Measuring progress. Inspiring action.

July, 2013

Immigration in Minnesota: 5 things you should know


Craig Helmstetter

While Minnesota still has proportionally fewer immigrants than the U.S. as a whole (7% compared with 13% nationally), the state’s foreign-born population is actually increasing faster than the national average—in Minnesota, it has tripled since 1990, but only doubled nationally.

Former Compass project manager Craig Helmstetter points out 5 things Minnesotans should know about this growing population.

1. Minnesota’s immigrant population is different from the U.S. as a whole.

Over half of all immigrants nationally are from Latin America, including Mexico. In Minnesota, less than a third of the immigrant population is from Latin America. Nationally only 4 percent of the immigrant population is from Africa. Here that figure is 20 percent.

While the Twin Cities area remains the most common destination for immigrants, the foreign-born population is growing throughout the state and looks very different in each region.

On top of that is the fact that immigrants in Minnesota are much more likely to be refugees fleeing war-torn countries than are immigrants in most other states.

2. As a group, immigrants are younger.

If you plot on a graph the number of people in each age category by 5-year increments by nativity, you will see a very obvious bulge among the native-born population, representing the baby boom generation. That bulge does not exist, however, for the state’s immigrant population, whose median age is somewhere in the low 30s. That has big implications for our currentand futureworkforce.

3. Some immigrants are highly educated (others are not).

It may not surprise you that a higher proportion of Minnesota’s native-born population has a high school diploma than does our immigrant population (94% compared with 73%). It may, however, surprise some of you that advanced degrees are slightly more common among the state’s immigrant population than the native-born population (14% and 10%, respectively).

4. Most immigrants are employed, especially those who have been here 5 or more years.

The best comparative data that we have on workforce participation lags current market conditions by a few years, but it is still telling. According to census data collected from 2008-2010, about 70 percent of the local immigrant population age 16 to 64 was working for paynot far off the 75 percent reported for Minnesota's native-born population during that same time period. 

What’s more, the overall rate of immigrant employment is pulled down a bit by the lower rate of the most recent immigrants; the workforce participation for those who have been here fewer than 5 years is 56 percent. Those who’ve been here longer have a workforce participation rate that is slightly higher79 percent than the overall native-born population. Of course this does not mean that everyone is working in the jobs that they would like, or that our local economy is taking full advantage of the skills available among the immigrant workforcebut the same could be said for at least some of the native-born population.

5. Workforce participation rates vary considerably by specific immigrant group.

Almost by definition immigrants are a diverse group. Also push and pull factors lead to waves of immigrants at different times and with different skill sets. A snapshot of the largest immigrant groups in Minnesota shows workforce participation rates varying from highs of over 75 percent for those born in India, Liberia, and Vietnam to a low of 48 percent for the most recent of the larger immigration populations, Somali immigrants. Differences by gender are also dramatic.

Craig Helmstetter is a fourth generation descendant of German and Norwegian immigrants. He is also the former project manager of Minnesota Compass.

A new age of immigrants

This report from Wilder Research was commissioned by The Minneapolis Foundation to help promote constructive dialogue on the issue of immigration in Minnesota. It lays out immigration facts and poses unanswered questions.

Featured trend

Primary refugee arrivals in Minnesota

Minnesota sees smallest number of refugee arrivals in more than a decade

Last year marked the smallest number of primary refugee arrivals in Minnesota over the last 17 years. About 670 refugees resettled in Minnesota in 2018, nearly half originally from Burma. Primary refugees are individuals who arrive directly in Minnesota from a country of asylum or refugee camp, while secondary refugees (not included in calculations) are those who migrate to Minnesota after arriving in a different state of resettlement.


Learn more about Minnesota’s immigrant population.

Data Update

Our state continues to see improvements in on-time high school graduation. Eighty-three percent of high school students graduated within four years in 2018, up from 78 percent in 2012.

Our Mexican-born population remains the largest immigrant community in Minnesota. Hmong, Somali, and Indian immigrants are tied for our second largest immigrant communities.

Hennepin County remains the most populous county in Minnesota, home to more than double the number of residents of any other county in the state.

Every county in the state has seen a 3 to 7 percentage point decline in the share of residents lacking health insurance since 2013, the first year of full implementation of the Affordable Care Act.