New Immigrants - Driving Economic Growth

Whether starting new businesses, advancing scientific and medical research, or working several jobs to support their families, immigrants are vital contributors to Greater New Haven and its economy.

The Community Foundation report, "Understanding the Impact of Immigration in Greater New Haven" identifies immigration patterns and the economic impact of recent immigrants.

Whether starting new businesses, advancing scientific and medical research, or working several jobs to support their families, immigrants are vital contributors to Greater New Haven and its economy. Seeking opportunities not available in their home countries, recent immigrants are among the most motivated and hard working members of the community. Like previous generations of immigrants, they also bring a diversity of food, art, celebrations, and other cultural assets to the region.

With its landmark Elm City ID card program, New Haven is known as a welcoming community. Yet the barriers imposed by a broken immigration system limit the full potential contributions of these newest members. National policy reform and continued efforts to integrate immigrants into the fabric of Greater New Haven are critical to the growth and prosperity of the region.

The Numbers

  • Since 1990, Greater New Haven's foreign born population has nearly doubled, to about 75,000 people, or 12% of the general population.
  • The foreign born population in Greater New Haven has increased by 38% since 2000
  • 40 percent of immigrants in Greater New Haven have a bachelor's degree or higher, as compared to 28 percent of immigrants in the U.S.
  • There are twice as many high-skilled immigrants as low skilled immigrants in Greater New Haven.

Fueling the Economy

At age 11, Tariq Farid emigrated from Pakistan with his family to the New Haven area. At 17, while a student at West Haven High School, he bought a flower shop. Within a few years he had three more shops in Greater New Haven and had developed a computer point of sale system for florists. And in 1999, he opened a new business in Hamden called Edible Arrangements. The fruit-basket company has since grown to more than 1,000 stores around the globe.

Farid's business success story is emblematic of the entrepreneurial spirit that new immigrants have brought to this country since its founding. And this spirit is more important than ever during this time of economic stagnation in the state. Immigrants are more than twice as likely to start a business as native-born Americans2. Despite being only 12.9% of the population, immigrants accounted for 28% of the new business creation in the country3. In Connecticut, 19% of all business owners are new immigrants4.

Contrary to claims that immigrants take jobs away from native-born Americans, immigrants supplement rather than overlap with the skills already represented in the workforce. An immigrant is likely to either possess an advanced degree or lack a high school education because he or she began working at a young age. Immigrants therefore address labor shortages in both high-skill and low-skill job markets5. Their contributions will be especially valuable in Connecticut, which has an elderly population that is growing at a faster rate than the people who are working age. The ability for the state and region to pay for the increased public services needed by older residents thus depends on the economic success of the foreign-born workforce6.

Yale University President Peter Salovey has noted that current law forces many talented and highly-skilled international students who would like to stay in the United States to return to their home countries upon graduation. In recent remarks, Salovey stated that Yale's "ability to recruit the best scholars and teachers, regardless of national origin, increases the wealth of talent available for teaching, research, and innovation and collaboration with industry for economic development."

Bringing Vitality

Grand Avenue, the commercial heart of New Haven's Fair Haven neighborhood, is a thriving urban district. The sidewalks are bustling no matter the time of day and nearly every storefront is filled. The business owners might be from Mexico, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Pakistan, or China.

"If it wasn't for the immigrant community, at least 75% of sales would not happen," says Frank Alvarado, chairman of the Grand Avenue special services district. "Because a lot of immigrants don't drive, they are out walking along the streets. They'll still shop in the neighborhood."

The ethnic diversity of Fair Haven is further illustrated by Santa Rosa De Lima, a center of community engagement and activism, which has congregants from 18 different countries from Central and South America. Many of the families have young children and a mix of relatives, yet they lack the social support of grandparents and a larger community of people from the same region, according to Father James Manship. As a result, many recent arrivals are coming together to forge a new community based on shared interests.

"Activism and community building initiatives have motivated non-English speaking parishioners to learn English and make their education a priority," Manship says.

New Haven is also home to a consulate office for Ecuador, the city's first since the Italian consulate operated in Wooster Square a century ago.

Diversity is also strong in many places throughout the region. West Haven is home to a Turkish community and Albanians are expanding in Ansonia. In Derby, 17 percent of its population is foreign born.

Historical Perspective

Following the great waves of European immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, New Haven had a far higher percentage of foreign-born residents than it does today. According to the 1910 census, 30 percent of Connecticut and 32 percent of New Haven was born in another country as compared to the 13% in the state and 17% in New Haven now.

And despite lower barriers to legal status in prior generations, a sizeable number of primarily European immigrants were undocumented. According to the 1940 U.S. Census, one third of the 50,000 foreign-born in New Haven did not have papers.

