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E.g., 09/20/2019

Brazilian Immigrants in the United States

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Brazilian Immigrants in the United States

Two Brazilian men standing on a street

Brazilians in New York City. (Photo: Malcolm Tredinnick)

Approximately 450,000 Brazilian immigrants resided in the United States in 2017, an increase of nearly one-third over a seven-year span that was marked by difficult conditions in Brazil, including a recession accompanied by high unemployment and inflation. Brazilians, who now represent 1 percent of the 44.5 million immigrants in the United States, have historically sought improved economic opportunities via emigration, especially since the 1980s. After civilian government returned to Brazil in 1985 following two decades of military rule, hyperinflation crippled the country’s economy until the mid-1990s. During this time, Brazilians began to arrive in the United States in growing numbers. In 1980, about 40,000 Brazilian immigrants lived in the United States. By 1990, that figure had doubled and further growth followed: During the 1990s, the Brazilian population nearly tripled, reaching more than 200,000 by the turn of the 21st century, and has doubled again since then (see Figure 1).

Brazilians arriving in the 1980s and 1990s expected to earn nearly four times as much in the United States as they could have in Brazil and, accordingly, planned work for an average of three to five years before returning with their savings. Many completed the journey to the United States and back multiple times, engaging in a pattern of “yo-yo” migration.

Figure 1. Brazilian Immigrant Population in the United States, 1980-2017

Sources: Data from U.S. Census Bureau 2010 and 2017 American Community Surveys (ACS); Campbell J. Gibson and Emily Lennon, "Historical Census Statistics on the Foreign-Born Population of the United States: 1850-2000" (Working Paper no. 81, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC, February 2006), available online.

However, changes in U.S. immigration law made it more difficult for Brazilians to obtain tourist visas—a common method of entry that often resulted in overstaying to work illegally in the United States. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 also made it more difficult to enter the country legally if an individual had previously been in the country without authorization. These legislative changes resulted in an increase of Brazilians entering the United States illegally via the U.S.-Mexico border. Apprehensions of Brazilians at the border ballooned from 88 in fiscal year (FY) 1992 to more than 32,000 in FY 2005. In October 2005, Mexico began to require that Brazilians obtain a visa to enter the country, cutting off the flow at the border. Since then, apprehensions have remained stable at around 3,000 per year.

The Brazilian immigrant population continued to grow in the early 2000s and then stabilized for roughly a decade. Between 2014 and 2017, the Brazilian immigrant population surged again, reflecting difficult conditions in the country, including a 2013 recession that was accompanied by high unemployment and inflation.

Today, Brazilian immigrants tend to have higher educational attainment and household incomes than the overall foreign- and U.S.-born populations. Compared to the overall immigrant population, Brazilians are less likely to be naturalized citizens and more likely to be proficient in English.

Definitions

The U.S. Census Bureau defines the foreign-born as individuals who had no U.S. citizenship at birth. The foreign-born population includes naturalized citizens, lawful permanent residents, refugees and asylees, legal nonimmigrants (including those on student, work, or other temporary visas), and persons residing in the country without authorization.

The terms foreign born and immigrant are used interchangeably and refer to those who were born in another country and later emigrated to the United States. Data-collection constraints do not permit inclusion of those who gained Brazilian citizenship via naturalization and later moved to the United States.

This Spotlight examines the Brazilian immigrant population in the United States using the most recent data available from the American Community Survey (ACS) conducted annually by the U.S. Census Bureau, the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics published by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the World Bank’s migration and remittance data. The sections below describe the geographic distribution and demographic characteristics of the foreign-born Brazilian population residing in the United States.

Click on the bullet points below for more information:

Distribution by State and Key Cities

Half of the foreign-born population from Brazil resided in just three states in 2017: Florida (80,000), Massachusetts (65,000), and California (39,000). New Jersey (29,000) and New York (25,000) rounded out the top five, which together comprised 64 percent of the total Brazilian immigrant population in the United States (see Figure 2). Within the top five states, Brazilian immigrants were concentrated in Broward County, Florida; Middlesex County, Massachusetts; Los Angeles County, California; Essex County, New Jersey; and about evenly between Queens and Westchester counties in New York.

