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Report: Immigrants inject over $116 billion into Houston’s GDP

8 Aug

Anatomy of foreign-born residents spending and taxes in Greater Houston

With $31.9 billion in spending power and a contribution to the GDP of over $116 billion, the foreign-born population of Houston is a driver in the local economy that is shaping the city’s future, according to a report released Wednesday, based on data from 2014.

The report, commissioned by the Partnership for a New American Economy, estimates that the foreign-born population of the Greater Houston area — which includes the counties of Harris, Montgomery, and Fort Bend — contributed about $2.9 billion in state and local taxes in 2014, the year in review.

The calculation of the total taxes paid by new immigrants included property, income, sales and excise taxes levied by the state of Texas and municipal governments, the report says.
Of those taxes, Hispanics immigrants paid $1.5 billion, and Asian immigrants paid $852.4 million.

Alex Juarez, left, and Manuel Majano worked to finish the Tolerance sculptures project near the intersection of Allen Parkway and Montrose Friday, Feb. 11, 2011, in Houston.

PNAE is a coalition of more than 500 Republican, Democrat and independent mayors and business leaders who support immigration reform.

The report is based on data from the American Community Survey from 2009 and 2014, the 2010 Census, as well as the U.S. Congressional Budget Office and the National Association of Counties.

Highlighting the role that immigrants play in the economy, the report says that while they represent 24.7 percent of the Greater Houston Area, they also represent 24.4 percent of the area’s self-employed population. Foreign-born residents are more likely to start new businesses than American.-born residents in this area at a ratio of 11.7 percent vs. 7.5 percent.

According to the study, in 2015 Houston had eight Fortune 500 firms that were founded by immigrants or their children. Those eight corporations generated $282.2 billion in global revenue and provided employment to 125,611 people.

Lead by billionaire and ex-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, PNAE kicked off a nationwide campaign Wednesday called “Reason for Reform” with the purpose of creating awareness about what the group considers an economic need for an immigration reform.

Previous reports have provided information about immigrants from Houston, but only a few have focused specifically on the economic contributions and business participation of immigrants in this area as the newly released shows.

A report titled “A Profile of Immigrants in Houston, the Nation’s Most Diverse Metropolitan Area,” published by the Migration Policy Institute last year, shined some light on the immigrant population of the area, in particular about their household incomes (see the following infographic).

 Business and STEM

A second report, The Contributions of New Americans in Texas, also produced by PNAE, was released locally by Neighborhood Centers.

As the state with the second largest immigrant population, immigrants impact the Texas economy in several ways.

Firms owned by new immigrants generated $7.9 billion in business income in 2014.
Immigrants also play a role in advancing the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields. While they represent 16.7 percent of Texas’ population, new immigrants comprise 24.1 percent of STEM workers in the state, based on 2014 data.

Calle Houston

Still, the report indicates that Texas has a significant problem filling STEM jobs. While employers advertised 212,212 STEM job openings online in 2014, there were only 15,536 STEM workers looking to fill those positions.

“Our outdated immigration system, however, makes it difficult for STEM employers to sponsor the high-skilled workers they need to fill critical positions,” the report states. The H-1B visa application process is “problematic because it can slow the ability of firms to expand and add jobs for U.S.-born workers.”

The reports support what lawyer Judy Lee, of the firm Foster Global in Houston specializing in immigration, considers a misconception in the U.S.: the assumption that employers take jobs away from Americans by hiring skilled foreign workers.

“Employers would prefer to hire Americans for many reasons,” Lee said. “It’s expensive to hire foreign workers, and it’s a painfully bureaucratic process.

“Most employers realize that if they want to be competitive, they have to have the best worker,” Lee said. “But they face restrictive rules under the current immigration system to be able to fill their vacancies.”

Texas has thousands of international students and talents that leave the country or stay undocumented without being able to fill those demands, the PNAE report says. Several grassroots organizations are partnering with PNAE for local campaigns to promote a welcoming environment for immigrants.

In Houston, Neighborhood Centers announced an initiative, in partnership with the City of Houston and the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative, to formally recognize the area as a “Welcoming City.”

That is a designation created by a national network of nonprofits and local governments, called Welcoming America , that promote inclusive communities by developing programs and policies for immigrants.

Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago and New York City are the only major cities in America that have the “Welcoming City” designation.

“Houston is already absolutely a welcoming city, it’s one of the most welcoming in the country and the world,” said Alex Triantaphyllis, director of Immigration and Economic Opportunity at Neighborhood Centers.

However, the initiative is intended to “formally recognize Houston and make clear to everyone that indeed Houston wants to continue being one of the most diverse and welcoming cities,” Triantaphyllis said.

“This initiative has particular importance now in the context of a broader rhetoric about immigrants,” he said. “We want immigrants to know that if they are here and contribute to the society, we are here to welcome them.”

The initiative created a commission that will work on recommendations that are going to be presented to Mayor Sylvester Turner in November.