Immigrants in North Carolina

October 6, 2017

North Carolina is home to a small but growing immigrant community. While nearly 8 percent of the state’s total population is foreign-born, immigrants make up a significant share of North Carolina’s labor force. Over 44 percent of all residents working in farming, fishing, and forestry occupations are immigrants, as well as over 20 percent working in computer and math sciences. As workers, business owners, taxpayers, and neighbors, immigrants are an integral part of North Carolina’s diverse and thriving communities and make extensive contributions that benefit all.

Nearly 1 in 12 North Carolina residents is an immigrant, while 1 in 15 is a native-born U.S. citizen with at least one immigrant parent.

  • In 2015, 794,684 immigrants (foreign-born individuals) comprised 7.9 percent of the state’s population.
  • North Carolina was home to 359,390 women, 379,964 men, and 55,330 children who were immigrants.
  • The top countries of origin for immigrants were Mexico (30.6 percent of immigrants), India (7.6 percent), Honduras (4.6 percent), El Salvador (3.6 percent), and Guatemala (3.3 percent).
  • In 2016, 658,217 people in North Carolina (6.7 percent of the state’s population) were native-born Americans who had at least one immigrant parent.

More than a third of all immigrants in North Carolina are naturalized U.S. citizens.

  • 297,427 immigrants (37.4 percent) had naturalized as of 2015, and 136,862 immigrants were eligible to become naturalized U.S. citizens in 2015.
  • The majority of immigrants (72 percent) reported speaking English “well” or “very well.”

Immigrants in North Carolina are distributed across the educational spectrum.

  • More than one-quarter of adult immigrants had a college degree or more education in 2015, while just under one-third had less than a high school diploma. 

Education Level

Share (%) of All Immigrants

Share (%) of All Natives

College degree or more

29.6

29.4

Some college

17.5

32.1

High school diploma only

20.4

27.1

Less than a high-school diploma

32.6

11.4

Over 200,000 U.S. citizens in North Carolina live with at least one family member who is undocumented.

  • 350,000 undocumented immigrants comprised 43 percent of the immigrant population and 3.4 percent of the total state population in 2014.
  • 429,169 people in North Carolina, including 186,930 born in the United States, lived with at least one undocumented family member between 2010 and 2014.
  • During the same period, 1 in 15 children in the state was a U.S. citizen child living with at least one undocumented family member (170,487 children in total).

More than 25,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients live in North Carolina.

  • As of 2016, 72 percent of DACA-eligible immigrants in North Carolina, or 29,584 people, had applied for DACA.
  • An additional 16,000 residents of the state satisfied all but the educational requirements for DACA, and another 8,000 would be eligible as they grew older.

One in ten North Carolina workers is an immigrant, together making up a critical part of the state’s labor force across industries.

  • 521,577 immigrant workers comprised 10.7 percent of the labor force in 2015. 
  • Immigrant workers were most numerous in the following industries:

Industry

Number of Immigrant Workers

Manufacturing

84,275

Construction

81,980

Accommodation and Food Services

64,141

Retail Trade

58,499

Health Care and Social Assistance

49,359

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

29.6

Construction

20.5

Administrative & Support; Waste Management; and Remediation Services

15.8

Accommodation and Food Services

13.6

Manufacturing

12.0

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 North 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

74,115

Production

65,249

Building and Grounds Cleaning & Maintenance

51,531

Food Preparation and Serving Related

46,035

Sales and Related

45,514

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

44.2

Construction and Extraction

24.1

Building and Grounds Cleaning & Maintenance

21.7

Computer and Mathematical Sciences

20.3

Production

14.8

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

  • Undocumented immigrants comprised 5 percent of the state’s workforce in 2014.

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

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

  • North Carolina residents in immigrant-led households had $14.2 billion in spending power (after-tax income) in 2014.

Immigrant entrepreneurs in North Carolina generate over a billion dollars in business revenue.

  • 55,867 immigrant business owners accounted for 11.7 percent of all self-employed North Carolina residents in 2015 and generated $1 billion in business income.
  • In 2015, immigrants accounted for 14.9 percent of business owners in the Raleigh/Carey metropolitan area and 11.8 percent in the Charlotte/Gastonia/Concord metro area.

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