Figure 2. Top Destination States for Brazilian Immigrants in the United States, 2013-17

Note: Pooled 2013-17 ACS data were used to get statistically valid estimates at the state level for smaller-population geographies. Not shown are the populations in Alaska and Hawaii, which are small in size; for details, visit the MPI Data Hub to view an interactive map showing geographic distribution of immigrants by state and county, available online.
Source: MPI tabulation of data from U.S. Census Bureau pooled 2013-17 ACS.

Click here for an interactive map that shows the geographic distribution of immigrants by state and county. Select Brazil from the dropdown menu to see which states and counties have the highest distributions of Brazilian immigrants.

The greater Boston, New York, and Miami metropolitan areas were home to the largest number of Brazilian immigrants (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. Top Metropolitan Area Destinations for Brazilian Immigrants in the United States, 2013-17

Note: Pooled 2013-17 ACS data were used to get statistically valid estimates at the metropolitan statistical-area level for smaller-population geographies. Not shown are the populations in Alaska and Hawaii, which are small in size.
Source: MPI tabulation of data from U.S. Census Bureau pooled 2013-17 ACS.

Click here for an interactive map that highlights the metropolitan areas with the highest concentrations of immigrants. Select Brazil from the dropdown menu.

Table 1. Top Concentrations of Brazilian Immigrants by U.S. Metropolitan Area, 2013-17

Source: MPI tabulation of data from the U.S. Census Bureau pooled 2013-17 ACS.

The Boston area was also home to the largest population of unauthorized Brazilian immigrants (16,000), according to Migration Policy Institute (MPI) estimates, using a unique methodology to assign legal status in pooled 2012-16 ACS data. MPI estimates approximately 96,000 unauthorized immigrants from Brazil lived in the United States at that time.

Click here for an interactive map showing MPI’s estimates of unauthorized immigrant populations in the United States by country and region of birth.

English Proficiency

According to the 2017 ACS, approximately 58 percent of Brazilian immigrants in the United States reported speaking English very well or speaking only English at home. The remaining 42 percent had limited English proficiency, speaking English less than “very well.” Brazilian immigrants were, on average, less likely to be Limited English Proficient (LEP) than the overall foreign-born population (48 percent).

Note: Limited English proficiency refers to persons who indicated on the ACS questionnaire that they spoke English less than “very well.”

Age, Education, and Employment

Brazilians are, on average, younger than the overall immigrant population in the United States, and slightly older than the U.S.-born population. The median age of Brazilians in 2017 was 39 years, compared to 45 for all foreign born and 36 for the native born. Eighty-seven percent of Brazilians were working-age adults (18 to 64 years old) in 2017, reflecting the economic motivation for many in coming to the United States (see Figure 4).

Figure 4. Age Distribution of U.S. Residents by Origin, 2017

Note: Numbers may not add up to 100 as they are rounded to the nearest whole number.
Source: MPI tabulation of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 2017 ACS.

On average, Brazilian immigrants are more educated than both immigrants overall and the native-born population. In 2017, 42 percent of Brazilian immigrants (ages 25 and older) had at least a four-year college degree, compared to 31 percent of all immigrants and 32 percent of U.S.-born adults. Just 11 percent of Brazilian immigrants had less than a high school diploma, compared to 28 percent of all foreign-born adults and 9 percent of native-born adults.

In 2017, immigrants from Brazil participated in the labor force at higher rates than both the overall immigrant and native-born populations. Seventy-three percent of Brazilians were in the civilian labor force, and most worked in management, business, science, and arts-related occupations, at higher rates than the overall immigrant population. Brazilian immigrants are also employed in service occupations at higher rates than both immigrants overall and native workers, and they are least likely to be employed in production, transportation, and material moving occupations.

Figure 5. Employed Workers in the U.S. Civilian Labor Force (ages 16 and Older) by Occupation and Origin, 2017

Source: MPI tabulation of data from the U.S. Census Bureau 2017 ACS.

Income and Poverty

In 2017, Brazilian immigrants had higher median household incomes ($61,700) than the overall foreign-born population ($56,700) and the U.S.-born population ($60,800).

