Immigrants in Wisconsin

October 13, 2017

Wisconsin has a small but growing immigrant community, much of which emigrated from Mexico. While 5 percent of Wisconsin’s population was born in another country, over 7 percent of residents are native-born Americans with at least one immigrant parent. Across sectors, foreign-born residents support the state’s economy and are vital to the state’s labor force. For example, over 22 percent of all Wisconsin farmers, fishers, and foresters are immigrants, as are 12 percent of residents working in the computer and math sciences. As workers, business owners, taxpayers, and neighbors, immigrants are an integral part of Wisconsin’s diverse and thriving communities and make extensive contributions that benefit all.

Nearly 5 percent of Wisconsin residents are immigrants, while over 6 percent of residents are native-born U.S. citizens with at least one immigrant parent.

  • In 2015, 278,981 immigrants (foreign-born individuals) comprised 4.8 percent of the state’s population.
  • Wisconsin was home to 127,339 women, 127,799 men, and 23,843 children who were immigrants.
  • The top countries of origin for immigrants were Mexico (31.6 percent of immigrants), India (8.1 percent), Laos (6.6 percent), Thailand (3.7 percent), and China (3.5 percent).
  • In 2016, 379,613 people in Wisconsin (6.6 percent of the state’s population) were native-born Americans who had at least one immigrant parent.

More than two in five immigrants in Wisconsin are naturalized U.S. citizens.

  • 126,745 immigrants (45.4 percent) had naturalized as of 2015, and 50,860 immigrants were eligible to become naturalized U.S. citizens in 2015.
  • Almost four in five immigrants (79.4 percent) reported speaking English “well” or “very well.”

Immigrants in Wisconsin are concentrated at both ends of the educational spectrum.

  • Nearly 3 in 10 adult immigrants had a college degree or more education in 2015, while a slightly smaller share had less than a high school diploma.

Education Level

Share (%) of All Immigrants

Share (%) of All Natives

College degree or more

29.3

28.3

Some college

19.0

32.6

High school diploma only

22.9

31.7

Less than a high-school diploma

28.7

7.3

Over 55,000 U.S. citizens in Wisconsin live with at least one family member who is undocumented.

  • 80,000 undocumented immigrants comprised 27 percent of the immigrant population and 1.3 percent of the total state population in 2014.
  • 115,747 people in Wisconsin, including 49,928 born in the United States, lived with at least one undocumented family member between 2010 and 2014.
  • During the same period, 3 percent of children in the state were U.S. citizens living with at least one undocumented family member (43,101 children in total).

Nearly 7,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients live in Wisconsin.

  • As of 2016, 81 percent of DACA-eligible immigrants in Wisconsin, or 8,144 people, had applied for DACA.
  • An additional 2,000 residents of the state satisfied all but the educational requirements for DACA, and another 2,000 would be additionally eligible as they grew older.

Immigrants are vital members of Wisconsin’s labor force in a range of industries.

  • 183,626 immigrant workers comprised 5.9 percent of the labor force in 2015.
  • Immigrant workers were most numerous in the following industries:

Industry

Number of Immigrant Workers

Manufacturing

45,653

Health Care and Social Assistance

23,383

Accommodation and Food Services

19,185

Educational Services

18,319

Retail Trade

14,928

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

11.2

Administrative & Support; Waste Management; and Remediation Services

10.2

Other Services (except Public Administration)

7.9

Manufacturing

7.2

Accommodation and Food Services

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 an integral part of the Wisconsin workforce across occupations.

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

Occupation Category

Number of Immigrant Workers

Production

34,182

Office and Administrative Support

15,950

Transportation and Material Moving

15,178

Food Preparation and Serving Related

14,771

Management

14,667

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

22.3

Life, Physical, and Social Sciences

15.4

Computer and Mathematical Sciences

12.3

Building and Grounds Cleaning & Maintenance

9.7

Production

9.3

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

  • Undocumented immigrants comprised 1.9 percent of the state’s workforce in 2014.

Immigrants in Wisconsin contribute billions of dollars in taxes every year.

  • Immigrant-led households in the state paid $1.4 billion in federal taxes and $675.4 million in state and local taxes in 2014.
  • Undocumented immigrants in Wisconsin paid an estimated $71.8 million in state and local taxes in 2014. Their contribution would rise to $91.7 million if they could receive legal status.
  • DACA recipients in Wisconsin paid an estimated $17.8 million in state and local taxes in 2016.

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

  • Wisconsinites in immigrant-led households had $5.5 billion in spending power (after-tax income) in 2014.

Immigrant entrepreneurs in Wisconsin generate nearly a quarter-billion dollars in annual business revenue.

  • 14,866 immigrant business owners accounted for 5.4 percent of all self-employed Wisconsin residents in 2015 and generated $249.5 million in business income.
  • In 2015, immigrants accounted for 30 percent of business owners in the Milwaukee/Waukesha/West Allis metropolitan area, 20.3 percent in the Chicago/Naperville/Joliet metro area (which extends from Illinois to Wisconsin and into Indiana), and 6 percent in the Minneapolis/St. Paul/Bloomington metro area (which spans Minnesota and Wisconsin).

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