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A View from Kansas

Demographic Trends and Data


In 1990 immigrants made up 2.5% of Kansas’ total population. That percentage grew to 5% in 2000, and to 6.5% in 2010.


The figures below compare the share of the immigrant population in Kansas compared with other states in the Midwest, and the growth of that population between 1990 and 2010.


The foreign-born population in Kansa grew by 197% between 1990 and 2010.


Since FY 2000, Kansas has become home to 2,378 refugees from 30 different countries. The majority of these refugees came to the state from Burma (623), Bhutan (367), Somalia (213), Iraq (193), and Vietnam (184). Additionally, roughly 31 asylees settle in Kansas each year. Similar to most states in the region, refugees from Burma and Bhutan are fastest growing core groups. Though in much smaller numbers, arrivals from countries like Somalia and Iran have been steady over the past decade. Arrivals from Vietnam (a historically important refugee group), meanwhile, are steadily decreasing.

Kansas hosts fewer refugees than any other state in the Midwest. As of FY 2010, refugees constitute roughly 1.1% of the state’s total foreign born population, slightly lower than the national proportion of refugees to foreign born. The actual number of refugees living in Kansas may be higher, however, given the larger number of refugee arrivals just across the river in Kansas City, Missouri. Moreover, the meatpacking industry, particularly in Western communities such as Garden City, historically has attracted a considerable amount of secondary migration, particularly among Vietnamese refugees.


Local resettlement agencies in the Kansas include Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Kansas City (Kansas City, KS), Catholic Agency for Refugee and Migration Services (Garden City), Catholic Charities of Wichita (Wichita), and Jewish Vocational Services (Kansas City, MO).


The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that the proportion of undocumented immigrants, as a share of the total population of Kansas, has increased 233% between 1990 and 2010, though the proportion of undocumented persons remains mall. It is important to emphasize that these numbers are only broad estimates. The actual numbers may be quite different. The figure below compares the estimated percentage of the total population that is undocumented in Kansas among the 12 Midwestern states and the United States.


Twelve percent of the population in Witchita and Kansas City suburbs were foreign-born in 2010, compared with 8% of urban and 3% of rural residents. Between 2000 and 2010 the population increased most dramatically in rural areas.

An examination of data on immigrants living in metropolitan areas in Kansas demonstrates that the overwhelming majority (68%) live in Kansas City. The other major metropolitan areas in Kansas saw little change in the proportion of Foreign-born residents between 2000 and 2010.



In Kansas, and across the region, in 2010 a larger percentage of immigrants (61%) than US-born residents (52%) were currently married. The total household size of the foreign-born was also larger—3.4 individuals, compared with 2.5 for the native-born. Household members can be either relatives, or unrelated individuals. Percent Currently Married, 2010: Kansas

Immigration History

Kansas is located in the geographic center of the continental United States. Its history as a way station for westward-bound explorers, adventurers, and scallywags dates back to the 16th century, when Francisco Vásquez de Coronado journeyed through the region during his search for the fabled Seven Cities of Gold. The territory would not have a significant European-born presence for more than three centuries.

Due to a mixture of native-born migrants hailing from both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, Kansas was a heavily contested territory during the American Civil War, and famously devolved into a hotbed of internal violence known as “bleeding Kansas.” Following the cessation of hostilities, the first European immigrants began to settle in the state, during the mid-1860s. The majority of these early immigrants were Swedes who formed a colony south of Salina. They were soon joined by Germans west of Maryville, German-Russian Mennonites north of Newton, German-Russian Catholics near Hayes, and Czech immigrants west of Ellsworth.

A prominent feature of the history of immigration in Kansas is the state’s attraction for large groups of English-speaking immigrants from Ireland, Wales and Scotland. Southeastern Kansas attracted more such immigrants than any other Midwestern state during the early 20th century. In spite of this, Germans maintained their position as the state’s largest foreign-born group until the end of the 21st century, when Hispanics began to outnumber all other immigrant groups.

Hispanic immigrants began arriving in response to a shortage of farm workers in the state. Kansas, more than any other state in the region, has experienced an exodus of young, U.S.-born workers from rural to urban areas. As a result, Johnson County, home to Kansas City, is one of the fastest growing counties in the nation. This demographic urbanization has resulted in a dearth of workers in many rural industries, including agriculture, meatpacking and construction. To offset the shortage, employers in these industries began actively seeking Mexican and other Hispanic immigrants to fill the vacancies, drastically changing the makeup of the state’s foreign-born population.


In its simplest form ‘immigrant assimilation’ refers to a process whereby, over time, immigrants become indistinguishable from native-born residents. This process is neither one-way, nor linear, and not all changes lead to improved status. It also ignores the myriad ways in which native-born residents are influenced by immigrants.

