E.g., 06/28/2024
E.g., 06/28/2024
Mexican Immigrants in the United States

Mexican Immigrants in the United States

A mariachi band performing in Scottsdale, Arizona.

A mariachi band performing in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

While Mexicans remain the largest group of immigrants in the United States, accounting for about 24 percent of the 45.3 million foreign-born residents in the country as of 2021, their numbers have been shrinking for more than a decade. The COVID-19 pandemic seems to have slowed this decline somewhat. And the public-health crisis also may have played a role in returning Mexicans to the top nationality for new arrivals, outpacing those from China and India for the first time in several years. 

In 2021, there were about 10.7 million Mexican-born individuals living in the United States. Despite the continued popularity of the United States as a destination, the Mexican immigrant population decreased by about 1 million people (or 9 percent) between 2010 and 2021. Between 2005 and 2014, the number of Mexicans leaving the United States outpaced the number of new arrivals, although this trend later reversed, according to Pew Research Center estimates, with the number of returns to Mexico falling.

For several years starting in 2013 Mexico ceased to be the top country of origin for new immigrants to the United States, overtaken by India and China. However, recent data suggest that during the pandemic Mexicans have again become the largest new immigrant group, amid widespread restrictions on mobility particularly for people traveling long distances. Among U.S. foreign-born residents who in 2021 reported that they lived abroad a year before, 96,000 were Mexican as compared to 76,000 Indians and 56,000 immigrants from mainland China.

Mexicans also received the largest number of overall nonimmigrant visas—including, in particular, temporary worker visas—ahead of China and India in both fiscal year (FY) 2020 and FY 2021. Similarly, Mexicans are the top recipients of lawful permanent residence (also referred as obtaining a green card): 107,200 Mexicans received a green card in FY 2021, compared to 93,500 from India and 49,800 from mainland China. Most Mexican receiving lawful permanent residence in FY 2021 already lived in the United States and were adjusting from another status; just 34,900 had applied from outside the United States.

Figure 1. Mexican Immigrant Population in the United States, 1980-2021

Sources: Data from U.S. Census Bureau 2010 and 2021 American Community Surveys (ACS), and 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.

Click here to view an interactive chart showing the number of Mexican immigrants and their share of all U.S. immigrants over time.

Mexicans also account for the largest group of unauthorized immigrants: 48 percent of the total 11 million people in 2019, according to estimates from the Migration Policy Institute (MPI). Although the number of unauthorized immigrants from Mexico has been on the decline, this trend may have shifted due in part to effects of the pandemic. As inflation increases in Mexico, climbing to a 21-year high in August 2022, more Mexicans have headed to the U.S. border. In FY 2020, for the first time in five years, Mexicans accounted for more than half of all encounters recorded by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and the number of encounters of Mexicans at the border in FY 2022 reached its highest point since FY 2007.

The United States is overwhelmingly the most popular destination for Mexicans living abroad, accounting for 97 percent of all Mexican emigrants. In fact, 8 percent of all people born in Mexico lived in the United States as of 2020. Canada is home to the next largest population of Mexicans (87,000), followed by Spain (61,000), Germany (20,000), and Guatemala (19,000), according to mid-2020 United Nations Population Division estimates.

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

Within the United States, almost 60 percent of Mexican immigrants live in California or Texas. Most Mexican immigrants are not U.S. citizens, and those who gained permanent resident status in FY 2021 mainly did so via family sponsorship. Compared to both the overall foreign- and U.S.-born populations, Mexican immigrants have lower levels of educational attainment and lower household incomes. They also tend to have lived in the United States for longer than all immigrants and are more likely to be in the labor force than U.S.-born adults.

Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau (the most recent 2021 American Community Survey [ACS], the 2019 ACS, and pooled 2015-19 ACS data), the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics, the World Bank, and MPI, this Spotlight provides information on the Mexican immigrant population in the United States, focusing on its size, geographic distribution, and socioeconomic characteristics.

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.

Click on the bullet points below for more information:

Distribution by State and Key Cities

Most immigrants from Mexico lived in California (36 percent) Texas (22 percent), Illinois (6 percent), and Arizona (5 percent) as of the 2015-19 period, which represents the most recent pooled data file available from the U.S. Census Bureau at this writing. (MPI uses the five-year file for more precise estimates for smaller geographies and populations.) The next six most populous states—Florida, Washington, Georgia, North Carolina, Colorado, and Nevada—were home to an additional 13 percent of the Mexican-born population. The four counties with the most Mexican immigrants were Los Angeles County in California, Harris County in Texas, Cook County in Illinois, and Dallas County in Texas. Together, these counties accounted for 22 percent of the Mexican immigrant population.

