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Frequently Requested Statistics on Immigrants and Immigration in the United States

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Frequently Requested Statistics on Immigrants and Immigration in the United States

Immigrants wave flags at a naturalization ceremony in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. (Photo: Old Salem Inc.)

Threaded throughout the history of the United States, immigration has taken on greater prominence in political and policy conversations amid debate over possible reforms to the immigration system, border and national security, and the U.S. role in resettling refugees at a time of record global displacement. Questions about the current and historical pace of immigration, the role of immigrants in the labor market, illegal immigration, humanitarian admission policies, and enforcement practices are often raised.

Informed public discussion and evidence-based policymaking require accurate, authoritative, and unbiased information. This Spotlight article offers in one accessible resource the most current data available about immigrants in the United States, who numbered 43.3 million people in 2015. By compiling some of the most frequently requested facts and figures on U.S. immigration, this article provides answers to questions such as: How many people immigrated to the United States last year? How many entered as refugees, and from which countries? Is Mexico still the top country of origin for U.S.-bound immigrants? Has the number of unauthorized immigrants changed in recent years? What jobs do immigrants tend to hold in the U.S. labor market? And how many U.S. residents are either immigrants or children of immigrants?

The article draws on resources from the Migration Policy Institute (MPI); the U.S. Census Bureau's 2015 American Community Survey (ACS), 2016 Current Population Survey (CPS), and 2000 decennial census; the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and State; and Mexico's National Population Council (CONAPO) and National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI).

Click on the bullet points for more information on each topic:

Current and Historical Numbers and Shares

How many immigrants reside in the United States?

The U.S. immigrant population stood at more than 43.3 million, or 13.5 percent, of the total U.S. population of 321.4 million in 2015, according to American Community Survey (ACS) data. Between 2014 and 2015, the foreign-born population increased by 899,000, or 2.1 percent, a slower growth rate compared to 2.5 percent between 2013 and 2014.

According to the 2016 Current Population Survey (CPS), immigrants and their U.S.-born children now number approximately 84.3 million people, or 27 percent of the overall U.S. population.

Check out the U.S. Immigrant Population and Share over Time, 1850-Present tool in MPI’s Data Hub to see fluctuations over time.

How many people immigrated to the United States last year?

In 2015, 1.38 million foreign-born individuals moved to the United States, a 2 percent increase from 1.36 million in 2014. India was the leading country of origin for recent immigrants, with 179,800 arriving in 2015, followed by 143,200 from China, 139,400 from Mexico, 47,500 from the Philippines, and 46,800 from Canada. In 2013, India and China overtook Mexico as the top origin countries for recent arrivals.

While most of these new arrivals are immigrants new to the country, some are naturalized citizens, lawful permanent residents, and others who might have lived in the United States for some time prior to returning in 2015.

Note: The Census Bureau defines recent immigrants as foreign-born individuals who resided abroad one year prior to the survey, including naturalized citizens, lawful permanent residents, and others who might have lived in the United States for some time prior to 2015; as well as temporary nonimmigrants and unauthorized immigrants.

What are the historical numbers and shares of immigrants in the United States?

Definitions

"Foreign born" and "immigrant" are used interchangeably and refer to persons with no U.S. citizenship at birth. This population includes naturalized citizens, lawful permanent residents, refugees and asylees, persons on certain temporary visas, and the unauthorized.

Geographical regions: MPI follows the definition of Latin America as put forth by the United Nations and the U.S. Census Bureau, which spans Central America (including Mexico), the Caribbean, and South America. For more information about geographical regions, see the U.S. Census Bureau and United Nations Statistics Division.

Data on the nativity of the U.S. population were first collected in 1850. That year, there were 2.2 million immigrants in the United States, representing nearly 10 percent of the population.

Between 1860 and 1920, the immigrant share of the overall population fluctuated between 13 percent and nearly 15 percent, peaking at 14.8 percent in 1890, mainly due to high levels of immigration from Europe.

Restrictive immigration legislation in 1921 and 1924, coupled with the Great Depression and World War II, led to a sharp drop in new arrivals. As a result, the foreign-born share steadily declined between the 1930s and 1970s, reaching a record low of approximately 5 percent in 1970 (9.6 million; see Table 1). Since 1970, the share and number of immigrants have increased rapidly, mainly as a result of large-scale immigration from Latin America and Asia made possible by the abolishment of national-origin admission quotas by Congress in 1965. Since 1970, the number of U.S. immigrants more than quadrupled, rising from 9.6 million then to 43.3 million in 2015.

Table 1. Numerical Size and Share of the Foreign-Born Population in the United States, 1970-2015

Source: Migration Policy Institute (MPI) tabulation of data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2010 and 2015 American Community Surveys (ACS), and 1970-2000 decennial Census.

How do today’s top source countries compare to those 50 years ago?

In 2015, Mexicans accounted for approximately 27 percent of immigrants in the United States, making them by far the largest foreign-born group in the country. India was the next largest country of origin, with close to 6 percent of all immigrants, followed by China (including Hong Kong but not Taiwan) and the Philippines, at close to 5 percent each. El Salvador, Vietnam, and Cuba (about 3 percent each), as well as the Dominican Republic, Korea, and Guatemala (2 percent each), rounded out the top ten. Together, immigrants from these ten countries represented 58 percent of the U.S. immigrant population in 2015.

The predominance of Latin American and Asian immigration in the late 20th and early 21st centuries starkly contrasts with the trend in 1960 when immigrants largely originated from Europe. In the 1960s no single country accounted for more than 15 percent of the total immigrant population. Italians were the top immigrant-origin group, making up 13 percent of the foreign-born population in 1960, followed by Germans and Canadians (about 10 percent each).

To learn more about specific immigrant populations, check out our Spotlight archive, which includes data-rich articles on Mexican, Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, South American, European, African, Asian, and other immigrants.

