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Metro Newsroom

Study Details Louisville’s International Population

Monday December 11, 2006

Louisville Metro partners with Washington-based Urban Institute

The Louisville community has several successful programs to welcome and integrate international residents, and should continue to focus in this area as the city’s population continues to grow more diverse, according to a study released today by Mayor Jerry Abramson and the Louisville Metro Office for International Affairs (OIA).

Urban InstituteOIA commissioned the study to help local businesses, service providers and organizations understand the needs of the region’s foreign-born population and its impact on the local economy. The study was conducted by the Urban Institute, an acclaimed economic and social-policy research institution based in Washington, D.C. Dr. Randy Capps, the author of the study and a demographer from the Urban Institute, is in Louisville to unveil the report with local officials. Capps is a recognized expert on immigration policy in the United States.

“Cities that embrace and welcome international residents are the cities that are going to be the most successful in the future,” Abramson said. “Louisville’s increasing diversity is both an opportunity and a challenge for our community, and this report will be our benchmark for continuing to provide a welcoming environment to help integrate our international residents into our society and our economy.”

Highlights of the study include:

  • Louisville’s international population is growing - While Louisville’s share of international residents is lower than the national average, it is growing faster. Between 2000 and 2004, Louisville’s foreign-born population grew by 93 percent, compared with 10 percent nationally.
  • Most of Louisville’s international residents are highly educated - Louisville immigrants are more likely than U.S.-born citizens in Louisville to have a four-year college degree, and they are more likely than immigrants nationally to have a high school diploma.
  • Louisville has a lower share of immigrants who are undocumented (18 percent) than the U.S. (27 percent) and most other Southeastern communities.
  • Louisville’s international residents have more diverse origins than immigrants nationally - Immigrants of Latin American origin, 38 percent (55 percent nationally), Africa, 15 percent (2 percent nationally), Asia and Pacific, 35 percent (26 percent nationally).
  • Louisville has a high share of refugees, due to its large federal refugee resettlement program - Refugees are individuals granted legal status due to persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution in their home countries. Louisville’s main resettlement agencies include Catholic Charities of Louisville, Kentucky Refugee Ministries and the Jewish Family and Vocational Service.
  • Educational attainment and income vary widely across the different immigrant groups - The fastest-growing immigrant group, Latin Americans, have the lowest educational attainment. Latin Americans, along with Africans, are also the poorest immigrants, while the median income for Asian and European immigrants exceeds that for native-born Louisville residents.

Louisville’s rapidly growing and increasingly diverse international population presents a number of challenges to the area’s local governments, as well as public and private institutions. Over the past seven years, the number of English as a Second Language (ESL) students grew by 122 percent from 900 to 2,000. Other institutions face a growing need for interpreter services.

“Immigrants are an increasing part of and important contributors to the Louisville economy,” said the Urban Institute’s Capps. “With that in mind, efforts to better integrate immigrants—including those listed in our report's recommendations—will greatly benefit the broader community of the Louisville region.”

The study made recommendations for Louisville to help integrate Louisville’s immigrants into the region’s economy, social fabric and political community:

  • Continue to welcome immigrants to Louisville to support the region’s future workforce growth.
  • Support efforts by the region’s employers and higher education institutions to attract highly skilled immigrants.
  • Expand adult education services.
  • Expand ESL classes to immigrant adults.
  • Help immigrants transfer education credentials from their home countries.
  • Provide translation and interpretation for critical public services with public institutions.
  • Build on the success of Louisville’s refugee resettlement program.
  • Focus on educating immigrants’ children in the public schools to ensure they learn English.
  • Increase immigrants’ access to health insurance and health care.
  • Plan comprehensive services to facilitate immigrants’ integration into the community. For instance, by building on the model of the refugee resettlement program and expanding services to other immigrants, working through OIA.

