E.g., 10/02/2022
E.g., 10/02/2022
Brazilian Immigrants in the United States

Brazilian Immigrants in the United States

Image of band playing music at a concert in Athens, GA.

Band plays forró, a music rooted in the northeast region of Brazil, during a concert in Athens, Ga. (Photo: iStock.com/Jennifer E. Wolf)

A persistent economic crisis in Brazil, exacerbated by civil and political insecurity, has been a key driver of emigration, including to the United States. Although the number of Brazilian immigrants in the United States has been on the rise for the past four decades, the magnitude and geographies of these flows have made the past decade unique.

Beginning in 2012, Brazil entered an economic downturn accompanied by high unemployment. At the same time, the country began to witness rising crime, highly publicized corruption scandals, and growing political volatility. This, compounded with the steep appreciation of the U.S. dollar against the Brazilian real and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that have left a growing share of Brazilians food insecure, has made the United States an increasingly attractive destination. The Brazilian immigrant population in the United States rose nearly 50 percent between 2010 and 2019, growing from 340,000 to 502,000.

Brazilians have increasingly sought to enter the United States through its border with Mexico. While U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) registered about 3,100 apprehensions of Brazilians along the southern border in fiscal year (FY) 2016, the number of encounters jumped to a record high of nearly 57,000 in FY 2021. The number of Brazilians apprehended by Mexican immigration authorities increased from around 300 in 2016 to nearly 17,000 in 2021.

In response to these growing numbers and pressure from the U.S. government, the Mexican government in December 2021 began requiring Brazilians to obtain tourist visas to enter Mexico. There was a steep drop initially in CBP encounters of Brazilians at the southern border after implementation of the visa requirement, from about 7,900 in December 2021 to 1,300 in March 2022. However, the numbers are once again rising, having reached 4,800 in May, and are likely to continue to increase, at least in the short term.

Brazilians now represent just over 1 percent of the 44.9 million immigrants in the United States as of 2019, continuing a pattern of immigration that began in 1980, when 41,000 Brazilian immigrants lived in the United States. By 1990, the figure had doubled, and reached 212,000 at the turn of the century, before more than doubling again over the next two decades.

Figure 1. Brazilian Immigrant Population in the United States, 1980-2019

Sources: Data from U.S. Census Bureau 2010 and 2019 American Community Surveys (ACS); Campbell J. Gibson and Kay Jung, "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.

The United States is now home to the largest Brazilian immigrant population in the world. Brazilians also reside in Japan (205,000), Portugal (154,000), and Italy and Spain (approximately 133,000 each), according to mid-2020 estimates from the United Nations Population Division. Brazil’s neighbors Paraguay (80,000) and Argentina (49,000) hosted the largest number of Brazilian migrants in South America.

Click here to view an interactive map showing where migrants from Brazil and other countries have settled worldwide.

Most Brazilian immigrants in the United States are not U.S. citizens, and those who gained permanent resident status (also known as a green card) in FY 2020 mainly relied on family or employer sponsorship. Compared to both the foreign- and U.S.-born populations, Brazilian immigrants have higher levels of educational attainment and higher household incomes. However, they experience poverty and lack health insurance at higher rates than the U.S.-born population.

Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau (the 2019 American Community Survey [ACS] as well as pooled 2015-19 ACS data), the Department of Homeland Security’s 2020 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, and World Bank annual remittance data, this Spotlight provides information on the Brazilian immigrant population in the United States, focusing on its size, geographic distribution, and socioeconomic characteristics.

Click on the bullet points below for more information:

Distribution by State and Key Cities

Half of all Brazilian migrants resided in three states as of the 2015-19 period: Florida (22 percent), Massachusetts (17 percent), and California (11 percent). The top five counties with Brazilian immigrants were Middlesex County in Massachusetts along with four counties in Florida—Broward, Miami-Dade, Orange, and Palm Beach. Together, the five counties were home to 24 percent of Brazilian immigrants in the United States.

Figure 2. Top Destination States for Brazilian Immigrants in the United States, 2015-19

Note: Pooled 2015-19 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 Migration Policy Institute’s (MPI) Migration Data Hub for 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 2015-19 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 U.S. cities with the largest number of Brazilian immigrants were the greater Boston (13 percent), Miami (13 percent), and New York (12 percent) metropolitan areas. Over one-third of all Brazilian immigrants resided in these three metro areas.

Figure 3. Top Metropolitan Area Destinations for Brazilian Immigrants in the United States, 2015-19

Note: Pooled 2015-19 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 2015-19 ACS.