To view the top ten source countries by decade from 1960 to 2015, check out the Largest U.S. Immigrant Groups over Time, 1960-Present interactive tool.

To see immigration trends from individual countries over time, use this MPI Data Hub tool.
 

 Use these maps to view the geographic distribution of immigrant groups by country or region of origin at state and metropolitan-area levels.

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Demographic, Educational, and Linguistic Characteristics

Note: In some cases percentages do not add up to 100 due to rounding.

Definitions

College-educated persons are defined as adults 25 years and older with a bachelor's degree or higher. 

The concept of race as used by the Census Bureau reflects the race or races with which individuals most closely self-identify. Race categories include both racial and national-origin groups. 

Hispanic and Latino are ethnic, not racial, categories. They include individuals who classified themselves in one of the specific Spanish, Hispanic, or Latino categories listed on the Census 2000 questionnaire—"Mexican, Mexican Am., Chicano," "Puerto Rican," or "Cuban"—as well as those who indicate that they are "other Spanish/Hispanic/Latino." 

Persons who indicated that they are "other Spanish/Hispanic/Latino" include those whose origins are from Spain, the Spanish-speaking countries of Central or South America, the Dominican Republic, or people who self-identify more generally as Spanish, Spanish-American, Hispanic, Hispano, Latino, and so on.

Read more about Census Bureau definitions here.

What is the gender composition of the U.S. immigrant population?

In 2015, approximately 51 percent of immigrants were female. The share has fluctuated slightly during the past three decades; women accounted for 53 percent of immigrants in 1980, 51 percent in 1990, and 50 percent in 2000.

What is the age distribution of the immigrant population?

Overall, the immigrant population in 2015 was older than the U.S.-born population: The median age of immigrants was 43.9 years, compared to 36 years for the native born.

In 2015, fewer than 1 percent of immigrants were under age 5 (compared to 7 percent for the native born), approximately 5 percent were ages 5 to 17 (compared to 19 percent), 80 percent were ages 18 to 64 (compared to 60 percent), and 15 percent were ages 65 and older (the same as the U.S. born).

How many immigrants have entered the United States since 2010?

Sixteen percent of the 43.3 million immigrants in the United States in 2015 entered since 2010, 28 percent between 2000 and 2009, and the majority (57 percent) before 2000 (due to rounding, these do not add to 100).

How many immigrants are naturalized U.S. citizens?

In 2015, around 48 percent of immigrants (20.7 million) were naturalized U.S. citizens. The remaining 52 percent (22.6 million) included lawful permanent residents, unauthorized immigrants, and legal residents on temporary visas (such as students and temporary workers).

Of the 21 million naturalized citizens, 22 percent naturalized since 2010, 33 percent between 2000 and 2009, and 45 percent prior to 2000.

What is the racial composition of the immigrant population?

Forty-seven percent of immigrants in 2015 reported their race as White, 27 percent as Asian, 9 percent as Black, and 15 percent as some other race; roughly 2 percent reported having two or more races.

How many immigrants are of Hispanic origin?

In 2015, 45 percent of immigrants (19.5 million people) reported having Hispanic or Latino origins.

How many Hispanics in the United States are immigrants?

The majority of U.S. Hispanics are native born. Of the 56.6 million people in 2015 who self-identified as Hispanic or Latino, 35 percent (19.5 million) were immigrants.

  • Use our State Immigration Data Profiles tool to learn more about the demographic characteristics of immigrants and the U.S. born (including race and ethnicity) in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as nationally.

Which languages are most frequently spoken at home in U.S. households?

In 2015, approximately 79 percent (236.9 million) of the 301.6 million people ages ages 5 and older in the U.S. population reported speaking only English at home.

The remaining 21 percent (64.7 million) reported speaking a language other than English at home. Spanish was by far the most common language (62 percent), followed by Chinese (including Mandarin and Cantonese, 5 percent), Tagalog (almost 3 percent), Vietnamese (2 percent), French (including Cajun and Patois, 2 percent), Arabic (2 percent), and Korean (2 percent), and German, Russian, and French Creole (about 1 percent each).

What is the size of the Limited English Proficient population?

In 2015, there were 25.9 million Limited English Proficient (LEP) individuals ages 5 and older, representing 9 percent of the 301.6 million U.S. residents ages 5 and older. Spanish speakers accounted for 64 percent (16.4 million) of the LEP population. The next two languages most commonly spoken by LEP individuals were Chinese (including Mandarin and Cantonese, 1.8 million, or 7 percent) and Vietnamese (867,000, or 3 percent).

Note: The term "Limited English Proficient" refers to persons ages 5 and older who reported speaking English "not at all," "not well," or "well" on their survey questionnaire. Individuals who reported speaking “only English” or speaking English "very well" are considered proficient in English.

What percentage of immigrants are LEP?

In 2015, approximately 49 percent (21.2 million) of the 43 million immigrants ages 5 and older were LEP.

What percentage of the adult foreign-born population is college educated?

In 2015, 29 percent (11.1 million) of the 37.7 million immigrants ages 25 and older had a bachelor's degree or higher, compared to 31 percent of native-born adults. Notably, the share of college-educated immigrants was much higher—48 percent—among those who entered the country between 2011 and 2015. At the other end of the educational spectrum, 29 percent of immigrants lacked a high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED) certificate, compared to 9 percent of their U.S.-born counterparts.

Immigrant Population Change over Time: Top States

What were the top five states in terms of the number of immigrants, share of immigrants in the total state population, absolute growth, and percent growth between 1990 and 2000 and between 2000 and 2015?

In 2015, the top five U.S. states by number of immigrants were California (10.7 million), Texas (4.7 million), New York (4.5 million), Florida (4.1 million), and New Jersey (close to 2 million).

When classified by the share of immigrants out of the total state population, the top five states in 2015 were California (27 percent), New York (23 percent), New Jersey (22 percent), Florida (20 percent), and Nevada (19 percent).

