Assessing Language Barriers for Immigrant Entrepreneurs

As job creators for local communities, many immigrant entrepreneurs face significant language barriers to access financial aid and other assistance as they struggle to recover from the recession caused by COVID-19.

Our analysis of data from the American Community Survey shows that more than one in five immigrant entrepreneurs in the United States, or nearly 773,000 people, had limited English proficiency in 2018. This includes almost 182,000 immigrant business owners who reported being unable to speak English at all and more than 591,000 who could not speak it well.

Figure 1: Immigrant Entrepreneurs With Limited English Proficiency

Number of Immigrant Entrepreneurs Share of All Immigrant Entrepreneurs
Limited English Proficiency 772,925 23.8%
- Unable to speak English at all 181,776 5.6%
- Unable to speak English well 591,149 18.2%
Source: NAE analysis of 1-year sample from the 2018 American Community Survey

Seven states have a higher than national average share of immigrant entrepreneurs with limited English proficiency, including Texas (35.2 percent), followed by Arizona, Louisiana, Tennessee, California, South Carolina, and Florida.

Figure 2: Immigrant Entrepreneurs With Limited English Proficiency in Select States

Share of Immigrant Entrepreneurs With Limited English Proficiency
National Average 23.8%
Texas 35.2%
Arizona 28.1%
Louisiana 27.8%
Tennessee 27.3%
California 27.3%
South Carolina 26.3%
Florida 25.7%

Source: NAE analysis of 1-year sample from the 2018 American Community Survey

In the industries hit the hardest by COVID-19, more than one in three immigrant business owners in general services, including barber shops and laundry services, three in 10 in construction, and one in four in hospitality do not speak English well.

Figure 3: Immigrant Entrepreneurs With Limited English Proficiency in Select Industries

Number of Immigrant Entrepreneurs With Limited English Proficiency Share of Immigrant Entrepreneurs With Limited English Proficiency
General Services 192,986 35.3%
Construction 176,924 30.8%
Hospitality 48,998 29.1%
Manufacturing 20,268 23.1%
Professional Services 132,261 21.1%
Retail Trade 48,888 19.7%
Source: NAE analysis of 1-year sample from the 2018 American Community Survey

Language assistance is particularly in demand among Hispanic immigrant entrepreneurs, with more than one third (37.0 percent), or 567,500 people, having limited English proficiency, and Asian immigrant entrepreneurs, with nearly one in five (19.0 percent), or 140,500 people, not speaking English well.

Among immigrant entrepreneurs with limited English proficiency, Spanish is the top language spoken at home other than English (67.6 percent), followed by Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Portuguese.

Figure 4: Common Languages for Immigrant Entrepreneurs With Limited English Proficiency

Number of Immigrant Entrepreneurs With Limited English Proficiency Share of Immigrant Entrepreneurs With Limited English Proficiency
Spanish 568,148 67.6%
Chinese 45,627 8.0%
Vietnamese 38,810 6.4%
Korean 30,500 5.0%
Portuguese 12,934 1.7%
Source: NAE analysis of 1-year sample from the 2018 American Community Survey

These language barriers underscore the importance of targeted efforts for supporting immigrant entrepreneurs. To help local communities better understand the challenges facing immigrant entrepreneurs and promote an inclusive economic recovery, New American Economy has released a new toolkit, developed in partnership with Bloomberg Associates, the philanthropic consulting arm of Bloomberg Philanthropies. Find the full toolkit, Supporting Immigrant and Refugee Entrepreneurs, here.

For more information, please check out our research portal of Immigration and Covid-19 with weekly updates. If you have any specific questions about our data, please reach out to us at info@newamericaneconomy.org.

About Us

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…