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Frequently Requested Statistics on Immigrants and Immigration in the United States

by Aaron Terrazas and Jeanne Batalova for the Migration Information Source

Originally published on the Migration Information Source www.migrationinformation.org, a project of the Migration Policy Institute.

The continuing debate about the future of immigration in the United States, coupled with concerns over one of the most severe economic recessions in a century and a heated health-care reform debate, have kept immigrants under great policy and public scrutiny.

Where they are from? How many come annually and are already here? What are the characteristics of immigrants and their children? Do they have health insurance? Where do they live? How large are illegal immigration flows, and how has the government responded?

This Spotlight provides answers to these and other frequently asked questions by bringing together resources from the Migration Policy Institute; the US Census Bureau's 2008 American Community Survey (ACS), 2000 decennial census, and 2008 Current Population Survey; the US departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and State (DOS); and Mexico's National Population Council (CONAPO) and National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI).

Click on the bullet points below for more information on each topic:

Current and Historical Numbers and Shares How many immigrants are in the United States today?
According to the US Census Bureau's 2008 American Community Survey, there were 37,960,935 foreign born in the United States, 12.5 percent of the total US population.

Definitions
"Foreign born" and "immigrants" are used interchangeably and refer to persons with no US citizenship at birth. This population includes naturalized citizens, lawful permanent residents, refugees and asylees, persons on certain temporary visas, and the unauthorized.
The number of foreign born in the United States reported in the 2008 American Community Survey is slightly lower than the 38,059,694 foreign born (12.6 percent of the total population) reported in the 2007 American Community Survey. However, the difference is small and is not statistically significant. Still, this is a departure from previous years when the number of foreign born in the United States grew rapidly.

  • For background on the American Community Survey (ACS), see the ACS page on the US Census Bureau website.
What are the historical numbers and shares of immigrants in the United States?
Data on the nativity of the US population was first collected in the 1850 decennial census. That year, there were 2.2 million foreign born in the United States, 9.7 percent of the total population.

Between 1860 and 1920, immigrants as a percentage of the total population fluctuated between about 13 and 15 percent, peaking at 14.8 percent in 1890 mainly due to European immigration. By 1930, immigrants' share of the US population had dropped to 11.6 percent (14.2 million individuals).

The share of foreign born in the US population continued to decline between the 1930s and 1970s, reaching a record low of 4.7 percent in 1970 (9.6 million individuals). However, since 1970, the percentage has risen rapidly, mainly due to large-scale immigration from Latin America and Asia.

In 1980, according to the US Census Bureau, the foreign born represented 6.2 percent (14.1 million individuals) of the total US population. By 1990, their share had risen to 7.9 percent (19.8 million individuals) and, by the 2000 census, they made up 11.1 percent (31.1 million individuals) of the total US population.

As of 2008, immigrants comprised 12.5 percent (38.0 million) of the total US population.

Which countries had the largest share of immigrants in 2008 compared with those in 1960?
Mexican-born immigrants accounted for 30.1 percent of all foreign born residing in the United States in 2008, by far the largest immigrant group in the United States.

The Philippines accounted for 4.4 percent of all foreign born, followed by India and China (excluding Hong Kong and Taiwan) with 4.3 percent and 3.6 percent, respectively.

These four countries — together with Vietnam (3.0 percent), El Salvador (2.9 percent), Korea (2.7 percent), Cuba (2.6 percent), Canada (2.2 percent), and the Dominican Republic (2.0 percent) — made up 57.7 percent of all foreign born residing in the United States in 2008.

The predominance of immigrants from Mexico and Asian countries in the early 21st century starkly contrasts with the foreign born from mostly European countries in 1960. Italian-born immigrants made up 13.0 percent of all foreign born in 1960, followed by those born in Germany and Canada (accounting for 10.2 and 9.8 percent, respectively). Unlike in 2008, no single country accounted for more than 15 percent of the total immigrant population in 1960.

  • To view the top 10 source countries of immigrants to the United States in 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2008, visit the US Historical Trends tool.

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Demographic, Educational, and Linguistic Characteristics

What share of all immigrants residing in the United States are women?
Of the 38.0 million foreign-born population in the United States in 2008, 49.9 percent were female. The share of women declined slightly in the last three decades. Women accounted for 53.4 percent of the 14.1 million immigrants in 1980, 51.1 percent of the 19.7 million immigrants in 1990, and 50.2 percent of the 31.1 million immigrants in 2000.