Between 1990 and 2000, the five states with the largest absolute growth of the immigrant population were California (2.4 million), Texas (1.4 million), New York (1 million), Florida (1 million), and Illinois (577,000).

Between 2000 and 2015, the five states with the largest absolute growth of the immigrant population were California and Texas (1.8 million each), Florida (1.4 million), New York (662,000), and New Jersey (501,000).

Between 1990 and 2000, the five states with the largest percent growth* of the immigrant population were North Carolina (274 percent), Georgia (233 percent), Nevada (202 percent), Arkansas (196 percent), and Utah (171 percent).

Between 2000 and 2015, the five states with the largest percent growth* of the immigrant population were North Dakota (137 percent), Tennessee (109 percent), South Dakota (106 percent), South Carolina (101 percent), and Wyoming (96 percent).

*Note: In some states, the initial foreign-born population was quite small. Thus, relatively small absolute increases in the immigrant population in these states have translated into high percent growth.

For more information on the top states of residence for the foreign born, see the interactive tool, Immigrant Population by State, 1990-Present.

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Mexican Immigrants

How many Mexican immigrants are in the United States?

Approximately 11.6 million Mexican immigrants resided in the United States in 2015, according to the ACS, accounting for 27 percent of all U.S. immigrants and down from the peak of 29.5 percent in 2000.

See how the number and share of Mexican immigrants has evolved since 1850.

 

In which U.S. states do Mexican immigrants live?

Mexican immigrants are primarily concentrated in the West and Southwest, and more than half live in California or Texas. In 2015, the top five states of residence for Mexican immigrants were California (37 percent of all Mexican immigrants), Texas (22 percent), Illinois (6 percent), Arizona (4 percent), and Florida (2 percent).

Use this interactive map to learn the top states and counties where individual immigrant populations reside.

Use this interactive map to learn the top metropolitan areas where individual immigrant populations reside.

In 2015, Mexican immigrants accounted for more than half of the foreign-born population in New Mexico (71 percent), Arizona (57 percent), and Texas (55 percent). By contrast, Mexicans accounted for less than 2 percent of all immigrants in Rhode Island (1.8 percent), Massachusetts (1.5 percent), and New Hampshire (1.2 percent).

How many Mexican-born workers are in the U.S. labor force?

About 69 percent of the 11.2 million immigrants from Mexico ages 16 and older were in the civilian labor force in 2015. This represents a slightly higher labor force participation than for the overall foreign-born population ages 16 and older (66 percent of 41.4 million) and the native-born population ages 16 and older (62 percent of 214.8 million).

How has the emigration rate from Mexico changed over time?

According to Mexico's National Survey of Occupations and Employment (Encuesta Nacional de Ocupación y Empleo, or ENOE), the emigration rate from Mexico (refers to emigrants leaving Mexico regardless of their destination, although most head to the United States) has remained steadily low in recent years, after experiencing a drop following the 2007-09 U.S. recession. From 2008 to 2012, the emigration rate dropped from 6.4 migrants per 1,000 residents to 3.3 migrants. It ticked up slightly in 2015 to 3.6 migrants per 1,000 residents.

The immigration rate to Mexico (overwhelmingly comprised of return migrants) has also dropped, from 4.4 migrants per 1,000 residents in 2008 to 1.4 per 1,000 in 2015.

Note: ENOE asks Mexican households to enumerate any members of the household who are living abroad at the time of the interview. Accordingly, it does not capture the emigration of entire families where no member of the household remains in Mexico.

Which areas/regions do most Mexican migrants come from?

According to the Survey of Migration on the Northern Border of Mexico* (Encuesta de Migración en la Frontera Norte de México, or EMIF), the number of immigrants moving from Mexico to the United States decreased steadily between 2007 and 2015 despite an uptick in 2013. EMIF estimated that 96,000 immigrants crossed the country's northern border in 2014—just percent of the 323,000 level recorded in 2013.

In 2015, traditional sending states such as Guanajuato, Chiapas, and Michoacán accounted for the largest shares of the 96,000 migrants who headed toward the United States, collectively representing 27 percent of northward flows. Between 2009 and 2015, some states in northern and central Mexico witnessed a decline in total outflows, while others experienced increased emigration. The most significant drop was recorded in the state of Coahuila (northern Mexico, bordering Texas): Between 2009 and 2015, migrants from Coahuila declined from 8 percent to 2 percent of the total outflow from Mexico. During the same period, migrants from Chihuahua (northern Mexico, bordering Texas) grew in share by twelvefold, from 0.5 percent to 6 percent of the total outflow, and Chiapas (western Mexico) more than quadrupled its share (from 2 percent to 9 percent).

For an overall map of flows by Mexican state over time, visit MPI’s data tool, Origins of Mexican Migrants to the United States by Mexican State of Residence, Number, and Share, 2004-2014.

*Note: EMIF is an annual sample survey of migration flows along Mexico's northern border region conducted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (SRE), Secretariat of Labor and Social Welfare (STPS), National Migration Institute (INM), National Population Council (CONAPO), and College of the Northern Border (COLEF) in Tijuana. The survey excludes Mexicans entering the United States by air, migrants under the age of 15, and non-Mexican nationals crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. The category "migrants headed toward the United States" is restricted to those migrants who are traveling to the United States or a Mexican border city, are ages 15 and older, were not born in the United States, and do not have an immediate return itinerary. The 2015 data are preliminary.

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Health Insurance Coverage

What share of U.S. immigrants have health insurance?

In 2015, approximately 55 percent of immigrants in the United States had private health insurance (compared to 69 percent of the U.S. born) and 29 percent had public health insurance coverage (compared to 36 percent of the native born). Less than one-quarter (22 percent) were uninsured, compared to 7 percent of the U.S. born.