To the general public two of the most visible markers of assimilation are language proficiency and socio-economic status. Clusters of poor, ethnically or racially distinct foreign-born residents with low levels of schooling and English proficiency perpetuate perceptions of difference and foster the impression that contemporary immigrants are not assimilating as quickly as white Europeans who came to the US at the beginning of the 20th century. Unfortunately, such perceptions are rarely accompanied by analyses of barriers to assimilation, or support for programs that might accelerate the integration of new immigrants.

Differences in such measures as English language ability, home ownership and income depend upon much more than whether an individual was born outside or inside of the US. There are important differences in the ease of assimilation that depend upon the age and skill level that an immigrant has when he or she enters the country, and the kinds of opportunities that are available after arrival. It is important to keep these factors in mind when comparing the experiences of immigrants in various states or regions of the US.


The general public often perceives immigrants to be concentrated in low-level jobs, but in actuality immigrant workers are fairly well dispersed across the skills spectrum; the most rapid growth in the employment of immigrants since 2000 has been in middle-skilled jobs that require more than a high school diploma, but less than a college degree. However, the greatest projected numbers of new jobs are those requiring low-levels of education and training. Between 1990 and 2006 the share of immigrant workers in each of the four employment sectors increased dramatically and outpaced the increase in native-born workers’ jobs in rate of increase, but not in absolute numbers, with the exception of construction.

Median earnings for the foreign-born and native-born in Kansas are shown below for 2010, and then median earnings of the foreign-born are further stratified by period of entry. It can be noted that the foreign-born who arrived in the earlier waves before 1990, or between 1990 and 2000, have higher median earnings than those who have arrived more recently.


In 2006 46% of foreign-born workers earned “family-sustaining wages,” compared to 59% of native-born workers. The percentages of foreign-born and native-born living below 100% of the Poverty Level in Kansas are shown below for 2010.


One indication of assimilation over time is that the poverty rate for naturalized citizens was considerably lower than that for non-citizens, and even lower than that for native-born citizens. Because immigrants must be legal permanent residents for at least five years before naturalizing, the income difference may indicate that incomes are improving over time. It could also be the result of a “self selection” effect, whereby those individuals who elect to become citizens, and who learn enough English and civics to pass the citizenship test are also those who will achieve some economic success. It is likely that both factors are at work.

Immigrants who were born in Asia and Europe had considerably higher mean incomes than those born in Latin America (not shown).

Some kinds of demographic and socio-economic data are only available for racial/ethnic groups, rather than for immigrants. In the absence of data on such measures as home or business ownership among immigrant groups it may be of interest to compare these measures for Hispanics or Asians with the important caveat that the comparisons include a majority of native-born residents.

Data on business ownership from the 2010 Census shows that the total Asian population (native and foreign-born) in Indiana own businesses in the state equal to their share of the total population; however, consistent with Midwest trends, the Hispanic population own businesses at a lower rate than their proportion of the population.


Although the percentages of Kansas businesses owned by US- or foreign-born Asians and Hispanics are small, they account for 4,833 and 5,733 firms respectively. The positive impact of immigrant integration into the business sector in Kansas is additionally indicated by the fact that in 2007 immigrant businesses had combined sales and receipts of $2.7 billion in Kansas, and employed 20,600 workers.


Asians and Hispanics/Latinos have rates of home ownership that are similar to those in other Midwest states. In the 2007 American Community Survey, the percentage of all Hispanics (foreign-born and native-born) who were homeowners was 35%. Of the entire Asian population in Kansas, 62% were homeowners.


Immigrants in Kansas, and throughout the Midwest, had both higher and lower levels of education than native-born residents in 2010. By this we mean that they were both much more likely to have less than a high school diploma, and slightly more likely to have a graduate or professional degree. Educational attainment is a very important dimension of integration, as it is strongly related to other dimensions of integration such as income and English language proficiency. Nationally and in the Midwest, the children of immigrants tend to achieve higher levels of education than their parents, although Caucasian and Asian youth go further in school than do Hispanics (or African Americans, few of whom are foreign-born).

In Kansas, graduation rates were lower for Hispanic students (foreign-born and native-born combined) than for their Caucasian and Asian peers.


Similarly, the Hispanic dropout rate in Kansas in the 2007-2008 school year (3.9%) was almost two times that of White students (2.1%) and over twice the rate for Asian students (1.5%).
State testing data has come under scrutiny in recent years because of the connection between measures of student performance and federal funding levels. However, if the data can be believed, state tests in Kansas leave some room for optimism regarding improved student performance. According to the U.S. Department of Education, grade 8 students from all racial and ethnic groups demonstrated improved scores on state assessments of math and reading between 2004-05 and 2009-10, with an all-student increase of 10.6% in math and 9.2% in reading. The scores for Hispanic students went up at higher rates than these state-wide averages.

