DIVERSITY
From Choose Washington 2023 -2024
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All Are Welcome in Washington

Why immigrants are flocking to the Evergreen State.

Diversity
A ferry traveler views the Seattle skyline.
Photo by Mark Downey courtesy of Washington State Tourism

by Lindsay Lopp
W

ashington state is 10% more diverse than it was 10 years ago. Census data show that over the last decade, the Evergreen state has become increasingly more diverse, so much so that if you picked two people at random, there is a 56% chance they would be from two different races or ethnic groups.

Many cities in King County, including Renton, Federal Way, Kent, Burien, Tukwila, SeaTac, Bellevue, Redmond and Newcastle, do not have a racial or ethnic majority. The Seattle Times reported that between July 2021 and July 2022 the county’s total population increased by almost 14,000 people, with 100% of that net gain from people of color. 

King County is also home to one of the top five fastest diversifying big cities of the decade, Seattle. From 2010 to 2020, the Emerald City’s Caucasian population decreased from 66% to 59.5%. During that time frame, Washington’s overall diversity index also shifted from 45.4% to 55.9%. 

And year after year the state is continuing to become more colorful.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, Washington has experienced a resurgence in immigration. During 2022, the state’s population grew by an estimated 86,750 people, with international migration accounting for 37,500, surpassing the previous high of 33,100 in 2015.

With Washington’s reputation as an immigrant-friendly environment, it’s no wonder these numbers are on the rise. 

 

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The largest metropolitan area in the state, the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metro, is one of the best large metros for immigrants arriving in the U.S., according to the Bush Institute’s Immigrants and Opportunity in American Cities report. The report, which was released in December 2022, ranked the area No.4 across three categories: large metros in the U.S. where immigrants are thriving, foreign-born productivity and highest median foreign-born household income. It was also ranked within the top 10 for foreign-born adult population share with a bachelor’s degree or higher. 

As of 2021, nearly 2.3 million Washington residents — 30% of the population — are immigrants or have at least one parent who is an immigrant. In the Seattle metro alone, which includes King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, 39% of the population (1.6 million people) are foreign-born or have at least one parent who is. 

According to the Bush Institute, metro areas with a high foreign-born population tend to perform better than most other places in a multitude of ways, such as:  

  • Household incomes, in both native-born and foreign-born populations
  • Innovation
  • Universities with large innovation impact
  • Productivity, both overall and in the technology sector
  • Startup businesses
  • Staffing in essential occupations like nursing
  • Construction costs and thus housing prices
  • Foodie culture and other measures of cultural appeal.

The report found that these benefits are key ingredients to making cities successful, thus explaining why attracting and retaining immigrants is vital to building prosperous economies in modern America. 

Success Starts with Support  

With that said, Washington’s history reflects a long string of supportive policies and resources for immigrants, ranging from employment assistance and housing programs to healthcare and legal aide.

 In 2021 alone, Washington state set aside $340 million for undocumented immigrants who were ineligible for unemployment assistance, King County approved $16 million for a first-in-the-nation program to help immigrants apply for citizenship and the City of Seattle budgeted $3.8 million for citizenship programs, legal defense and employment assistance. 

Most recently, in August 2023, the Washington State Department of Commerce awarded $15.4 million in grants to eight organizations across the state, expanding access to legal aid services for low-income immigrants.

“Everyone deserves to be safe, remain together with family and loved ones, and have the opportunity to go to school and earn a living,” said Mike Fong, director of the Department of Commerce. “The funding increase from the legislature this year is critical to ensure that emergency legal aid for refugees in Washington continues to expand.”

The organizations selected are expected to serve more than 2,700 clients annually, many with complex cases that could take years to resolve.

One of the grant recipients, The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, provides immigration legal aid to residents statewide. It prioritizes complex cases and individuals facing imminent situations, such as deportation, domestic violence, mental illness, the criminal legal system or other emergencies.

The other organizations that received funding provide services regionally and locally in more than two dozen counties across Washington. When choosing recipients, Commerce prioritized counties with the most Ukrainian arrivals. 

The following are the organizations selected and the communities they serve: 

  • Northwest Immigrant Rights Project – $12 million (statewide)
  • Entre Hermanos – $660,000 (serving King, Pierce, Skagit, Snohomish, Yakima counties)
  • Kitsap Immigrant Assistance Center – $600,000 (serving Clallam, Jefferson, Kitsap, Mason counties)
  • IRCO (Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization) – $500,000 (serving Clark, Cowlitz, Skamania counties)
  • Jewish Family Service of Seattle – $500,000 (serving King, Pierce counties)
  • Catholic Charities Eastern Washington – $400,000 (serving Adams, Asotin, Benton, Columbia, Ferry, Franklin, Garfield, Lincoln, Okanogan, Pend Oreille, Spokane, Stevens, Walla Walla and Whitman counties)
  • ReWA, refugee Women’s Alliance – $400,000 (serving King, Pierce, Skagit, Snohomish, Yakima counties)
  • Tacoma Community House – $340,000 (serving King, Kitsap, Lewis, Mason, Pierce, Thurston, counties.

Care Shouldn’t Cost an Arm and a Leg 

Washington’s pipeline of resources for immigrants is set to expand again when the new year begins. Starting January 1, 2024, all Washington residents, regardless of their immigration status, will be eligible to receive affordable health and dental coverage on the Washington Health Plan Finder, the state’s health insurance marketplace. 

The state already has a few programs that offer health coverage for undocumented immigrants, including Apple Health for children and pregnant individuals and the Alien Emergency Medical program. Yet this new healthcare opportunity, made possible through the approval of Washington state’s 1332 wavier, is set to open a whole new set of doors. 

Households will be able to purchase healthcare plans for their entire family under one deductible, even if they are undocumented. Enrollees with incomes up to 250% of the federal poverty level will also be eligible for Cascade Care Savings, the state’s new premium subsidy program. In 2022, Washington’s Legislature passed its Supplemental Budget, allotting $55 million annually to the savings program.

Currently, it is estimated that around 105,000 undocumented immigrants live in Washington without health insurance, so this opportunity is set to be a game changer for a slice of the state’s population. 

All in all, this program is just another way the state is letting immigrants know that there is room for them in Washington. With a chunk of the state’s population proudly from foreign-born families, the state has seen for itself the positive impact immigrants can have on the economy and plans to continue to welcome newcomers with open arms.  

Lindsay Lopp
Associate Editor of Site Selection magazine

Lindsay Lopp

Lindsay Lopp joined Conway Data in 2023. She is the assistant editor of the company’s Custom Content division and regularly contributes to Site Selection magazine. In 2021, she graduated from Pratt Institute with her BFA in Creative Writing and is currently completing her MFA in Popular Fiction and Publishing at Emerson College.





As the No. 1 state in the nation, Washington’s economic strengths continue to earn top honors and attract new investments.






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