Report: One-third of essential workers in health, agriculture in City are immigrants
Published - 07/06/20 - 09:00 AM | 4186 views | 0 0 comments | 58 58 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer and UC San Diego’s U.S. Immigration Policy Center (USIPC) announced the release of a new report on Immigrant Integration in the City of San Diego that shows over one-third of essential workers in the health and agriculture sectors are immigrants providing critical services to residents and businesses.

Released during national Immigrant Heritage Month, the Immigrant Integration report was developed with the goal of providing insight into the City of San Diego’s foreign-born populations and their contributions to the City’s workforce, economy and overall diversity using the most currently available microdata from the U.S. Census American Community Survey. The report adds to a study conducted by the New American Economy in 2016 that analyzed immigrants throughout the entire County of San Diego. 

“San Diego has immigrants from around the globe that define our city and strengthen our diverse communities,” Faulconer said. “This report reinforces that immigrants are essential to our workforce, our economy and our shared identity. Using this data, we can focus our efforts to improve access to opportunity and assist refugees and new citizens as they pursue the American dream right here in San Diego.”

The USIPC at UC San Diego conducts and supports social science research to advance understanding of the foundations and consequences of U.S. immigration policy. USIPC Director Tom Wong, associate professor of political science at UC San Diego, led the study into the City’s immigrant populations. Wong has served as an advisor to the White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders under the Obama administration and currently serves on the 2020 California Census Complete Count Committee.

“These data make vivid the important role that immigrants play not only in San Diego’s present but also in the future growth of the city. From the essential role immigrants play in the city’s workforce, which includes being on the frontlines of fighting the global pandemic, to the education and skills they bring that add to the city’s human and social capital, the data show just how much San Diego’s story is also an immigrant story,” Wong said. “With Asian immigration expected to eclipse immigration from Latin America in the coming years, and as immigration trends shift to the continent of Africa and to the Middle East, the data also show that San Diego’s immigrant story is continuing to evolve, and I’m excited to see what the next version of this report will reveal.”

Important demographic findings from the report include that approximately one in four San Diegans is an immigrant – nearly twice the national average – and the average number of years spent in the U.S. among San Diego’s foreign-born population is nearly 23 years. Of the more than 115 countries and territories making up the City’s diverse immigrant populations, the report finds that immigrants who have contributed most significantly to the recent growth in the overall foreign-born population came from outside Latin America. By 2030, immigrants from Asia, including Middle Eastern nations as defined by the United Nations, are projected to be the largest immigrant group in San Diego.  

Regarding economic contributions, the report finds that immigrant workers are playing essential roles in the fight against the global pandemic. The U.S. has depended on essential employees in healthcare, agricultural, delivery, grocery, and custodial industries. In San Diego, the report estimates that more than one-third of the City’s essential health, food and agricultural workers are immigrants providing critical services to residents and businesses.

Immigrant-owned businesses generate billions in income for the region and city and during COVID-19, were heavily impacted by the closures and new restrictions for operations. Business owner, George Salameh of ALFORON Mediterranean Restaurant in the heart of City Heights that has been featured in the Wall Street Journal and on the popular television series “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” is an immigrant entrepreneur whose restaurant was born at the height of the 2008 economic crisis and has survived the COVID pandemic through community support.

“Growing up in Lebanon and watching my master chef father and his culinary family of great chefs could not help but shape who I am and the atmosphere I wanted to create in my own restaurant in City Heights. Losing it all and broke after the Great Recession, I founded ALFORON as a way to survive, sharing what I remembered of the flavors and history of Lebanese and French cuisines,” Salameh said. “We have won many awards and recognitions over the years, but the best part of our journey is how ALFORON and our team have been embraced by our community and San Diego as a whole. We will continue to cherish the support and succeed through our local community.”

Other highlights from the report include:

  • Economic Contributions – Immigrants in the City of San Diego earned a combined $9.91 billion in pre-tax wages and income in 2018. This translates to an estimated $2.68 billion in federal taxes and $946.3 million in state and local taxes. 

  • Languages – The foreign-born populations in San Diego speak at least 70 different languages and dialects, with the most prominent languages spoken being Spanish, English, Filipino/Tagalog, Chinese and Vietnamese. About half are bilingual and speak English well; about half have limited proficiency in English.

  • Education and the 21st Century Workforce – Over 30 percent of foreign-born persons who are 25 years or older have a bachelor’s degree or higher in the City of San Diego. The top five most-common degrees are engineering, business, biology and life sciences, medical and health sciences, and social sciences.

As the report notes, the latest Census microdata precede COVID-19, and subsequent surveys on employment and economic contributions will undoubtedly reflect the pandemic’s effects.

“Immigrants have long contributed to San Diego’s rich and vibrant culture, sharing the arts, flavors, and warmth of other parts of the world with those of us fortunate enough to live or visit here,” said Donna Duvin, executive director of U.S. Programs San Diego for the International Rescue Committee. “Importantly, immigrants have been woven into the strong economy and sense of community upon which San Diego prides itself…bringing their value of hard work, love for family, and entrepreneurial spirit to our workplaces and neighborhoods.”

"The data reminds us that San Diego County is home to a diverse immigrant population which plays an integral role in our society. As such, it is crucial that our city and county governments work to make certain that resources are accessible to all of our community members, and that immigrants are included in the civic process,” said Erin Tsurumoto Grassi, Human Rights Policy Advisor for Alliance San Diego. “Every city in our region should have a plan for immigrant integration, and the county and larger cities should have an Office of Immigrant Affairs to help immigrant residents navigate local government services and become more civically engaged. When we are at our best, we have welcomed immigrants and refugees, and we must continue to lead with our values of compassion so that every single San Diego resident feels like they belong and has the opportunity to thrive and achieve their full potential."

Across the nation cities and organizations are honoring Immigrant Heritage Month, which takes place annually in June to highlight the contributions immigrants have made and continue to make in the United States.

Last year, Mayor Faulconer hired the City’s first-ever Immigrant Affairs Manager following the release of the Welcoming San Diego Strategic Plan on Immigrant & Refugee Integration. The Immigrant Affairs Manager is tasked with facilitating the successful integration of immigrants, refugees and new citizens in San Diego. This role becomes increasingly important as the national conversation around diversity and equitable policies for all Americans shapes the future of San Diego. 

To read the full report or for more information on UC San Diego’s U.S. Immigration Policy Center, visit


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