Note: Health insurance coverage is calculated only for the civilian, noninstitutionalized population. Since some people may simultaneously hold both private and public health insurance coverage, estimates of those with public health insurance and those with public coverage may overlap. Their sum therefore may be greater than the total number of people with health insurance.

How has coverage changed for immigrants in the United States since enactment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)?

Since ACA implementation in 2014, health insurance coverage has improved for both immigrants and the U.S. born. From 2013 to 2015, the immigrant uninsured rate fell from 32 percent to 22 percent, and the rate for the native born fell from 12 percent to 7 percent. The improvement in coverage is related to increases in both private coverage (from 50 percent to 55 percent of immigrants) and public coverage (from 24 percent to 29 percent of immigrants). Among the foreign born, noncitizens experienced a greater drop in the uninsured rate (from 46 percent to 35 percent) than naturalized citizens (from 16 percent to 8 percent).

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Workforce Characteristics

What is the foreign-born share of the total U.S. civilian labor force?

Definitions

"Civilian labor force"—civilian persons ages 16 and older who were either employed or unemployed in the week prior to participation in the American Community Survey.

Immigrants accounted for nearly 17 percent (26.7 million) of the 160.6 million workers in the civilian labor force in 2015. Between 1970 and 2015, the percentage of foreign-born workers in the labor force more than tripled, from 5 percent to 17 percent. Over the same period, the foreign-born share of the total population grew from almost 5 percent to 13.5 percent.

For more on the share of immigrants in the labor force nationwide and by state since 1980, see Immigrant Share of the U.S. Population and Civilian Labor Force, 1980-Present.

What types of jobs do immigrants hold?

Of the 25.7 million employed foreign-born workers ages 16 and older in 2015, the largest share, or 31 percent, worked in management, professional, and related occupations. See Table 2 for other occupations.

Table 2. Share of Immigrant and U.S.-Born Workers by Select Occupation, 2015

Note: The percentages may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

  • Check out our State Immigration Data Profiles for more information on the workforce characteristics of immigrants and the U.S. born in the United States, each of the 50 states, and the District of Columbia.

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Children with Immigrant Parents

How many U.S. children live with immigrant parents?

Definitions

"Second-generation immigrant children"—any native-born child with at least one foreign-born parent. 

"First-generation immigrant children"—any foreign-born child. 

"Children with immigrant parents"—both first- and second-generation immigrant children. 

Note: The estimates in this section include only children under age 18 who reside with at least one parent.

In 2015, 17.9 million children under age 18 lived with at least one immigrant parent. They accounted for 26 percent of the 69.9 million children under age 18 in the United States.

Second-generation children under age 18—those who were born in the United States to at least one foreign-born parent—accounted for 88 percent (15.8 million) of all children with immigrant parents. The remaining 12 percent (2.1 million) were born outside the United States.

For state-by-state and age group information on children living with immigrant parents, including both first- and second-generation, see the Children in U.S. Immigrant Families tool.

  • Read more about second-generation immigrant children in this Migration Information Source special issue.

How has the number of children ages 0-17 living with immigrant parents changed?

Between 1990 and 2000, the number of children ages 17 and under with immigrant parents grew 60 percent, from 8.2 million to 13.1 million. Between 2000 and 2015, the number grew 36 percent, from 13.1 million to 17.9 million.

For first-generation immigrant children, population growth was sizeable between 1990 and 2000, increasing 43 percent (from 1.9 million to 2.7 million), but declined 22 percent between 2000 and 2015, from 2.7 million to 2.1 million.

The number of second-generation immigrant children has grown steadily since 1990. Between 1990 and 2000, the number of second-generation immigrant children grew 65 percent (from 6.3 million to 10.4 million). Between 2000 and 2015, this population grew 52 percent (from 10.4 million to 15.8 million).

In 1990, 13 percent of all children in the United States lived with immigrant parents. This share increased to 19 percent in 2000 and 26 percent in 2015. A rising share of all children in immigrant households are born in the United States, growing from 77 percent in 1990 to 80 percent in 2000 and 88 percent in 2015.

How many children living with immigrant parents are in low-income families?

In 2015, there were 29.4 million children under age 18 living in poor families (i.e., with family incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty threshold). Of these, almost 9.4 million (or 32 percent) were children of immigrants.
For state-level estimates, see the Demographics and Social Profiles in the State Immigration Data Profiles tool.

What are the top five states in terms of the number of children living with immigrant parents?

In 2015, the top five states by the total number of children under age 18 living with immigrant parents were California (4.3 million), Texas (2.4 million), New York (1.5 million), Florida (1.3 million), and Illinois (768,000). These five states accounted for 58 percent of all children with immigrant parents residing in the United States.

What are the top five states by share of children living with immigrant parents in the total child population?

In terms of the share of children under age 18 living with immigrant parents, the top five states in 2015 were California (50 percent of all children in the state), New Jersey and Nevada (38 percent each), New York (37 percent), and Texas (35 percent).

What are the top five states in terms of the absolute growth of the number of children living with immigrant parents?

Between 1990 and 2000, the five states with the largest absolute growth of the total number of children with immigrant parents were California (1.3 million), Texas (643,000), Florida (384,000), New York (366,000), and Illinois (231,000).

Between 2000 and 2015, the five states with the largest absolute growth of the total number of children living with immigrant parents were Texas (850,000), Florida (386,000), Georgia (287,000), North Carolina (245,000), and California (210,000).

What are the top five states in terms of the percent growth of the number of children living with immigrant parents between 1990 and 2000 and between 2000 and 2015?

Between 1990 and 2000, the five states with the largest percent growth of the total population of children with immigrant parents were Nevada (233 percent), North Carolina (224 percent), Georgia (194 percent), Nebraska (174 percent), and Arkansas (170 percent).

Between 2000 and 2015, the five states with the largest percent growth of the total population of children living with immigrant parents were Tennessee (177 percent), Kentucky (150 percent), Wyoming and North Carolina (146 percent), and Delaware (136 percent).