Click here for an interactive map that highlights the metropolitan areas with the highest concentrations of immigrants from Brazil and elsewhere.

Table 1. Top Concentration of Brazilian Immigrants by U.S. Metropolitan Area, 2015-19

Source: MPI tabulation of data from U.S. Census Bureau pooled 2015-19 ACS.

English Proficiency

In 2019, 43 percent of Brazilian immigrants ages 5 and older reported having limited English proficiency, a rate slightly lower than the total foreign-born population (46 percent). Still, a slightly smaller share of Brazilian immigrants reported speaking only English at home (11 percent) than the total immigrant population (16 percent).

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

Age, Education, and Employment

In 2019, the median age of Brazilian immigrants was 39, lower than that of the overall foreign-born population (age 46) but slightly higher than that of the U.S.-born population (age 37). A greater share of Brazilian immigrants is of working age (between ages 18 and 64) than the overall immigrant population, at 85 percent and 78 percent, respectively (see Figure 4). Both populations were far more likely to be in the 18-64 age group than the U.S.-born population (59 percent). This higher workforce participation by Brazilians reflects the economic motivation many have in coming to the United States.

Figure 4. Age Distribution of U.S. Residents by Origin, 2019

Source: MPI tabulation of data from U.S. Census Bureau 2019 ACS.

Compared to the overall foreign- and U.S.-born adult populations, Brazilian immigrants have a higher level of educational attainment. In 2019, 44 percent of Brazilian immigrant adults (ages 25 and older) held a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 33 percent for both the total immigrant and U.S.-born populations. A slightly greater share of Brazilian immigrants (17 percent) had graduate or professional degrees than all immigrant adults (14 percent) and U.S.-born adults (13 percent).

According to the Institute of International Education, about 14,000 international students from Brazil were enrolled in U.S. higher education institutions in the 2020-21 school year. Although this represents a relatively small share of the 914,000 foreign nationals studying in the United States, Brazil ranked eighth among sending countries. It was also the largest country of origin from Latin America and the Caribbean, representing almost 20 percent of all students from the region studying in the United States.

Brazilian immigrants participated in the civilian labor force at a higher rate (70 percent) than both the overall foreign-born population (67 percent) and the U.S.-born population (62 percent) in 2019. A large share of Brazilians was employed in management, business, science, and arts occupations, followed by those employed in service occupations (see Figure 5).

Figure 5. Employed Workers in the U.S. Civilian Labor Force (ages 16 and older) by Occupation and Origin, 2019

Source: MPI tabulation of data from U.S. Census Bureau 2019 ACS.

Income and Poverty

Brazilian immigrants tend to have higher median household incomes than both the overall immigrant and U.S.-born populations. In 2019, Brazilian immigrants had a median household income of about $68,000, while U.S.-born households reported a median income of $66,000 and all immigrant households $64,000. At the same time, Brazilian immigrants experienced poverty at a higher rate (15 percent) than the U.S.-born population (12 percent), but at a relatively similar rate to the overall immigrant population (14 percent).

Immigration Pathways and Naturalization

Immigrants from Brazil are considerably less likely than the overall immigrant population to be naturalized U.S. citizens. As of 2019, just 35 percent of Brazilian immigrants had become U.S. citizens, compared to 52 percent of the total foreign-born population. This lower rate of citizenship acquisition is in part a reflection of the recency of Brazilians’ arrival, with 47 percent entering in 2010 or later. For comparison, 25 percent of all immigrants arrived during the same period (see Figure 6). It also is due to the pattern of circular migration that existed for many Brazilians who viewed their U.S. sojourn as a temporary stay. That trend may be changing, however, as increasing numbers of Brazilians appear to be leaving their native country with no intention of returning.

Figure 6. Brazilian and All Immigrants in the United States by Period of Arrival, 2019

Source: MPI tabulation of data from U.S. Census Bureau 2019 ACS.

In FY 2020, nearly 17,000 Brazilians gained legal permanent residence (also known as getting a green card). Of this group, 53 percent did so through familial ties as spouses, children, or parents of U.S. citizens, or through other family-sponsored preferences, and another 44 percent became permanent residents through employer sponsorship. Virtually no Brazilians received green cards as humanitarian migrants (see Figure 7).