Despite the challenges facing Hispanic students, national data show that second generation immigrants exceed their parents’ education levels.

Higher educational attainment among members of the second-generation is not specific to Mexicans; it is consistent across all immigrant groups.


English Proficiency is collected by self-report in the Census and American Community Survey. Respondents can respond that they do not speak English, speak English only, or speak another language in addition to English. This final group is then divided further as they indicate how well they speak English as either “Very well,” “Well,” or “Not well.” The chart below compares English Proficiency in the foreign-born population, showing the percent of the foreign-born who identified themselves as speaking English “Well,” “Very Well,” or as their native/only language. There was a slight increase in the percentage of those speaking English well or better from 2000 to 2010 that is not significant; small levels of change may be due to sampling error; larger differences are likely be due to a combination of English language learning by foreign-born over time and higher English proficiency levels of more recent immigrants.

In 2010 70% of immigrants spoke English well, very well or fluently. This was on the low end of the spectrum of states in the Midwest, perhaps because of differences in the makeup of the foreign-born population or recency of arrival. Another factor in English ability may be the availability of programs for limited proficiency adults.

Levels of English language learning vary significantly within and between immigrant groups. More important than country of origin is the age at which an individual entered the US, and his or her level of education and literacy in their native language. In Kansas, 11% of the total state population spoke a language other than English at home in 2010, and 4% of the total population spoke English less than very well. . Three percent of households were linguistically isolated (meaning that all members of the household age 14 and over were limited English proficient).

The percentage of foreign-born residents who are limited English proficient (LEP) has remained relatively high over the years.


The children of immigrants in speak English at a much higher average rate than the total population of foreign-born in the state.

Similarly, immigrants who have naturalized as U.S. citizens (and who are likely to have been in the country longer) have lower rates of LEP than noncitizens.


Linguistic integration, like other measures of integration, varies among different immigrant groups. Among the foreign-born ages 5 and older in Kansas in 2009, those who spoke Spanish at home had the highest percent LEP, compared to speakers of Asian and Pacific, Indo-European, or other languages at home.

Though Hispanics in Kansas and across the Midwest are more likely to be LEP than other groups, national data show that, in comparison to predominantly white, European immigrants from the early 20th Century, contemporary Hispanic and Latino immigrants learn English at faster rates within the first five years of arrival in the United States. The same is true for the population of immigrants who arrived in the country between 1980 and 2000.



A clear measure of integration is the rate at which immigrants become naturalized citizens of the United States. Naturalization not only means becoming an American citizen, but generally also requires a demonstration of knowledge of American civics, history, and basic English language skills. In Kansas, 33% of all immigrants were naturalized citizens in 2010. Of immigrants in Illinois who entered the United States before 1980, 76% were citizens in 2009, the same as the national average. Immigrants who have been in the country the longest are most likely to naturalize.

The figure below compares the percent of naturalized citizens in Kansas and in the other eleven Midwest states, both in 2000 and in 2010.

In the 2008 elections, 4% of registered voters in Illinois were naturalized citizens or the U.S.-born children of immigrants. This proportion of the voting population is bound to rise, considering that the foreign-born voting-eligible population increased by 45% from 2000-2006, and that 88% of children with immigrant parents in Illinois were U.S. citizens in 2009.

As of 2012, however, representation of ethnic minorities among elected officials in Kansas remains disproportionately low relative to their share of the population; while 11% of the total population is Hispanic, only 3% of state legislators are ethnically Hispanic, and no state legislators are Asian, though Asians represent 2% of the total population.


Tomas Jiminez explained the value of intermarriage as an indication of integration by saying, “When individuals marry each other without regard to ethno-racial or national origin, it indicates that the social boundaries between groups are highly permeable.” Jiminez also highlighted the interconnection of various integration measures by pointing out that intermarriage rates are determined, in part, by English language acquisition and socioeconomic status, which shape opportunities to interact with those of different ethnic or national origins.

Data on inter-marriages between immigrants and native-born residents is not available, but between 2008 and 2010, 16% of all marriages in Kansas were interracial or interethnic. This is not only much higher than the Midwest average of 11%, it is higher than the national average of 15%.



10 immigration-related bills have been enacted in Kansas since 2008. State policy in Kansas features a mix of restrictive and expansionist laws concerning immigration.


2011 – Offender Registration Act (KS S 37). The immigration documents of sex offenders must be registered with the state.

2011 – Voter Photographic Identification (KS H 2067). A photo ID proving U.S. citizenship is required in order to vote.

