Posted on May 4, 2017

Key Findings About U.S. Immigrants

Gustavo López and Kristen Bialik, Pew Research, May 3, 2017

America Land of Immigrants

Credit Image: © Yin Bogu/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire

The U.S. has more immigrants than any other country in the world. Today, more than 40 million people living in the U.S. were born in another country, accounting for about one-fifth of the world’s migrants in 2015. The population of immigrants is also very diverse, with just about every country in the world represented among U.S. immigrants.

Pew Research Center regularly publishes statistical portraits of the nation’s foreign-born population, which include historical trends since 1960. Based on these portraits, here are answers to some key questions about the U.S. immigrant population.

How many people in the U.S. are immigrants?

The U.S. foreign-born population reached a record 43.2 million in 2015. Since 1965, when U.S. immigration laws replaced a national quota system, the number of immigrants living in the U.S. has more than quadrupled. Immigrants today account for 13.4% of the U.S. population, nearly triple the share (4.7%) in 1970. However, today’s immigrant share remains below the record 14.8% share in 1890, when 9.2 million immigrants lived in the U.S.

What is the legal status of immigrants in the U.S.?

Most immigrants (76%) are in the country legally, while a quarter are unauthorized. In 2015, 44% were naturalized U.S. citizens.

Some 27% of immigrants were permanent residents and 5% were temporary residents. Another 24% of all immigrants were unauthorized immigrants in 2015. From 1990 to 2007, the unauthorized immigrant population tripled in size – from 3.5 million to a record high of 12.2 million. During the Great Recession, the number declined by 1 million and since then has leveled off. In 2015, there were 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S., accounting for 3.4% of the nation’s population.

The decline in the unauthorized immigrant population is due largely to a fall in the number from Mexico – the single largest group of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. Between 2007 and 2015, this group decreased by more than 1 million. Meanwhile, this decline was partly offset by a rise in the number from Central America, Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.


Where do immigrants come from?

Mexico is the top origin country of the U.S. immigrant population. In 2015, 11.6 million immigrants living in the U.S. were from there, accounting for 27% of all U.S. immigrants. The next largest origin groups were those from China (6%), India (6%), the Philippines (5%) and El Salvador (3%).

By region of birth, immigrants from South and East Asia combined accounted for 27% of all immigrants, a share equal to that of Mexico. Other regions make up smaller shares: Europe/Canada (14%), the Caribbean (10%), Central America (8%), South America (7%), the Middle East (4%) and sub-Saharan Africa (4%).

Who is arriving today?

About 1 million immigrants arrive in the U.S. each year. In 2015, the top country of origin for new immigrants coming into the U.S. was India, with 110,000 people, followed by Mexico (109,000), China (90,000) and Canada (35,000).

By race and ethnicity, more Asian immigrants than Hispanic immigrants have arrived in the U.S. each year since 2010. Immigration from Latin America slowed following the Great Recession, particularly from Mexico, which has seen net losses in U.S. immigration over the past few years.

Asians are projected to become the largest immigrant group in the U.S. by 2055, surpassing Hispanics. In 2065, Pew Research Center estimates indicate that Asians will make up some 38% of all immigrants, Hispanics 31%, whites 20% and blacks 9%.

Is the immigrant population growing?

New immigrant arrivals have fallen, mainly due to a decrease in the number of unauthorized immigrants coming to the U.S. The fall in the growth of the unauthorized immigrant population can partly be attributed to more Mexican immigrants leaving the U.S. than coming in.

Looking forward, immigrants and their descendants are projected to account for 88% of U.S. population growth through 2065, assuming current immigration trends continue. In addition to new arrivals, U.S. births to immigrant parents will be important to future U.S. growth. In 2015, the percentage of women giving birth in the past year was higher among immigrants (7.4%) than among the U.S. born (5.8%). While U.S.-born women gave birth to over 3 million children that year, immigrant women gave birth to over 700,000.

How many immigrants have come to the U.S. as refugees?

Since the creation of the federal Refugee Resettlement Program in 1980, about 3 million refugges have been resettled in the U.S – more than any other country.

In fiscal 2016, a total of 84,995 refugees were resettled in the U.S. The largest origin group of refugees was the Democratic Republic of the Congo, followed by Syria, Burma (Myanmar), Iraq and Somalia. Among all refugees admitted in that fiscal year, 38,901 are Muslims (46%) and 37,521 are Christians (44%)California, Texas and New York resettled nearly a quarter of all refugees admitted in fiscal 2016.


How well do immigrants speak English?

Among immigrants ages 5 and older, half (51%) are proficient English speakers – either speaking English very well (35%) or only speaking English at home (16%).

Immigrants from Mexico have the lowest rates of English proficiency (31%), followed by Central Americans (33%) and immigrants from South and East Asia (54%). Those from Europe or Canada (76%), sub-Saharan Africa (75%), and the Middle East (61%) have the highest rates of English proficiency.


Among immigrants ages 5 and older, Spanish is the most commonly spoken language. Some 44% of immigrants in the U.S. speak Spanish at home. The top five languages spoken at home among immigrants outside of Spanish are English only (16%), followed by Chinese (6%), Hindi (5%), Filipino/Tagalog (4%) and French (3%).