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Rhode Island: Immigrant Entrepreneurs and Welcoming Initiatives in the Ocean State

In Rhode Island, there is no doubt that immigrant entrepreneurs and innovators play an important role. Immigrant entrepreneurs bring in additional revenue, create jobs, and contribute significantly to the state’s economy. Highly skilled immigrants are vital to the state’s innovation industries, and to the metropolitan areas within the state, helping to boost local economies. Furthermore, local government, business, and non-profit leaders recognize the importance of immigrants in their communities and support immigration through local “welcoming” and integration initiatives.

Immigrant entrepreneurs contribute significantly to Rhode Island’s economy.

  • From 2006 to 2010, there were 6,478 new immigrant business owners in Rhode Island, and in 2010, 14.4 percent of all business owners in Rhode Island were foreign-born.

  • In 2010, new immigrant business owners had a total net business income of $360 million, which is 13 percent of all net business income in the state.

Highly skilled immigrants are vital to Rhode Island’s innovation industries, which in turn helps lead American innovation and creates jobs.

  • Immigrants contribute to Rhode Island’s economic growth and competitiveness by earning degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields from the state’s research universities. In 2009,  45 percent of STEM graduates from the state’s research-intensive universities were foreign-born, and more than 68 percent of graduates earning PhDs in engineering in Rhode Island were not born in the U.S.

  • In 2011, the U.S. Department of Labor certified 921 H-1B labor certification applications in Rhode Island, with an average annual wage of $67,787, which is higher than both Rhode Island’s median household income of $56,102 and its per capita income of $30,005.

  • An expansion of the high-skilled visa program would create an estimated 1,400 new jobs in Rhode Island by 2020. By 2045, this expansion would add around $447 million to Gross State Product and increase personal income by more than $516 million. The following is an example of metropolitan area demand for high-skilled foreign-born workers. 
    • The Providence-New Bedford-Fall River metropolitan area had 1,065 H-1B high-skilled visa requests in 2010-2011, with 65 percent of H-1B visa-holders working in STEM occupations. A major employer with a need for H-1B high-skilled workers includes Brown University.

While the numbers are compelling, they don’t tell the whole story.

  • Immigrant entrepreneurs not only contribute to large innovative companies, but to small business formation in local communities. In towns throughout Rhode Island, immigrant family-owned small businesses contribute to the vitality of their local communities. Although initially aimed at other immigrant customers, many businesses quickly see an expansion of their clientele to include a diverse array of immigrant and native-born customers alike.

  • In Cranston, Haruki Kibe, from Japan, opened his first restaurant in 1986 called HARUKI, specializing in sushi. Haruki has since expanded to Providence with Haruki East in Wayland Square and Haruki Express on Waterman Street.

  • In Providence, Omar and Cesin Curi, brothers originally from Bolivia, own and operate Los Andes restauranton Chalkstone Avenue, serving Bolivian and Peruvian cuisine.
    • Today, Los Andes restaurant is thriving and is widely popular among the broader community, as indicated by hundreds of positive reviews on Yelp, TripAdvisor, and other review sites. Additionally, in 2012, Providence Monthly and Rhode Island Monthly awarded Los Andes as “Best Dining Experience”, “South American Cuisine of the Year”, and “Best Exotic Menu”.
  • Also in Providence, photographer Berge Ara Zobian, originally from Syria, but who grew up in Lebanon, openedhis own art gallery in 2001. Gallery Z is located on Atwells Avenue, and was one of the first fine art galleries in Federal Hill.

  • Patrick Griffin, originally from Ireland, owns and operates Patrick’s Pub on Smith Street in Providence, which he opened in 1992. The pub, not far from the Rhode Island Capitol, presents an Irish atmosphere with traditional Irish and American food and beverages, and provides Irish entertainment, music, and dancing. After starting his bar, Griffin noticed there was no Irish parade in Providence. Today, Griffin is Providence’s Saint Patrick’s Day Parade committee president.

In Rhode Island, some localities have begun recognizing and supporting immigration through local “welcoming” and integration initiatives.

  • Welcoming Rhode Island, an affiliate of Welcoming America, is an initiative designed to “shift the topic of immigration away from contentious debate and to encourage rational and respectful dialogue.” 
    • Specifically, Welcoming Rhode Island’s mission is to “bridge the divide between foreign-born newcomers and U.S.-born Rhode Islanders to foster a more inclusive and welcoming atmosphere.”
    • Welcoming Rhode Island is guided by a statewide advisory committee and is comprised of community leaders and organizations from a variety of backgrounds and sectors around the state, including community agencies, law enforcement, business, local government, and faith-based groups.


Download the Infographic here.




Published On: Thu, Aug 15, 2013 | Download File