How many immigrants have come to the United States since 2000?
Of the 38.0 million foreign born in the United States in 2008, 41.9 percent entered the country prior to 1990, 28.6 percent between 1990 and 1999, and 29.5 percent in 2000 or later.

How many immigrants are naturalized US citizens?
Just over two in five (43.0 percent) immigrants in the United States in 2008 were naturalized US citizens. The remaining 57.0 percent of immigrants included lawful permanent residents, unauthorized immigrants, and legal residents on temporary visas, such as students and temporary workers.

Of the 16.3 million naturalized citizens in 2008, 32.9 percent naturalized between 2001 and 2008, 32.2 percent between 1991 and 2000, 15.9 percent between 1981 and 1990, and 18.9 percent naturalized prior to 1981.
Definitions
College-educated persons are defined as adults 25 and older with a bachelor's degree and higher.

The concept of race, as the US Census Bureau uses it, reflects how people choose to self-identify. Race categories include both racial and national-origin groups.

More on the Census Bureau definition here.

Hispanics or Latinos are not a racial category. They include those people who classified themselves in one of the specific Spanish, Hispanic, or Latino categories listed on the Census 2000 questionnaire — "Mexican, Mexican Am., Chicano," "Puerto Rican," or "Cuban" — as well as those who indicated they are "other Spanish/Hispanic/Latino."

Persons who indicated they are "other Spanish/Hispanic/Latino" include those whose origins are from Spain, the Spanish-speaking countries of Central or South America, or the Dominican Republic, or people identifying themselves generally as Spanish, Spanish-American, Hispanic, Hispano, Latino, and so on.

More on the Census Bureau definition here.

What is the racial composition of immigrants?
Of the foreign born in the United States in 2008, 48.9 percent reported their race as white alone, 8.1 percent as black or African American alone, 23.7 percent as Asian alone, and 17.0 percent as some other race; 1.5 percent reported having two or more races.

How many immigrants are of Hispanic origin?
In 2008, 46.9 percent of the 38.0 million foreign born reported Hispanic or Latino origins.

How many Hispanics are immigrants?
Of the 46.9 million people in 2008 who identified themselves as having Hispanic or Latino ancestry, nearly two-thirds (62.0 percent) were native-born US citizens. The remaining 38.0 percent of Hispanics were immigrants.

What percentage of the foreign born are limited English proficient (LEP)?
In 2008, 52.1 percent of the 37.7 million foreign born age 5 and older were LEP, compared with 51.0 percent of the 30.7 million foreign born age 5 and older in 2000.

Note: The term limited English proficient refers to any person age 5 and older who reported speaking English "not at all," "not well," or "well" on their survey questionnaire. Individuals who reported speaking only English or speaking English "very well" are considered proficient in English.

Which languages does the US population* speak?
In 2008, 80.3 percent of the entire US population age 5 and older said they speak only English at home. The remaining 19.7 percent or 55.8 million people reported speaking a variety of foreign languages.** Of them, Spanish was by far the most commonly spoken language (61.9 percent), followed by Chinese (4.4 percent), Tagalog (2.7 percent), French (including Cajun, 2.4 percent), Vietnamese (2.1 percent), and German (2.0 percent).

Notes: * Refers to the 283.1 million people age 5 and older who resided in the United States at the time of the survey. ** These respondents might or might not speak English at home in addition to a foreign language.

What percentage of the adult foreign-born population is college educated?
In 2008, there were 31.9 million immigrants age 25 and older. Of those, 27.1 percent had a bachelor's degree or higher, while 32.5 percent lacked a high school diploma. Among the 168.2 million native-born adults age 25 and older, 27.8 percent had a bachelor's degree or higher, and only 11.7 percent did not have a high school diploma.

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Mexican Immigrants

How many Mexican immigrants are in the United States?
In 2008, there were 11.4 million foreign born from Mexico residing in the United States according to the 2008 American Community Survey. Mexican immigrants accounted for 30.1 percent of all immigrants in the United States in 2008.

