American Heartland Cities Are the Fast-Growing Immigration Hubs

Cities in the U.S. heartland have turned into hubs for immigration, a new study shows, helping in some cases to reverse generations of declining birthrates.

Columbus, Ohio, and Des Moines, Iowa, are among the metropolitan areas with the fastest-growing foreign-born population, according to the Heartland Forward think tank, which focuses on the region’s economic performance. In the past decade, they have attracted newcomers at a much faster pace than historical magnets of immigration like New York City or Los Angeles.

Overall, the heartland, which includes 20 central U.S. states, has seen the share of its population born outside the U.S. jump to 31.1% in 2019 from 23.5% in 2010, according to Heartland Forward, which analyzed Census Bureau data.

American Heartland Cities Are the Fast-Growing Immigration Hubs

In urban centers such as Des Moines, Columbus and Louisville, Kentucky, the number of foreign-born people has jumped more than 40% in the decade through 2019. During that time, that number rose about 5% in the New York City metro area, while in Los Angeles, it declined.

The influx has helped to fill labor shortages, particularly in manufacturing and agriculture. Immigrants are moving to places like Houston rather than New York in large part because of better economics, the report’s authors said.

“The main hotspots, not surprisingly, are parts of the Heartland that have experienced the most robust economic growth,” the authors said.

With birth rates on a secular decline in the country, organizations such as the Economic Innovation Group have pushed for so-called place-based visas to help bring new workers where they are needed.

This visa type would allow cities and counties to petition for higher levels of immigrants to support their growth. The holders of these visas would be required to work and reside in the city or county that petitioned for them.

“One obvious response is to enact immigration policy that aligns the economic interests of struggling areas with the aspirations of those looking to build a better life and contribute to our economy,” said John Lettieri, president and chief executive officer at EIG. “A heartland visa for skilled immigrants would be just such a program.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.