Figure 2. Top States of Residence for Mexican Immigrants in the United States, 2015-19

Notes: Pooled 2015-19 ACS data, which were the most recent available from the U.S. Census Bureau at this writing, were used to get statistically valid estimates at the state level for smaller-population geographies. Not shown are the populations in Alaska, which are small in size; for details, visit the Migration Policy Institute (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 Mexico from the dropdown menu to see which states and counties have the highest distributions of Mexican immigrants.

As of 2015-19, the U.S. cities with the largest number of Mexicans were the greater Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, and Houston metropolitan areas. Thirty-one percent of Mexican immigrants lived in these four metro areas.

Figure 3. Top Metropolitan Areas of Residence for Mexican 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.
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 Mexico and elsewhere.

Table 1. Top Concentrations of Mexican Immigrants by U.S. Metropolitan Area, 2015-19

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

English Proficiency

Mexican immigrants are less likely to be proficient in English than the overall foreign-born population. In 2021, about 65 percent of Mexicans ages 5 and over reported limited English proficiency, compared to about 46 percent of all immigrants. Approximately 6 percent of Mexican immigrants spoke only English at home, versus 17 percent of all immigrants.

Note: Limited English Proficient (LEP) status refers to those who indicated on the ACS questionnaire that they spoke English less than “very well.”

Age, Education, and Employment

In 2021, Mexican immigrants were of roughly the same average age as the overall foreign-born population but older than the U.S.-born population. Their median age was about 46 years old, compared to 47 for all immigrants and 37 for the native-born population. Mexican immigrants were more likely than the native- and overall foreign-born populations to be of working age (18 to 64 years old; see Figure 4).

Figure 4. Age Distribution of the U.S. Population by Origin, 2021

Note: Percentages 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 2021 ACS.

Mexican adults have much lower rates of educational attainment than both the native- and overall foreign-born populations. In 2021, approximately 52 percent of Mexican immigrants ages 25 and older lacked a high school diploma or equivalent, compared to 26 percent of foreign-born adults and 7 percent of U.S.-born adults. About 9 percent of Mexican immigrants reported having a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 35 percent of U.S.-born and 34 percent of immigrant adults. However, the college-educated share of Mexicans who arrived within the past five years was much higher: 19 percent as of 2019.

According to the Institute of International Education, about 13,000 international students from Mexico were enrolled in U.S. higher education institutions in the 2020-21 school year. A relatively small share of the 914,000 international students in the United States, Mexico ranked ninth among sending countries. Following Brazil, Mexico was the second largest country of origin from Latin America and the Caribbean, representing approximately 18 percent of the 72,900 students from the region in the United States.

Mexicans participate in the labor force at slightly higher rates than the native born and overall foreign-born population. About 68 percent of Mexican immigrants ages 16 and older were in the civilian labor force in 2021, compared to 66 percent and 62 percent for the foreign- and U.S.-born populations, respectively. Compared to those two groups, Mexicans were more likely to be employed in the service; natural resources, construction, and maintenance; and production, transportation, and material moving occupations (see Figure 5).

Figure 5. Employed Workers in the U.S. Civilian Labor Force (ages 16 and older) by Occupation and Origin, 2021

Note: Percentages 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 2021 ACS.

Income and Poverty

On average, Mexicans have lower incomes than the overall foreign- and native-born populations. In 2021, households headed by a Mexican immigrant had a median annual income of $56,000, compared to $70,000 for all immigrant- and native-led households.

In 2021, Mexican immigrants were more likely to be in poverty (17 percent) than immigrants overall (14 percent) or the U.S. born (13 percent).

Immigration Pathways and Naturalization

Mexicans are much less likely to be naturalized U.S. citizens than immigrants overall. In 2021, 35 percent of Mexican immigrants were U.S. citizens, compared to 53 percent of the total foreign-born population.

Compared to all immigrants, Mexicans are more likely to have arrived in the United States at least a decade ago: 57 percent arrived prior to 2000, compared to 48 percent for all immigrants. Just 16 percent have arrived since 2010, as compared to 28 percent for the overall immigrant population (see Figure 6).

Figure 6. Immigrants from Mexico and All Immigrants in the United States by Period of Arrival, 2021

Note: Percentages 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 2021 ACS.

In FY 2021, Mexico was the top country of origin for new lawful permanent residents (LPRs); approximately 107,200, or 14 percent of the 740,000 people receiving a green card that year, were from Mexico. In FY 2021, 84 percent of Mexicans who received a green card that year did so either as an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen or green-card holder or as another family member of a citizen, a much higher share than the 61 percent of all new LPRs (see Figure 7).