Figure 7. Immigration Pathways of Brazilian and All Lawful Permanent Residents in the United States, FY 2020

Notes: Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens include spouses, minor children, and parents of U.S. citizens. Family-sponsored preferences include adult children and siblings of U.S. citizens as well as spouses and children of green-card holders. The Diversity Visa lottery was established by the Immigration Act of 1990 to allow entry to immigrants from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. The law states that 55,000 diversity visas in total are to be made available each fiscal year. Individuals born in Brazil were not eligible for the 2023 lottery.
Source: MPI tabulation of data from Department of Homeland Security (DHS), 2020 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics (Washington, DC: DHS Office of Immigration Statistics, 2022), available online.

Unauthorized Immigrant Population

There were approximately 178,000 unauthorized immigrants from Brazil living in the United States in 2019, according to Migration Policy Institute (MPI) estimates. They represented less than 2 percent of the estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the country. Key destinations included Broward County, Florida (12,000 unauthorized Brazilians); Fairfield County, Connecticut (9,000); and Orange County, Florida (8,000).

Click here for an interactive data tool showing top states and counties of residence for unauthorized immigrants in the United States by country or region of origin.

As of March 2022, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reported that 4,640 Brazilians were beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, representing the seventh largest country of origin among beneficiaries. Of the 611,270 current DACA recipients, less than 1 percent were born in Brazil. The DACA program provides temporary protection from deportation and work authorization.

Click here for two interactive data tools showing MPI estimates of DACA-eligible unauthorized immigrant populations by state and for top countries of origin.

Health Coverage

Brazilian immigrants were more likely to be uninsured than both the overall immigrant and U.S.-born populations. In 2019, 26 percent of Brazilian immigrants were uninsured, compared to 20 percent of all foreign-born persons and 8 percent of all U.S.-born persons. Brazilian immigrants held private health insurance at roughly the same rate (57 percent) as the overall immigrant population (58 percent) but were less likely to have public coverage than all immigrants (see Figure 8).

Figure 8. Health Insurance Coverage for the U.S. Population by Nativity, 2019

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 U.S. Census Bureau 2019 ACS.

Diaspora

The Brazilian diaspora in the United States is comprised of approximately 684,000 individuals who were born in Brazil or reported Brazilian ancestry, according to tabulations from the 2019 ACS. It is not among the top 20 diasporas in size.

Click here to see estimates of the top 20 diasporas groups in the United States in 2019.

Remittances

Brazil received $3.6 billion in remittances from individuals in countries around the world via formal, measurable channels in 2020, up from $3.2 billion in 2019, according to data from the World Bank (see Figure 9). The size of global remittances sent to Brazil in 2020 was 164 percent larger than in 2000. Remittances accounted for just 0.2 percent of Brazil’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020.

Figure 9. Annual Remittance Flows to Brazil, 1980-2020

Note: The 2020 figure represents World Bank estimates.
Source: World Bank Prospects Group, “Annual Remittances Data,” May 2021 update, available online.

Visit the Migration Data Hub’s collection of interactive remittances tools, which track remittances by inflow and outflow, between countries, and over time.

Sources

FGV Social. 2022. Food Insecurity in Brazil: Pandemic, Trends, and International Comparisons. Rio de Janeiro: FGV Social. Available online.

Gibson, Campbell J. and Kay Jung. 2006. 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.

Gombata, Marsílea and Álvaro Fagundes. 2022. Taxa de brasileiros que saem do país e não voltam é a maior em 11 anos. Valor Econômico. April 8, 2022. Available online.

Institute of International Education (IIE). N.d. International Students: All Places of Origin. Accessed July 12, 2022. Available online.

Magalhaes, Luciana, Samantha Pearson, and Michelle Hackman. 2022. Desperate to Cross into the U.S., Some Brazilians Create Phony Families. Wall Street Journal, May 8, 2022. Available online

Secretaría de Gobernación: Unidad de Política Migratoria, Registro e Identidad de Personas. 2022. 2022 Boletín estadístico mensual. Available online.

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC). 2021. Border Patrol Arrests. Updated through September 2021. Available online.

United Nations Population Division. N.d. International Migrant Stock 2020: Destination and Origin. Accessed July 12, 2022. Available online.

U.S. Census Bureau. 2020. 2019 American Community Survey. Accessed from Steven Ruggles, Katie Genadek, Ronald Goeken, Josiah Grover, and Matthew Sobek. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 11.0 [dataset]. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota. Available online.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). 2022. Count of Active DACA Recipients by Month of Current DACA Expiration as of March 31, 2022. Available online.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). 2022. Nationwide Encounters. Last modified July 15, 2022. Available online.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Office of Immigration Statistics. 2022. 2020 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics. Washington, DC: DHS Office of Immigration Statistics. Available online.

World Bank Prospects Group. N.d. Annual Remittances Data, May 2021 update. Available online.