Immigrants in Tennessee

August 6, 2020

Tennessee has a small but growing immigrant community, with many hailing from Mexico. While 1 in 20 Tennesseans was born in another country, immigrants are a vital share of the labor force. Roughly 17 percent of all Tennessee residents working in construction and extraction are immigrants, as well as 15 percent of life, physical, and social sciences 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 Tennessee’s diverse and thriving communities and make extensive contributions that benefit all.

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

  • In 2018, 348,562 immigrants (foreign-born individuals) comprised 5 percent of the population.
  • Tennessee was home to 158,500 women, 157,509 men, and 32,553 children who were immigrants.
  • The top countries of origin for immigrants were Mexico (24 percent of immigrants), India (5 percent), Honduras (4 percent), China (4 percent), and Egypt (4 percent).
  • In 2018, 269,996 people in Tennessee (4 percent of the state’s population) were native-born Americans who had at least one immigrant parent.

Two out of five immigrants in Tennessee are naturalized U.S. citizens.

  • 140,557 immigrants (40 percent) had naturalized as of 2018, and 60,484 immigrants were eligible to become naturalized U.S. citizens in 2017.
  • More than three in four (77 percent) immigrants reported speaking English “well” or “very well.”

Immigrants in Tennessee are distributed across the educational spectrum.

  • One-third (34 percent) of adult immigrants had a college degree or more education in 2018, while more than one-fourth (27 percent) had less than a high school diploma.

Education Level

Share (%) of All Immigrants

Share (%) of All Natives

College degree or more

34

27

Some college

15

29

High school diploma only

23

32

Less than a high school diploma

27

11

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

Tens of thousands of U.S. citizens in Tennessee live with at least one family member who is undocumented.

  • 130,000 undocumented immigrants comprised 38 percent of the immigrant population and 2 percent of the total state population in 2016.
  • 151,743 people in Tennessee, including 70,982 U.S. citizens, lived with at least one undocumented family member between 2010 and 2014.
  • During the same period, about 4 percent of children in the state were U.S. citizens living with at least one undocumented family member (56,518 children in total).

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

  • 7,650 active DACA recipients lived in Tennessee as of March 2020, while DACA has been granted to 9,123 people in total since 2012.
  • As of 2019, 59 percent of DACA-eligible immigrants in Tennessee had applied for DACA.
  • An additional 5,000 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 an important part of the Tennessee workforce across industries.

  • 228,857 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

43,997

Construction

34,203

Accommodation and Food Services

32,902

Health Care and Social Assistance

24,372

Retail Trade

20,447

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)

Construction

14

Accommodation and Food Services

10

Administrative Support and Waste Management and Remediation Services

10

Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing, and Hunting

9

Manufacturing

9

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 Tennessee workforce in a range of occupations.

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

Occupation Category

Number of Immigrant Workers

Construction and Extraction Occupations

33,479

Transportation and Material Moving Occupations

27,329

Food Preparation and Serving Related

25,769

Production Occupations

23,637

Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance

21,075

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)

Construction and Extraction

17

Life, Physical, and Social Science

15

Building and Grounds Cleaning & Maintenance

13

Architecture and Engineering

11

Food Preparation and Serving Related

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 3 percent of Tennessee’s workforce in 2016.

Immigrants in Tennessee have contributed billions of dollars in taxes.

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

  • Tennessee residents in immigrant-led households had $8.2 billion in spending power (after-tax income) in 2018.

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

  • 26,240 immigrant business owners accounted for 8 percent of all self-employed Tennessee residents in 2018 and generated $731.7 million in business income.

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