In which US states do the Mexican born live?
Mexican immigrants were overwhelmingly concentrated in the West and Southwest in 2008, including California (37.3 percent), Texas (21.0 percent), Illinois (6.3 percent), Arizona (5.4 percent), and Georgia (2.5 percent).

The foreign born from Mexico accounted for over half of the immigrant population in New Mexico (71.8 percent), Arizona (65.6 percent), Texas (61.6 percent), Arkansas (54.2 percent), Idaho (51.7 percent), and Colorado (50.1 percent). By contrast, Mexican-born individuals accounted for only 2.6 percent of the foreign-born population in Vermont and New Hampshire, 1.4 percent in Massachusetts, and 0.5 percent in Maine.

  • View a map of the Mexican born by state in 2008, including the metropolitan areas with at least 150,000 Mexican immigrants, on the MPI Data Hub. (Please note: Due to compatibility issues, you may need to download the map to your computer in order for it to load properly).
How many Mexican-born workers were in the US labor force in 2008?
About 71.5 percent of the 10.6 million immigrants from Mexico age 16 and older were in the civilian labor force in 2008 compared to 68.7 percent of the 35.7 million immigrants age 16 and older from all countries and 64.9 percent of the 203.0 million native born age 16 and older.

How has the emigration rate from Mexico changed over time?
According to Mexico's National Survey of Occupations and Employment (ENOE), the emigration rate from Mexico appears to have slowed recently from 10.1 migrants per 1,000 Mexican residents in winter 2006-2007 to 7.9 per 1,000 Mexican residents in winter 2007-2008 to 6.2 per 1,000 Mexican residents in winter 2008-2009 (see Figure 1).

The immigration rate to Mexico (i.e., the number of people who move to Mexico from abroad, who are overwhelmingly return migrants) remained relatively stable over the same period, fluctuating between 3.2 and 5.9 migrants per 1,000 Mexican residents.

Note: ENOE asks Mexican households to enumerate any members of the household are who living abroad at the time of the interview. Accordingly, it does not capture the emigration of entire families where no member of the household remains in Mexico.

Figure 1. Emigration and Return Migration Rates of Mexican Residents, 2006 to 2009
Source: Mexican National Institute of Statistics and Geography, National Survey of Occupations and Employment, 2006 to 2009.

From which areas/regions do Mexican migrants residing in the United States originate?
The Mexican National Population Council (Consejo Nacional de Población, or CONAPO), tracks the number of Mexican-born US residents according to their state of birth in Mexico.

According to the only currently available estimate, in 2003, one-third of Mexican-born migrants residing in the United States originated from just three states: Jalisco (13.7 percent), Michoacán (10.7 percent), and Guanajuato (9.3 percent) (see Map 1). In 1990, these three states accounted for 34.7 percent of Mexican migrants to the United States (16.8 percent from Jalisco, 10.5 percent from Michoacán, and 7.4 percent from Guanajuato).

Map 1. State of Birth of Mexican-Born Population Residing in the United States, 2003

Which areas/regions of Mexico sent the most migrants to the United States in 2008?
According to the 2008 Survey of Migration on the Northern Border of Mexico (Encuesta de Migración en la Frontera Norte de México, or EMIF), 14.2 percent of Mexican migrants headed toward the United States in 2008 came from the state of Chiapas in southern Mexico. This is a significant change from 2000 when only 0.8 percent of Mexicans migrating to the United States came from Chiapas. The next largest origin states of Mexicans migrating to the United States in 2008 were Guanajuato (8.6 percent), Oaxaca (7.2 percent), Sonora (6.9 percent), and Michoacán (6.5 percent).

While the share of Mexicans migrating to the United States from Sonora has declined from 12.5 percent in 2000, the shares from Michoacán (13.9 percent in 2000) and Guanajuato (9.2 percent in 2000) have remained relatively stable, and the share of Mexicans migrating from Oaxaca has increased (2.7 percent in 2000).

Note: EMIF is an annual sample survey of migration flows along Mexico's northern border region conducted by the ministries of Foreign Affairs (SRE) and Labor and Social Affairs (STPS), the National Migration Institute (INM), the National Population Council (CONAPO), and the University of the Northern Border (COLEF) in Tijuana. It excludes Mexicans entering the United States via air, migrants under the age of 15, and non-Mexican nationals crossing the Southwest border.