2011 – Criminal code (KS H 2339). A charge of aggravated human trafficking is defined as the offender being 18 years old or older and the victim being under 14 years old.

2010 – Human Trafficking (KS S 353). The law establishes the definition of human trafficking to include the transportation, harboring, recruitment, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, coercion, or fraud for the purpose of subjecting the person to forced labor or involuntary servitude.

2010 – Judicial Branch Surcharge Fund (KS H 2476). Court fees for entries, certifications and other papers required in naturalization cases are to be set at the levels prescribed by the federal government.

2010 – Juvenile Offenders. (KS H 2506). This law clarifies that a petition to terminate parental rights is not required to be filed in a juvenile offender case when the juvenile is an unaccompanied minor refugee.

2010 – Criminal Procedure Recodification (KS H 2668). This law included a provision that makes it a class C misdemeanor to knowingly employ an undocumented worker.

2009 – Contraband and Scrap Metal (KS S 237). This bill concerns transactions of junk vehicles, scrap metal, or vehicle parts. Sellers are required to provide identification. The bill allows identifying numbers or ID cards issued by an official government entity from a country other than the United States to be submitted, provided that fingerprint records are also obtained.

2009 – Professional Nurse Licensure (KS H 2343). This bill addresses the licensure of nurses, including graduates from a foreign jurisdiction.


According to the National Council of La Raza, an Arizona-style law enforcement bill was introduced in Kansas in the 2010 and 2011 legislative sessions, but was rejected or refused consideration.

2010 – KS S 572. This provision of a budget bill was line item vetoed by the governor. It would have provided funding for migrant health and education programs.

Labor Force Data

The proportion of immigrants in the US labor force almost doubled between 1990 and 2010—from 9 to 16 percent, at a time when the percentage of native-born workers decreased from 91 to 84%. Although the foreign-born workforce makes up a relatively small percentage of the total labor force, it grew at a rate that was seven times faster rate than that for the native-born workforce.
Over half of immigrant workers in Kansas were born in Latin America, and a quarter are from Asia.

Immigrant workers in the state make up a smaller percentage of the labor force than in the US as a whole.

The top industries employing immigrants and US-born workers in Kansas in the state are similar, although foreign-born workers are more likely to work in manufacturing and construction, and are not heavily employed in retail trade.

Kansas had a higher state-wide unemployment rate in January of 2011 than five other states in the Midwest; immigrants in the construction industry (not shown) were particularly hard-hit.


In spite of the recession, demand for immigrant workers continued, and the percentage of foreign-born civilian workers increased by 49% in Kansas and by 40% nationally from 2000-2009. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an increased need for workers in a variety of high-skilled and low-skilled occupations, several of which have a shortage of US-born workers.

Although the foreign-born workforce makes up a relatively small percentage of the total labor force, it is growing at a much faster rate than the native-born workforce.

The foreign-born workforce in Kansas grew while the native-born labor force decreased over the period from 1990 to 2010.



Kansas has a small, but rapidly growing foreign-born population. Increases in the foreign-born work force  are key to the future prosperity of the state and the entire Midwest region.

The most dramatic demographic shift in the United States today is the aging of the population—a development that increases the tax burden on young workers who make payroll contributions to cover the costs of Social Security and Medicare. Aging has been accelerated by the out-migration of young native-born workers, a phenomenon that Rogerson and Kim aptly call “the emptying of the Bread Basket of its breadwinners.” A steady influx of immigrant workers is essential to maintaining a young and productive work force

Who's Involved

  • Juan Ochoa, President and CEO, Miramar International Group

    Mr. Ochoa is President and Chief Executive Officer with the Miramar Group, a full service international public relations firm with offices in Chicago and Mexico City. Mr. Ochoa was previously the Chief Executive Officer for the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA), which owns and operates McCormick Place, North America’s largest convention center; Hyatt Regency McCormick Place Hotel; and historic Navy Pier, the Midwest’s top tourist and leisure destination. Prior to joining the MPEA, Mr. Ochoa served for ten years as the President and CEO of the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (IHCC). Additionally, Mr. Ochoa has served on the Board of the Hispanic Congressional Caucus Institute for the past six years.

  • Jeannette Hernandez Prenger, President and Owner, ECCO Select

    Jeanette Prenger is founder and president of ECCO Select, an award-winning technology solutions integrator and human enterprise provider. ECCO Select and Prenger have been recognized locally and nationally for their accomplishments in the business community and for their philanthropic contributions. Prenger serves on numerous boards and currently serves as chair of Junior Achievement of Middle America and on the board of the Latino Coalition. A former presidential appointee she currently serves as an appointee of MO Governor Nixon on his Workforce Investment Board and as a commissioner for KC’S Mayor James on his Citizens Commission on Municipal Revenue.