The path to legal residency has changed significantly in the last century. During the era of open borders, a foreign-born person could enter the country and apply for residency on his or her own. Today, entry is prohibited unless the immigrant is first sponsored by a family member who is already a legal resident or an employer. The waiting period for family-sponsored applications, which are the majority, can last a decade or longer. And employers sponsoring applications have to assume the risk of paying for the immigration proceedings.

Anyone who has lived in the U.S. illegally is prohibited from applying for residency. That leaves the estimated 11 million undocumented people, including those who were brought here as children, with no legal path to citizenship. For these people, the fear of being discovered is constant.

"The fear of deportation, the fear of law enforcement permeates whole household and keeps them in the shadows," says Angela Anderson, executive director of the International Institute of Connecticut, Inc. "So families won't take assistance."

Anderson says that New Haven fares better than most cities in the country in welcoming immigrants. In addition to the city offering Elm City ID cards regardless of residency status, the police department has committed to not detaining undocumented people for people for deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"To remove that element of fear and have them feel more integrated is really important from a public safety," Anderson says.

What The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven is Doing

In the last five years, The Community Foundation has invested more than a half million dollars of its responsive grants in the key nonprofits that are addressing immigrant issues including: Junta for Progressive Action, CONECT, Community Mediation, New Haven Legal Assistance, IIpsoculta, Apostle Immigrant Services, New Haven Sister Cities, IRIS (who provides legal programs for immigrants in addition to its refugee services) and Literacy Volunteers.

Programs that have been supported through these grants have included those that provide services and advocacy that improve the social, political and economic conditions of the immigrant community in Greater New Haven; support continuing civic engagement, public education and public policy influence for the issues of drivers' licenses, car registration and car insurance for the immigrant community; provide English language learning for adults; support cultural and arts performances; support the Immigration Dialogue-to-Action project; and support legal services for immigrants, including a special program to support legal assistance for immigrant youth seeking to apply for the deferred action program.

What is being done in Greater New Haven

ID cards

In New Haven in 2004, a growing movement to help immigrant populations was led by Kica Matos, when she was Executive Director of Junta. "The Elm City ID card initiative was really a community-based effort that came from the immigrant community," she said. The original plan was to change the laws to make it easier for immigrants to get drivers' licenses. When that proved too difficult, the plan to create a municipal ID program was undertaken7.

In 2007 New Haven made national news when it launched its Elm City Resident Card program, as a result of advocacy from Junta and Unidad Latina En Accion. "New Haven became the first city in the country to issue its own municipal IDs as part of an effort to protect and welcome immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, into the community." Since then 10,000 cards have been issued. "The Elm City Resident Card has helped foster a sense of belonging, a sense of being a real New Havener regardless of one's immigration status," Montos said.

Dream Act

In July 2011, the State of CT passed a law to allow children of undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates at Connecticut colleges and universities, as long as they have spent four years in, and graduated from, a Connecticut high school. Significantly Governor Malloy himself is the son of "undocumented immigrants"9.

Drivers' licenses

In January 2015, a law signed by Gov. Dannel Malloy that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain a diver's license will go into effect. The bill was the result of efforts by The Safe Driving Coalition, led by Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut (CONECT) which brought together a spectrum of community leaders and faith, labor, business and law enforcement organization to advocate for changing the requirements to obtain a driver's license.

Providing a path for immigrant drivers to be tested on their driving skills and purchase insurance will make the roads safer, raise revenue for the state, and allow more immigrants to drive legally to work, spend, and contribute to the economy.

Trust Act10

The proposed Trust Act in Connecticut would counteract the Federal "Secure Communities Act." It would prohibit police and sheriff's officials from detaining arrestees for possible deportation unless the suspects have previous convictions for a serious or violent felony. The measure is aimed at blunting federal immigration enforcement, in particular the Secure Communities program, under which fingerprints of arrestees are shared with immigration officials who issue hold orders.

DOC and local law enforcement have policies in place not to report to ICE, but judicial marshals at court and local communities enforce deportation orders for undocumented immigrants.

Resources for additional reading:


CT data:


Works Cited

1. Abraham, M, et al, (2013), Greater New Haven Community Index2012. New Haven, CT: DataHaven.

2. Fairlie, Robert W. "Open for business: how immigrants are driving small business creation in the United States." The Partnership for a New American Economy. Aug. 2012.

3. ibid

4. ibid

5. Roth, Diana. (February 2013). "The Economic Benefits of Immigration," Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.


7. Abraham, M, et al, (2013), Greater New Haven Community Index2012,. New Haven, CT: DataHaven.. p. 17



10. Trust acronym stands for "Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools"

© The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven
June 2014