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Permanent Immigration

How many immigrants obtained lawful permanent residence in the United States in 2015?

In fiscal year (FY) 2015, 1,051,031 foreign nationals became lawful permanent residents (LPRs), also known as green-card holders, according to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) data. Although the number of new LPRs in 2015 increased 3 percent from 2014 (1,016,518), it remained lower than the level reached in 2006 (1,266,129), the highest in the past decade. New arrivals comprised approximately 48 percent (508,716) of those granted LPR status in 2015; the remaining 542,315 were status adjusters—persons already living in the United States and whose green-card applications were approved that year.

 See the chart Legal Immigration to the United States, 1820-Present.

 

Under which categories do permanent immigrants enter?

Of the more than 1 million new green-card holders in 2015, 44 percent were immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, 20 percent entered through a family-sponsored preference, and 14 percent via an employment-based preference. Another 14 percent adjusted from refugee or asylee status, and 5 percent were diversity lottery winners.

Which countries did permanent immigrants come from?

The top five countries of birth for new LPRs in 2015 were Mexico (15 percent), China (7 percent), India (6 percent), and the Philippines and Cuba (5 percent each). These five countries represented about 39 percent of all persons who received LPR status in 2015.

Individuals born in the next five countries—the Dominican Republic (5 percent), Vietnam (3 percent), and Iraq, El Salvador, and Pakistan (2 percent each)—contributed another 13 percent of all LPRs.

How many people apply for the green-card lottery?

The Immigration Act of 1990 established the Diversity Visa Lottery (also known as the DV lottery or the green-card lottery) to allow entry to immigrants from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. The law states that 55,000 diversity visas are made available each fiscal year, of which 5,000 must be used for applicants under the Nicaraguan and Central America Relief Act of 1997. Interest in the lottery is significantly higher than there are available visas; close to 12.4 million qualified applications were registered for the DV-2016 program, a 9 percent increase from the 11.4 million the prior year. (The application number varies each year depending on which countries are eligible.)

In 2015, 47,934 people received green cards as diversity immigrants, representing close to 5 percent of the 1 million new LPRs.

Before receiving permission to immigrate to the United States, lottery winners must provide proof of a high school education or its equivalent or show two years of work experience within the past five years in an occupation that requires at least two years of training or experience. They also must pass a medical exam and a background check.

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Temporary Admission

What is the total number of temporary admissions to the United States?

There were approximately 181.3 million total nonimmigrant (temporary) admissions* for 2015, primarily tourists, business travelers, and international students. That figure includes an estimated 104.7 million admissions of travelers who are exempt from completing the I-94 arrival/departure form at the port of entry. (Canadians who travel to the United States for business or pleasure, and Mexicans who possess a nonresident Border Crossing Card [i.e., laser visa] are exempt from completing this form).

Total temporary admissions of I-94 nonimmigrants increased 2 percent, from 74.9 million in 2014 to 76.6 million in 2015. 

*Note: Nonimmigrant admissions represent the number of arrivals, not the number of individuals admitted to the United States. DHS only reports characteristics of nonimmigrants who must complete an I-94 arrival/departure form.

What are the visa categories for nonimmigrant admissions?

Temporary visitors (tourists and business travelers) account for an overwhelming majority of all nonimmigrant admissions. In 2015, they represented 90 percent (69 million) of all I-94 admissions to the United States. Of those, 61 million were tourist admissions and 8 million were business-traveler admissions.

Temporary workers and trainees, as well as their spouses and children, accounted for 3.7 million admissions (about 5 percent of total I-94 admissions). This group includes H-1B "specialty occupation" workers, registered nurses, temporary agricultural workers, North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) professional workers, treaty traders, and intracompany transferees.

Students who entered the United States to study at academic or vocational institutes made up about 3 percent of arrivals (close to 2 million admissions). This figure includes their family members and excludes exchange visitors.

How many nonimmigrant visas does the State Department issue?

The State Department reports the number of visas issued to foreign nationals who wish to enter the United States for the purpose of travel, conducting business, work, study, or other reasons.

In FY 2015, the State Department issued 10,891,745 nonimmigrant visas—a 10 percent increase from the 9,932,480 issued in 2014.

The vast majority (78 percent) of the 11 million nonimmigrant visas issued in 2015 were temporary business and tourist visas (B-1, B-2, and BCC visas). The next largest visa class (F-1, F-2, and F-3) was for academic students and exchange visitors and their family members, who comprised 6 percent of all nonimmigrant visas issued, followed by H visa categories for temporary workers and trainees and their family members (4 percent).

Looking at the distribution of the temporary visas issued in 2015 by region of origin, the largest shares were issued to nationals from Asia (46 percent), South America (20 percent), and North America (19 percent, including Central America and the Caribbean), followed by Europe (10 percent), Africa (5 percent), and Oceania (0.6 percent).

Note: The number of visas issued does not necessarily match the number of foreign nationals who entered the United States in the same year because some nonimmigrant visas may not be used.

How many foreign nationals on temporary visas resided in the United States?

According to the most recently available DHS estimates, about 1.7 million foreign nationals on various temporary visas* resided in the United States during 2014. Slightly more than 45 percent were temporary workers and their families, followed by foreign students and their families (40 percent). Fifty-six percent of temporary visa holders were from Asia. Another 27 percent came from Europe and North America** combined. The top five countries of origin—India, China, Mexico, Canada, and South Korea—accounted for 56 percent of all residents on temporary visas.

Note: *This estimate excludes tourists and other short-term visitors. **Includes Canada, Bermuda, Mexico, other Central America, and the Caribbean.

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Refugees and Asylum Seekers

Notes on Refugees and Asylees

What is the difference between a refugee and an asylee? In the United States, the main difference is the person's location at the time of application. 

Refugees are nearly always outside of the United States when they are considered for resettlement, whereas asylum seekers submit their applications while physically present in or at a port of entry to the United States. 

