For Pennsylvania, the Biden administration’s proposal to create a legal route for millions of undocumented migrants would mean more than a lot of new citizens – it would mean more money in state coffers.
Undocumented residents now pay around $ 135 million per year in local and state taxes. But granting them citizenship would increase that figure by 38%, or more than $ 51 million, according to a new study.
Indeed, having citizenship would allow migrants to obtain better paid jobs. And more would file tax returns. Both of these factors would increase state revenues, as undocumented immigrants left behind informal and unofficial economies. Who could fill these unofficial vacancies was not discussed.
These are among the findings of “The Economic Contributions of Pennsylvania ImmigrantsBy Muhammad Maisum Murtaza, Associate Researcher at the Keystone Research Center. The report also did not indicate who might be in informal jobs.
The center, which is working to produce practical recommendations for a better Pennsylvania, was assisted in the study by immigration advocacy groups CASA, Make the Road Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, and relied on on the research and expertise of the New York Policy Institute and the Migration Policy Institute in Washington.
It is far from certain that Congress will approve a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country. Even if it did, the road would not be easy or quick, with the Biden administration offering at least eight years and multiple background checks between an application for temporary legal status and full U.S. citizenship.
The study looked at where immigrants come from, how much they pay in different types of taxes, and factors that could increase that tax revenue.
Pennsylvania is home to approximately 893,000 immigrants, or about 7% of the state’s population. More than half are naturalized citizens, and others have various forms of legal status. Approximately 157,000 are undocumented, and approximately 50,000 of these residents live in Philadelphia.
They came to Pennsylvania from all over the world, 41% born in Asia, 31% in Latin America, 18% in Europe and 9% in Africa. Of the undocumented migrants, 60 percent come from Mexico, Central America and Asia. More than two-thirds have lived in the United States for at least five years.
They encountered particular difficulties during the pandemic.
“The hardships faced in 2020 have revealed the inadequate pay and lack of support our frontline workers receive,” the study says, noting that these workers are likely women, people of color, immigrants, or all three.
Immigrants make up 8% of the state’s workforce, but 9% of its frontline industries. And that number increases depending on the industry. For example, immigrants make up almost 19% of building cleaning workers and 13% of agricultural workers.
In many cases, immigrants pay taxes in programs which benefit others but from which they themselves are excluded. This includes federal stimulus checks that have helped keep many families afloat during the pandemic. And undocumented workers cannot receive unemployment benefits.
Overall, immigrants to Pennsylvania paid $ 10 billion in taxes in 2019, including $ 6.6 billion in federal taxes and $ 3.3 billion in public levies, according to the study.
According to the study, around 20% of adult university graduates aged 25 and over are underemployed or have underutilized skills. That’s compared to 16% of all American adults with a college education.
“The current contributions of immigrants to our state are significant,” the study said, but the opportunity to harness these unused skills creates “great potential for growth at very low cost.”