  • Read more (in Spanish) about the characteristics of Mexicans migrating to the United States from EMIF.
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Health Insurance Coverage

Definitions
"Civilian labor force" — civilian persons age 16 and older who were either employed or unemployed in the week prior to participation in ACS.
How many immigrants have health insurance?
According to recent MPI estimates, immigrants accounted for 29 percent of the 46.6 million working-age adults and children under 18 with no health insurance in 2008. Of these 13.4 million uninsured immigrants, about half (6.8 million) were unauthorized immigrants, almost a third (4.2 million) were lawful permanent residents (LPRs), and another 17 percent (2.3 million) were naturalized citizens.

Unauthorized working-age adults (ages 18 to 64) were about three times more likely to be uninsured (59 percent) than either naturalized citizens (20 percent) or native-born US citizens (16 percent).

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Workforce Characteristics

What share do the foreign born compose of the total US civilian labor force? Of the 156.2 million workers engaged in the US civilian labor force in 2008, immigrants accounted for 15.7 percent (24.5 million). Between 1970 and 2008, the percentage of foreign-born workers in the US civilian labor force nearly tripled, from 5.3 to 15.7 percent. Over the same period, the percent of foreign born in the total population grew from 4.8 to 12.5 percent. What kinds of jobs do employed immigrants have?
Of the 23.1 million civilian employed foreign born age 16 and older in 2008, 28.1 percent worked in management, professional, and related occupations; 23.4 percent worked in service occupations; 18.0 percent worked in sales and office occupations; 1.9 percent worked in farming, fishing, and forestry occupations; 16.1 percent worked in production, transportation, and material moving occupations; and 12.5 percent worked in construction, extraction, and maintenance occupations.

Among the 123.2 million civilian employed native born age 16 and older, 36.2 percent worked in management, professional, and related occupations; 16.0 percent worked in service occupations; 26.9 percent worked in sales and office occupations; 0.5 percent worked in farming, fishing, and forestry occupations; 11.8 percent worked in production, transportation, and material moving occupations; and 8.7 percent worked in construction, extraction, and maintenance occupations.

  • For more information on national and state-level trends regarding foreign-born workers, see the "Workforce" data sheet of the 2007 ACS/Census data tool.
  • The 2008 data on the foreign and native born are from the American FactFinder of the US Census Bureau.
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Geographic Distribution

What are the top five states in terms of the number of immigrants, share of immigrants in the total state population, absolute growth, and percent growth between 1990 and 2000 and between 2000 and 2008?

In 2008, the top five US states by the number of immigrants were California (9,859,027), New York (4,236,768), Texas (3,887,224), Florida (3,391,511), and Illinois (1,782,423).

When classified by the share of immigrants in the total state population, the top five states in 2008 were California (26.8 percent), New York (21.7 percent), New Jersey (19.8 percent), Nevada (18.9 percent), and Florida (18.5 percent).

Between 1990 and 2000, the five states with the largest absolute growth of the immigrant population were California (2,405,430), Texas (1,375,206), New York (1,016,272), Florida (1,008,227), and Illinois (576,786).

Between 2000 and 2008, the five states with the largest absolute growth of the immigrant population were California (994,772), Texas (987,582), Florida (720,683), New York (368,635), and Georgia (333,200).

Between 1990 and 2000, the five states with the largest percent growth of the immigrant population were North Carolina (273.7 percent), Georgia (233.4 percent), Nevada (202.0 percent), Arkansas (196.3 percent), and Utah (170.8 percent).

However, between 2000 and 2008, the five states with the largest percent growth of the immigrant population were South Carolina (68.2 percent), Georgia (57.7 percent), Tennessee (56.3 percent), Nevada (55.0 percent), and Mississippi (51.7 percent).

What are the top 10 US counties in terms of number of immigrants, share of immigrants in the total county population, absolute growth, and percent growth between 2000 and 2008?
In 2008, the top 10 counties by the number of immigrants were Los Angeles County, California (3,470,000); Miami-Dade County, Florida (1,196,000); Cook County, Illinois (1,117,000); Queens County, New York (1,087,000); Harris County, Texas (988,000); Kings County, New York (938,000); Orange County, California (904,000); San Diego County, California (663,000); Maricopa County, Arizona (651,000); and Santa Clara County, California (650,000).