Asylum seekers can submit an asylum request either affirmatively or defensively. An asylum seeker present in the United States may submit an asylum request either with a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) asylum officer (affirmative request), or, if apprehended, with an immigration judge as part of a removal hearing (defensive request). During the interview, an asylum officer will determine whether the applicant meets the definition of a refugee.

How many immigrants enter the United States as refugees, and where are they from?

Every year, the president in consultation with Congress sets the annual refugee admissions ceiling and allocations by region of origin. In response to the growing humanitarian crisis in the Middle East, the Obama administration increased the refugee admissions ceiling for FY 2016 to 85,000, up 15,000 from the 70,000 the prior year, with 10,000 specifically designated for Syrians. The Near East and South Asia region received 40 percent (34,000) of the regional allocation in response to refugee crises in Iraq and Burma.

According to State Department Worldwide Refugee Admissions Processing System (WRAPS) data, 84,994 refugees were admitted to the United States in FY 2016, a 22 percent increase compared to the 69,933 admitted in 2015. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Syria, Myanmar (also known as Burma), Iraq, and Somalia were the primary countries of nationality, accounting for 71 percent (60,204) of all refugees admitted in 2016. Rounding out the top ten were Bhutan, Iran, Afghanistan, Ukraine, and Eritrea. Together, nationals of these ten countries totaled 91 percent (77,000) of all refugee arrivals in 2016.

The Obama administration raised the refugee ceiling to 110,000 for FY 2017. However, President Trump has reduced that ceiling to 50,000 and suspended all refugee admissions for 120 days, effective March 16, 2017. As of March 6, 2017, 37,361 refugees (75 percent of the revised annual ceiling), including 5,557 Syrians, had entered the United States this fiscal year.   

How many applications were filed for asylum status in the United States, and where are asylum seekers from?

In FY 2015, an estimated 83,000 affirmative asylum applications were filed with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)—47 percent more than the year before and the highest level since 1996. This represented the sixth consecutive annual increase in application volume. Applicants for affirmative asylum must be present in the United States or arriving at a port of entry, and do not include those seeking asylum through the defensive asylum process while in removal proceedings.

China remained the top country of origin for affirmative asylum applications, with 14,000 in 2015; followed by Mexico, with 9,000. More individuals sought affirmative asylum from the Northern Triangle countries of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) in the last three years than the prior 15 years combined. The number of children seeking asylum rose sharply to 26,600 in 2015, the highest level on record (a 112 percent increase from 2014 and a 236 percent increase from 2013). Guatemala and El Salvador accounted for 4,325 and 3,671 child affirmative asylum applications respectively.

Meanwhile, 45,770 defensive asylum applications were filed with the Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) in 2015. This number remains largely consistent with prior trends, albeit down slightly from 2014. Northern Triangle countries accounted for 56 percent of total applications, with 10,469 from El Salvador, 8,332 from Honduras, and 6,898 from Guatemala. Mexico also represented a significant portion, with 8,926 applications.

How many people received asylum status in the United States, and where are they from?

In 2015, 26,124 individuals, including principal applicants and their spouses and/or unmarried children under age 21, were granted asylum after seeking protection upon or after arrival in the United States—a 12 percent increase from 23,374 in 2014. An additional 7,116 individuals outside the United States were approved for asylum status as immediate family members of principal applicants. (Note that this number reflects travel documents issued to these family members, not their arrival in the United States.)

China was the top country of origin for those receiving asylum, with 6,192 persons (or 24 percent of total asylum grants), despite a significant decrease in the number of asylum recipients in recent years (down from 9,761 in 2012). The next four largest origin groups were El Salvador (2,173), Guatemala (2,082), Egypt (1,666), and Honduras (1,416). Together, nationals of these five countries made up 52 percent of those receiving asylum in 2015.

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Unauthorized Immigrants

How many unauthorized immigrants are in the United States?

An estimated 11.4 million unauthorized immigrants resided in the United States as of January 2012 compared to 11.5 million in January 2011, according to the most recent estimates issued by the DHS Office of Immigration Statistics. These results suggest little to no change in the unauthorized immigrant population from 2011 to 2012.  

The Migration Policy Institute estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants resided in the United States in 2014. More than half (54 percent) resided in four states: California (27 percent), Texas (13 percent), New York (8 percent), and Florida (6 percent). The vast majority (81 percent) of unauthorized immigrants resided in 171 counties with 10,000 or more unauthorized immigrants each, of which the top five—Los Angeles County, CA; Harris County, TX; Cook County, IL; Orange County, CA; and Queens County, NY—accounted for 21 percent of all unauthorized immigrants.

Note: MPI is among a small number of organizations generating estimates of the unauthorized population because the U.S. Census Bureau does not. It is important to acknowledge that the estimates issued by MPI and others (including the DHS Office of Immigration Statistics, Pew Research Center, and Center for Migration Studies of New York) are based on different methodologies and data sources. Hence the estimates are not fully comparable.

Where are unauthorized immigrants from?

Mexico and Central America accounted for most unauthorized immigrants in the United States as of 2010-14, with MPI estimating their totals at about 7.9 million (71 percent of the overall unauthorized population). About 1.5 million (13 percent) were from Asia; 673,000 (6 percent) from South America; 432,000 (4 percent) from Europe, Canada, or Oceania; 353,000 (3 percent) from Africa; and 232,000 (2 percent) from the Caribbean.

The top five countries of birth for unauthorized immigrants were Mexico (56 percent), Guatemala (7 percent), El Salvador (4 percent), Honduras (3 percent), and China (2 percent).

How many unauthorized immigrants reside with children under age 18?

As of 2010-14, about 4 million unauthorized immigrants (39 percent of the overall unauthorized population ages 15 and older) resided with children under age 18, MPI estimates. Of this group, about 85 percent (3.4 million) resided with at least one U.S.-citizen child under age 18, and 15 percent (573,000) resided with only non-U.S.-citizen children.