Louisville Metro’s Accomplishments:

  • Louisville is one of the few cities with a government office dedicated to raising awareness of the international community and encouraging growth on a global scale. The Mayor's Office for International Affairs (OIA) was established in 1999 and supports and promotes a vibrant, multicultural community through awareness, advocacy and referrals. OIA acts as a clearinghouse of information for all members of the community. OIA strives to create a multicultural environment recognized for its supportive climate and quality of life. An advisory council of 20 diverse members guides the work of the office.
  • March 2006, The National League of Cities named Louisville Metro winner of its City Cultural Diversity Award.
  • The Jefferson County Public Schools Adult Education program currently offers free ESL classes to adults throughout Louisville.
  • Local service providers have established “Building Futures,” a volunteer tutoring and mentoring program designed to help international children read English at higher levels. The program is managed by Kentucky Refugee Ministries and is a partnership with the Office for International Affairs, Kentucky Refugee Ministries and Jefferson County Public Schools.
  • Louisville has successful federal resettlement agencies who serve the immigrant and refugee populations. They include Catholic Charities of Louisville, Kentucky Refugee Ministries and the Jewish Family and Vocational Service. The Urban Institute study suggests that Louisville’s success in resettling refugees, especially with regard to employment, may provide lessons for the broader integration of immigrants and limited English speakers.
  • Louisville has an active Immigrant Services Task Force, through the Office for International Affairs and Department of Human Services.
  • The Transit Authority of River City (TARC) translated brochures into several languages.
  • Louisville EMS and the Louisville Fire Department translated emergency brochures into Bosnian, Spanish, Vietnamese and Arabic.
  • The Louisville Metro Police Department has created advanced Spanish classes for police officers. Several officers have traveled to Mexico for language classes.
  • OIA produces WorldFest, a two-day festival on Labor Day weekend to celebrate our local diversity. In 2006, over 60,000 people enjoyed the international flavors of our city with music, food and crafts. WorldFest kicks off Louisville‘s International Heritage Month in September. Several local groups, such as the Americana Community Center have ethnic festivals during the month.
  • OIA assists with an “international” Mayor’s Community Conversation (MCC), a monthly meeting of Metro directors held in a different location in Louisville. MCC brochures have been translated into Arabic, Bosnian, Spanish and Vietnamese.
  • The Louisville Metro Police Department has created a Latino Citizens Police Academy and International Citizens Police Academy for international residents.
  • Free “Citizenship” classes are available in Louisville.
  • Addressed compliance with Title IV within Metro Government through the Diversity Initiative.
  • OIA has sponsored specialized nursing, healthcare and business seminars for immigrants.
  • The Mayor’s International Award, sponsored by OIA, has honored several local agencies who have assisted the international community. For example, the Louisville Free Public Library was honored in 2004 for immigrant outreach programs; the Louisville Metro Police Department in 2005 for special Citizens Police Academies for citizens and Spanish language classes for officers; and the Family Health Centers was honored in 2005 for addressing social and cultural needs of the international community.
  • OIA produces an annual International Directory – an international resource guide, distributed free of charge.
  • Louisville Metro Health Department’s Mobile Heath Unit provides services to Somali and other Immigrants at Americana and Arcadia apartments.
  • Louisville Metro has access to Ciracom Interpreting services whenever necessary.
  • OIA has “Cultural Competency Trainings.”
  • Louisville Metro Police Department 574-LMPD tipline can receive calls in Spanish.
  • Spanish classes have been offered to Louisville Metro Employees.
  • Louisville Health Department has created the Center for Health Equity, which seeks to eliminate health disparities based on racial, ethnic and socio-economic factors.
  • Translations of key aspects of Louisville Metro Government’s website.
  • OIA produced an International Cookbook which highlights the diverse ethnic flavors of the community.

OIA is dedicated to supporting and promoting a vibrant, successful multicultural Louisville Metro community through referral, awareness and advocacy. The agency focuses its work on economic and workforce development, immigration, social services, language assistance, youth development and international protocol for the mayor.

Support for this report was provided through a partnership between the Louisville Metro Office for International Affairs and Americana Community Center, with funding provided by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, C. E. & S. Foundation, Inc., KentuckianaWorks and Greater Louisville Inc.

For a copy of the report and more information on Louisville’s efforts to support diversity, enter keyword “International” on the city’s website,, or call MetroCall 311.