Although Brazilians maintained higher median incomes than immigrants overall and natives, they experienced poverty at roughly the same rates. In 2017, 14 percent of Brazilian immigrants experienced poverty, compared to 15 percent of all immigrants and 13 percent of native-born Americans.

Immigration Pathways and Naturalization

Nearly two-thirds of Brazilian immigrants residing in the United States in 2017 arrived in the country after 2000 (see Figure 6).

Figure 6. Brazilian and All Immigrants in the United States by Period of Arrival, 2017

Source: MPI tabulation of data from the U.S. Census Bureau 2017 ACS.

Brazilian immigrants are less likely than the overall foreign-born population to be naturalized U.S. citizens. Of the more than 700,000 immigrants naturalized in 2017, fewer than 10,000 were Brazilian. Overall, just 35 percent of the 450,000 Brazilian immigrants in the United States as of 2017 were naturalized citizens—well short of the 50 percent rate for all immigrants.

More than 1 million immigrants became legal permanent residents (LPRs) in 2017, and fewer than 15,000 of them were from Brazil. The most common way for Brazilians to adjust to LPR status (also known as getting a green card) was as immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, followed by employment-based visas (see Figure 7).

Figure 7. Immigration Pathways of Brazilian and All Legal Permanent Residents in the United States, 2017

Notes: “Family-sponsored” includes adult children and siblings of U.S. citizens as well as spouses and children of green-card holders. “Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens” includes spouses, minor children, and parents of U.S. citizens. “Diversity” refers to the Diversity Visa Lottery program established by the Immigration Act of 1990 to allow entry to immigrants from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.
Source: MPI tabulation of data from Department of Homeland Security (DHS), 2017 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics (Washington, DC: DHS Office of Immigration Statistics, 2019), available online.

Health Coverage

In 2017, Brazilian immigrants were uninsured at higher rates than the foreign-born and U.S. born population. Most immigrants from Brazil have private health insurance, and they utilize public health insurance at lower rates than both the overall immigrant and the U.S.-born population.

Figure 8. Health Coverage for the U.S. Population by Nativity, 2017

Note: The sum of shares by type of insurance is likely to be greater than 100 because people may have more than one type of insurance.
Source: MPI tabulation of data from the U.S. Census Bureau 2017 ACS.

Remittances

According to the World Bank, global remittances to Brazil in 2018 were an estimated $2.9 billion, amounting to 0.2 percent of Brazil’s gross domestic product (see Figure 9).

Figure 9. Annual Remittance Flows to Brazil, 1980-2018

Source: MPI tabulations of data from the World Bank, “Migration and Remittances Data,” updated April 2019, available online.

Visit the MPI Data Hub Global Remittances Guide, a collection of interactive remittances tools tracking remittances between countries over time.

Diaspora

According to ACS estimates, approximately 660,000 people of Brazilian ancestry, including those born in Brazil and their U.S.-born descendants, resided in the United States in 2017.

Sources

Central Intelligence Agency. 2019. Brazil. The World Factbook, August 21, 2019. Available online.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Office of Immigration Statistics. Various years. Yearbook of Immigration Statistics. Washington, DC: DHS Office of Immigration Statistics. Available online.

Gibson, Campbell and Kay Jung. 2006. Historical Census Statistics on the Foreign-Born Population of the United States: 1850 to 2000. Working Paper No. 81, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC, February 2006. Available online.

Institute for Applied Economic Research and the Brazilian Forum for Public Safety. 2019. Atlas of Violence. Available online.

Ruggles, Steven, Sarah Flood, Ronald Goeken, Josiah Grover, Erin Meyer, Jose Pacas, and Matthew Sobek. 2018. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS) from U.S. Census Bureau: Version 9.0 [dataset]. Minneapolis, MN: IPUMS, 2019. Available online.

Skidmore, Thomas E. 2010. Brazil: Five Centuries of Change, 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press.

U.S. Census Bureau. Various years. American Community Survey. American FactFinder. Available online.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Various years. U.S. Border Patrol Nationwide Apprehensions by Citizenship and Sector. Accessed August 28, 2019. Available online.

World Bank. 2019. Annual Remittances Data. Updated April 2019. Available online.