1.8 Million Immigrants Likely Arrived in 2016, Matching Highest Level in U.S. History

Steven A. Camarota and Karen Zeigler, Center for Immaigration Studies. December 28, 2017

Numbers show 53 percent increase compared to low point in 2011

Steven A. Camarota and Karen Zeigler, Center for Immigration Studies on December 28, 2017

This analysis is based on newly released data from the Census Bureau. The analysis shows that 1.03 million immigrants (legal and illegal) settled in the United States in the first six months of 2016. Based on prior patterns, a total of 1.8 million immigrants likely came in all of 2016. The new data shows a dramatic rebound in immigration after 2011, when new arrivals fell after the Great Recession. Newly arrived immigrants include new green card holders (permanent residents) and long-term term “temporary” visitors, such as guestworkers and foreign students, many of whom eventually become permanent residents. It also includes new asylum seekers, as well as new illegal immigrants who cross the border surreptitiously or overstay a temporary visa.

  • More than one million new immigrants (legal and illegal) settled in the country in the first six months of 2016. This represents a 13 percent increase over the same period in 2015, a 21 percent increase over 2014, and a 53 percent increase over 2011, when new immigration reached a low point after the recession.
  • The 1.03 million new immigrants who came in the first six months of 2016 is larger than the number of immigrants who came in all of 2011.
  • Based on past patterns, it seems almost certain that when data becomes available for all of 2016 it will show 1.8 million new immigrants arrived in 2016, matching 1999 — the largest number of new immigration in a single year in American history.1 (See Figure 1.)
  • The data also shows that 1.6 million new immigrants settled in the country in 2015 — the most in 15 years.2 (See Figure 1.)
  • The 1.8 million immigrants who likely came in 2016 and the 1.6 million who came in 2015 are a continuation of a dramatic rebound in immigration since 2011. In 2014, 1.5 million came, in 2013 it was 1.3 million, in 2012 it was 1.2 million, and in 2011 1.1 million new immigrants settled in the country.
  • Sending regions showing the most dramatic increase in new arrivals between 2011 and 2015 are Central America (up 132 percent), South America (up 114 percent), the Caribbean (up 64 percent), and the Middle East and South Asia (both up 52 percent). South Asia includes India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.3 (See Figure 2 and Table 1.)
  • Mexico remains the top sending country, with 190,000 immigrants (legal and illegal) settling in the United States in 2015, and with 216,000 likely coming in all of 2016. While the number of new arrivals from Mexico has roughly doubled since 2011, the number coming remains well below the annual level that existed more than decade ago.4 (See Figure 2 and Table 1.)
  • The dramatic increase in new immigrants settling in the United States in recent years is primarily driven by the nation’s generous legal immigration system for both long-term temporary visa holders (e.g. guestworkers and foreign students) and new permanent residents (green card holders).
  • There is evidence that the arrival of new illegal immigrants may have also rebounded in the last few years. The number of new, less-educated, younger immigrants arriving each year from Latin America roughly doubled from 2011 to 2016. However, the level remains well below what it was before the recession. (See Figure 4.)
  • The decision to admit large numbers of unaccompanied minors, as well as minors traveling with adults, likely accounts for some of the increase in new illegal immigration, particularly from Central America.5

Data Source. In October 2017 the Census Bureau released the public-use data from the 2016 American Community Survey (ACS). The survey reflects the U.S. population as of July 1, 2016. The ACS is by far the largest survey taken by the federal government each year and includes over two million households.6 In September, the Census Bureau posted some of the results from the ACS to its American FactFinder system. However, only by analyzing the public-use micro data from the ACS, not the tables generated from FactFinder, can we measure new arrivals, as shown in Figures 1 and 2. To measure the number of new arrivals, we use what is often referred to as the year-of-arrival question in the ACS. The survey asks respondents what year they came to the United States to live.

Immigrants, including recent arrivals, are typically referred to as the foreign-born by the Census Bureau. These are individuals who were not U.S. citizens at birth. It includes naturalized citizens, legal permanent residents (green card holders), temporary workers, and foreign students. It does not include those born to immigrants in the United States, including to illegal immigrant parents, or those born in outlying U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico. In addition, prior research by the Department of Homeland Security and others indicates that some 90 percent of illegal immigrants respond to the ACS.7 Thus all the figures reported above are for both legal and illegal immigrants.

Newly arrived immigrants captured in the Census Bureau’s ACS include the foreign-born as described above. It does not include those who come to the United State for short stays such as tourists or business travelers. The ACS uses a two-month rule to determine who will be included in the survey. That is, the survey counts anyone residing for at least two months at an address. While there are very few newly arrived immigrants in institutions, the ACS does include that population as well, which includes prisons and nursing homes.8 Since the survey represents the population at mid-year, it is necessary to wait until next year’s ACS is released to get a complete picture of the total number of immigrants for the year. So, for example, the total number of new arrivals in 2015 was available once the 2016 ACS was released.

However, the number of new arrivals in the first six months of the year is also available. Data from the first half of the year can be used to project the likely number of new arrivals for the full year based on prior patterns. Based on the first six months of data, CIS projected last year that once it was released the ACS would show 1.59 million new immigrants settled in the United States in 2015. As Figure 1 shows, the new ACS data shows that 1.62 million came in 2015 — a 2 percent difference from the CIS projection last year. Based on the 1.031 million who arrived in the first quarter of 2016, we project that new arrivals for all of 2016 will total 1.796 million, as shown in Figure 1.

[Editor’s Note: References and figures are included in the original story.]

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