How many children under age 18 lived with at least one unauthorized immigrant parent?

Approximately 5.1 million children under age 18 lived with an unauthorized immigrant parent during the 2009-13 period, representing 7 percent of the U.S. child population. About 79 percent (4.1 million) of these children were U.S. citizens, another 19 percent (959,000) were themselves unauthorized, and 2 percent (113,000) were legally present, including LPRs and those with temporary visas.

How many people are eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and how many applications have been received since its launch in 2012?

The initial DACA program was announced on June 15, 2012, and granted two-year deportation relief and work authorization to eligible youth. Prospective beneficiaries must meet a series of requirements, including:

  • be at least 15 years old;
  • have entered the United States before the age of 16;
  • have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007;
  • be enrolled in school, have earned a high school diploma or its equivalent, or be honorably discharged veterans; and
  • have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors; or otherwise pose a threat to public safety or national security.

MPI estimates that as of 2016 approximately 1.9 million people were potentially eligible for DACA, including nearly 1.3 million who were immediately eligible.

Between August 15, 2012, when USCIS began accepting applications, and September 30, 2016, 861,192 initial applications were accepted for consideration. Thus, as of September 30, 2016 (the most recent data made public by USCIS at the time of this article’s publication), about 66 percent of the immediately eligible population had applied. USCIS approved 752,154 (or 87 percent) of these applications for initial status as of September 30, 2016; 62,809 (7 percent) were denied and the remainder was pending. On June 5, 2014, USCIS began accepting DACA renewal applications, and as of September 2016 had accepted 667,287 renewal applications.

The top states of residence for accepted initial applications are California (28 percent), Texas (16 percent), New York and Illinois (5 percent each), and Florida (4 percent). The top countries of origin are Mexico (78 percent), El Salvador (4 percent), Guatemala (3 percent), Honduras (2 percent), and Peru and Brazil (1 percent each). 

The top states of residence for DACA renewal applicants (refers to accepted applications) are California (27 percent), Texas (15 percent), New York (6 percent), and Illinois and Florida (5 percent each). The top countries of origin are Mexico (77 percent), El Salvador (4 percent), Guatemala and Honduras (2 percent each), and South Korea and Peru (1 percent each).

By the end of September 2016, 88 percent (588,151) of the accepted 667,287 renewal applications had been approved, with 11 percent (73,705) pending, and less than 1 percent (5,431) denied.

How many unaccompanied children (UACs) and families were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border?

Between October 2016 and January 2017, the most recent period for which data are available, the U.S. Border Patrol apprehended 25,694 unaccompanied children (UACs) and 54,147 family units (defined as a parent, typically a mother, traveling with children) along the Southwest border. For comparison, this represented more than one-third of unaccompanied children (59,692) and more than half of family units (77,674) apprehended in all of FY 2016, the previous fiscal year. For the most up-to-date DHS data on apprehensions of unaccompanied children and family units in FY 2017, click here. In FY 2016, these children and families were primarily from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, or Mexico (click here for more information).

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Immigration Enforcement

How many apprehensions of unauthorized immigrants occur annually?

Note: The government fiscal year runs from October 1 to September 30. All figures for immigration control and enforcement given here are for the fiscal year.

The number of apprehensions has been decreasing in recent years due to the drop in illegal immigration and shifts in U.S. immigration enforcement priorities during the Obama administration. There were 462,388 apprehensions in 2015 and 530,250 in 2016 by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the two agencies within DHS responsible for the identification and removal of inadmissible noncitizens. By comparison, 662,483 apprehensions occurred in 2013 and 679,996 in 2014.

The Border Patrol reported 337,117 apprehensions in 2015 (73 percent of all apprehensions) and 415,816 in 2016 (78 percent of total), a significant drop from 486,651 in 2014. Almost all (98 percent) Border Patrol apprehensions in 2015 occurred along the Southwest border.

Additionally, ICE made 125,271 administrative arrests in 2015 (27 percent of total apprehensions) and 114,434 in 2016 (22 percent of total). Both represented a decrease from prior years (241,694 in 2013 and 193,345 in 2014).

The leading countries of nationality of those apprehended in 2015 were Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Nationals from these four countries composed 93 percent of all apprehensions. Despite rapid growth in previous years, apprehensions of Guatemalan, Salvadoran, and Honduran nationals in 2015 decreased 31 percent, 35 percent, and 60 percent respectively compared to 2014. Although Mexican nationals constituted more than half (58 percent) of apprehensions in 2015, their number dropped to the lowest level in the past decade, amounting to roughly one-quarter of the 1.1 million apprehensions in 2005.

*Note: Apprehensions are events, not individuals. In other words, the same individual can be apprehended more than once with each apprehension counted separately.

How many people are deported per year?

Both removals and returns* result in the confirmed movement of inadmissible or deportable aliens out of the United States. There were 462,463 removals and returns in 2015 and 450,954 in 2016, roughly a 10 percent drop from the 570,320 removals and returns in 2014.

In 2015, removals represented 72 percent (333,341) and returns 28 percent (129,122) of the total. The former figure represents a drop from 2014 (407,075), an all-time high for removals, which have generally increased since 1990 when there were 30,039 removals. At the same time, the number of returns has declined, from 1.02 million in 1990 to 129,122 in 2015 (the lowest since 1968), as the government has prioritized using the more formal removal process, which carries greater consequences if re-entry is attempted.

*Notes: Removals (deportations) are the compulsory and confirmed movement of an inadmissible or deportable unauthorized immigrant out of the United States based on an order of removal. An unauthorized immigrant who is removed has administrative or criminal consequences placed on subsequent re-entry owing to the fact of the removal. Returns are the confirmed movement of an inadmissible or deportable unauthorized immigrant out of the United States not based on an order of removal. Most voluntary departures (returns) are of Mexican nationals who have been apprehended by the Border Patrol and are returned to Mexico.

