The New Face of American Entrepreneurs . / Credit: Multi-ethnic group image via Shutterstock

Immigrants in the United States are punching above their weight, at least when it comes to small business ownership. Nearly one in five (18 percent) small business owner in the U.S. was born in another country, a new study released today (June 14) shows. By contrast, immigrants make up 13 percent of the population and 16 percent of the labor force.

 That is a marked change from the picture 20 years ago, when immigrants made up 9 percent of the labor force and 12 percent of small business owners, according to a report from the Fiscal Policy Institute's Immigration Research Initiative. The FPI is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and education organization.

Today, immigrant-owned small businesses represent a nearly $1 trillion slice of the American economic pie. The report shows that among small businesses with fewer than 100 employees, those in which half or more of the owners were immigrants had $776 billion in receipts, and employed 4.7 million people—14 percent of all people employed by small businesses. 

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Although immigrants play a big role in high-tech businesses — they make up 20 percent of business owners in computer systems design, for instance — many of the types of businesses where immigrants are most highly overrepresented are more likely to be found on Main Street than in a technology park: 37 percent of restaurant owners are immigrants, as are 49 percent of grocery store owners and 54 percent of people who own laundry and dry cleaners.

"Immigrants are playing a particularly important role in the kinds of businesses that bring people into downtown areas and help enliven neighborhoods," said David Dyssegaard Kallick, director of the FPI’s Immigration Research Initiative and author of the report. "I don't think immigrants are 'super-entrepreneurs,' but I do see that immigrants are playing an important and growing role across the American landscape. And it’s not just traditional immigrant gateways, it’s all around the country."

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