Figure 7. Immigration Pathways of Mexican and All New Legal Permanent Residents in the United States, FY 2021

Notes: Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens: Includes spouses, minor children, and parents of U.S. citizens. Family-Sponsored Preferences: Includes 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 made available each fiscal year. Individuals born in Mexico are not eligible for the lottery. Percentages may not add up to 100 as they are rounded to the nearest whole number.
Source: MPI tabulation of data from Department of Homeland Security (DHS), “Table 10D: Persons Obtaining Lawful Permanent Resident Status by Broad Class Of Admission and Region and Country of Birth: Fiscal Year 2021,” updated September 26, 2022, available online.

Unauthorized Immigrant Population

MPI estimates that as of 2019, approximately 5.3 million (48 percent) of the estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States were from Mexico.

Click here to view an interactive map showing MPI’s estimates of the number and geographic distribution (by state and county) of unauthorized immigrants from Mexico and other top origin countries. Click here to view MPI demographic profiles for unauthorized immigrants nationwide, in most states, and in top counties.

Mexican immigrants are the largest group participating in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides temporary deportation relief and work authorization to unauthorized migrants who arrived as children and meet the program’s education and other eligibility criteria. As of mid-2022, 480,200 Mexicans were active DACA participants, accounting for the vast majority of all 594,100 DACA recipients, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data.

Click here to view the top origin countries of DACA recipients and their U.S. states of residence.

Health Coverage

Mexicans have low health insurance coverage rates compared to all immigrants and the U.S. born. In 2021, 37 percent of immigrants from Mexico were uninsured, compared to 19 percent of the entire foreign-born population and 7 percent of the U.S. born (see Figure 8).

Figure 8. Health Coverage for Mexican Immigrants, All Immigrants, and the U.S. Born, 2021

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 2021 ACS.

Diaspora

The Mexican diaspora is comprised of approximately 38.7 million U.S. residents who were either born in Mexico or reported Mexican ancestry or origin, according to MPI tabulation of data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 ACS. The Mexican diaspora is the second largest in the country, after the German-origin diaspora.

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

Remittances

More than $54.1 billion in remittances was sent to Mexico via formal channels in 2021, according to the World Bank, the vast majority undoubtedly from the United States. Remittances have steadily risen following a dip around the time of the Great Recession in 2008-09 and grew at an even faster rate during the COVID-19 pandemic despite an initial prediction that they would decline. Global remittances represented about 4 percent of Mexico’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2021. 

Figure 9. Annual Remittance Flows to Mexico, 1990-2021

Note: The 2021 figure represents World Bank estimates.
Source: MPI tabulations of data from the World Bank Global Knowledge Partnership on Migration and Development (KNOMAD), “Remittance Inflows,” May 2022 update, available online.

Click here to view an interactive chart showing annual remittances received and sent by Mexico and other countries.

Sources

Batalova, Jeanne. 2022. Temporary Visa Holders in the United States. Migration Information Source, September 15, 2022. Available online.

Cortes Fernandez, Raul, Diego Ore, and Brendan O’Boyle. 2022. Remittances to Mexico Again Break Record on Back of Strong U.S. Labor Market. Reuters, September 1, 2022. 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.

Gonzalez-Barrera, Ana. 2015. More Mexicans Leaving than Coming to the U.S. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center. Available online.

---. 2021. Before COVID-19, More Mexicans Came to the U.S. than Left for Mexico for the First Time in Years. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center. Available online.

Institute of International Education (IIE). N.d. International Students: All Places of Origin. Accessed September 30, 2022. Available online.

Knowledge Partnership on Migration and Development (KNOMAD)/World Bank Group. 2022. Remittance Inflows. Updated May 2022. Available online.

Migration Policy Institute (MPI) Migration Data Hub. N.d. Educational Attainment of U.S. Adults (ages 25 and over) by Nativity and Country of Birth, 2019. Accessed September 28, 2022. Available online.

Torres, Noe and Gabriel Burin. 2022. Mexican Inflation Seen at 8.71% in the First Half of September. Reuters, September 19, 2022. Available online.

United Nations Population Division. N.d. International Migrant Stock by Destination and Origin. Accessed September 28, 2022. Available online.

U.S. Census Bureau. 2022. 2021 American Community Survey. Accessed from Steven Ruggles, Katie Genadek, Ronald Goeken, Josiah Grover, and Matthew Sobek. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 7.0 [dataset]. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota. Available online.

---. N.d. 2021 American Community Survey—Advanced Search. Accessed September 28, 2022. Available online.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). 2022. Count of Active DACA Recipients by Country of Birth as of June 30, 2022. Washington, DC: USCIS. Available online.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Immigration Statistics. 2022. Immigration Data and Statistics. Updated September 30, 2022. Available online.

Yakshilikov, Yorbol. 2022. The Unexpected Rise in Remittances to Central America and Mexico During the Pandemic. International Monetary Fund, September 21, 2022. Available online.