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Naturalization Trends

Note: The government fiscal year runs from October 1 to September 30. All figures on naturalization given here are for the fiscal year.

How many immigrants are naturalized citizens?

In 2015, 20.7 million immigrants were naturalized U.S. citizens, accounting for 48 percent of the total foreign-born population (43.3 million) and 6 percent of the U.S. population (321.4 million), according to ACS estimates.

How many immigrants naturalize?

USCIS naturalized 730,259 LPRs in 2015, DHS reports. The total number of immigrants naturalized increased by 12 percent between 2014 and 2015.

From a historical perspective, naturalizations have increased dramatically in recent decades. On average, fewer than 120,000 LPRs became citizens each year between 1950 and 1969, 210,000 in the 1980s, 500,000 in the 1990s, and 680,000 during the 2000s. Since 2010, the average annual number of naturalizations has increased to 706,000.

Naturalizations reached an all-time high in 2008, increasing 59 percent from 660,477 in 2007 to 1,046,539 in 2008. This came as a result of impending application fee increases and the promotion of naturalization in advance of the 2008 presidential elections. For more information on naturalization trends, see the Source article Naturalization Trends in the United States.

How many foreign nationals become U.S. citizens through military naturalization?

In 2015, 7,234 foreign-born military personnel naturalized as U.S. citizens—3 percent lower than in 2014 when 7,468 military personnel became Americans.

For more historical data on naturalization, see the MPI tool Naturalization in the United States, 1910-Present.

Between 2002 and 2015, 98,252 foreign-born military personnel naturalized on U.S. soil. Another 11,069 became citizens overseas or aboard Navy ships.

What are the countries of origin of newly naturalized citizens?

Of those who naturalized in 2015, 15 percent were born in Mexico (105,958), and roughly 6 percent each in India (42,213) and the Philippines (40,815). Immigrants from these three countries, together with those from China (31,241), the Dominican Republic (26,665), Cuba (25,770), Vietnam (21,976), Colombia (17,207), El Salvador (16,930), and Jamaica (16,566), comprised the top ten countries of birth for newly naturalized citizens in 2015. These ten countries accounted for 47 percent of the 730,259 new U.S. citizens that year.

Where do newly naturalized citizens live in the United States?

In 2015, 54 percent of the newly naturalized lived in one of four states. California had the largest number of newly naturalized citizens, with 21 percent (155,979), followed by 12 percent in New York (90,368), 11 percent in Florida (81,960), and 9 percent in Texas (65,467).

Approximately 16 percent of those who naturalized in 2015 lived in the greater New York metropolitan area (113,758), another 9 percent in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area (69,017), and 7 percent in the greater Miami metro area (53,448). These areas, together with the greater Washington, DC and Houston metro areas (4 percent each), and the greater Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas, and Boston areas (about 3 percent each) were home to slightly more than half (51 percent) of new U.S. citizens in 2015.

How many green-card holders are eligible to naturalize?

According to the latest available USCIS estimates, about 8.8 million of the 13.3 million LPRs resident in the United States on January 1, 2012 were eligible to naturalize.

How long does it take on average for green-card holders to naturalize?

Immigrants who naturalized in 2015 spent a median of seven years in LPR status before becoming U.S. citizens, according to USCIS estimates. The time varied by country of origin: African- and Asian-born immigrants spent about six years in LPR status before naturalization, followed by those born in South America (seven years), Europe (nine years), Oceania (nine years), and North America (including Central America, ten years).

To be naturalized, LPRs must meet a number of criteria, including being at least 18 years of age, passing English and civic exams, and for most, residing in the United States with LPR status continuously for at least five years (three years for those married to a U.S. citizen).

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Visa Backlogs

How many visa applications for permanent immigration (green cards) are backlogged?

Two types of backlogs impact the issuance of green cards. The first is due to visa availability. The government caps employment-based permanent visas for foreign workers and their families at 140,000 per year worldwide (a cap that has remained unchanged since 1990). Family-sponsored preferences are limited to 226,000 visas per year. Also, no country can receive more than 7 percent of the total annual number of family-sponsored and employment-based visas (approximately 25,600 visas).

The second type of backlog is due to processing delays of applicants' documents, which is related to government processing capacity as well as increased background and criminal checks.

In March 2017, the U.S. government was still processing some family-sponsored visa applications dating to August 1993, and some employment-related visa applications from March 2005.

For example, an application filed 22 years ago by a U.S. citizen to sponsor an unmarried adult child from Mexico is potentially just now being approved in March 2017. Similarly, an application filed 24 years ago by a U.S. citizen sponsoring a sibling from the Philippines is potentially only now being approved by USCIS. However, recent years have witnessed dramatic reductions in the backlogs for certain categories of immigrants, particularly the immediate family members (spouses and children) of permanent residents.

Another useful indicator to understand the waiting times is the number of people whose documents are on hold because there are no immigrant visas available for a given family/employment preference or a given country of origin. According to data on the petitions submitted to the State Department, there were about 4.4 million applicants (including spouses and minor children) who were on the waiting list as of November 1, 2016. The overwhelming majority were family-sponsored applicants (4.3 million, which includes the principal applicant and their immediate family members). About 107,000 were employment-sponsored applicants and their families.

Of the overall 4.4 million applicants, 1.3 million were citizens of Mexico, followed by those from the Philippines (387,000) and India (331,000). What these data do not show is the number of family- and employment-based prospective immigrants who are waiting to adjust their status to lawful permanent resident from within the United States. To MPI’s knowledge, the number of people awaiting green cards from within the United States has not been published by USCIS. In other words, the overall number of people waiting for a green card—within and outside of the United States—is larger than the 4.4 million reported by the State Department.

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For much more data on immigrants and immigration in the United States and worldwide, including interactive maps, check out MPI's Migration Data Hub.

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