted for 7 percent of all self-employed Tennessee residents in 2015 and generated $450 million in business income.
  • In 2015, immigrants accounted for 11.4 percent of business owners in the Nashville metropolitan area and 9.9 percent in the Memphis metro area (which straddles Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi).

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