When classified by the share of immigrants in the total county population, the top 10 counties in 2008 were Miami-Dade County, Florida (49.9 percent); Queens County, New York (47.4 percent); Hudson County, New Jersey (40.2 percent); Santa Clara County, California (36.8 percent); Kings County, New York (36.7 percent); Los Angeles County, California (35.2 percent); San Francisco County, California (35.0 percent); San Mateo County, California (34.2 percent); Bronx County, New York (32.7 percent); and Imperial County, California (32.0 percent).

Between 2000 and 2008, the 10 counties with the largest absolute growth of immigrants were Harris County, Texas (232,000); Maricopa County, Arizona (210,000); Riverside County, California (176,000); Clark County, Nevada (156,000); Dallas County, Texas (110,000); Broward County, Florida (109,000); San Bernardino County, California (107,000); Gwinnett County, Georgia (101,000); King County, Washington (99,000); and Tarrant County, Texas (88,000).

Between 2000 and 2008, the 10 counties with the largest absolute decline of immigrants were Passaic County, New Jersey (-15,000); Orleans Parish, Louisiana (-4,000); Arlington County, Virginia (-3,000); San Francisco County, California (-2,000); Cape May County, New Jersey (-2,000); Muscogee County, Georgia (-2,000); Chelan County, Washington (-1,000); Craighead County, Arkansas (-1,000); Trumbull County, Ohio (-1,000); and Klamath County, Oregon (-1,000).

Between 2000 and 2008, the 10 counties with the largest percent growth of the immigrant population were Newton County, Georgia (335 percent); Lauderdale County, Alabama (280 percent); Forsyth County, Georgia (280 percent); Walton County, Georgia (235 percent); Stafford County, Virginia (230 percent); Limestone County, Alabama (223 percent); Kendall County, Illinois (217 percent); Douglas County, Georgia (210 percent); Delaware County, Ohio (209 percent); and Faulkner County, Arkansas (201 percent).

Note: County-level data are from the 2008 one-year estimates of the American Community Survey, which, for confidentiality and sampling reasons, reports information only for 788 out of 3,141 US counties. It is likely that the county rankings would be different if information on all counties were available.

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Definitions
"Second-generation immigrant children" — any US-born child with one foreign-born parent or more.

"First-generation immigrant children" — any foreign-born child with foreign-born parents.

"Children with immigrant parents" — both first- and second-generation immigrant children.

Note: The estimates in this section include only children age 17 and under who reside with at least one parent.

Children with Immigrant Parents

How many children in the United States have immigrant parents?
In 2008, there were about 16.3 million children age 17 and under with at least one immigrant parent. They accounted for 23.2 percent of the 70 million children age 17 and under in the United States.

The 13.9 million second-generation children — those who were born in the United States to at least one foreign-born parent — accounted for 85.6 percent of all children with immigrant parents. The remaining 14.4 percent (2.3 million) are children born outside the United States to foreign-born parents.

How has the number of children with immigrant parents changed?
Between 1990 and 2000, the number of children with immigrant parents grew 59.7 percent from 8.2 million to 13.1 million. Between 2000 and 2008, the number grew 24.2 percent from 13.1 million to 16.3 million.

Between 1990 and 2000, the number of first-generation immigrant children grew 42.8 percent (from 1.9 million to 2.7 million). By contrast, the number of first-generation immigrant children declined 13.2 percent between 2000 and 2008 from 2.7 million to 2.3 million.

The number of second-generation immigrant children has grown steadily since 1990. Between 1990 and 2000, the number of second-generation immigrant children grew 64.8 percent from 6.3 million to 10.4 million, and between 2000 and 2008, the number of second-generation immigrant children grew another 33.9 percent from 10.4 million to 13.9 million.

In 1990, children with immigrant parents were 13.4 percent of all children, compared to 19.1 percent in 2000 and 23.2 percent in 2008. The share of second-generation children among all children with immigrant parents has grown steadily from 77.0 percent in 1990 to 79.5 percent in 2000 to 85.6 percent in 2008.

What are the top five states in terms of the number of children with immigrant parents?
In 2008, the top five US states by the total number of children with immigrant parents were California (4,393,000), Texas (2,090,000), New York (1,430,000), Florida (1,139,000), and Illinois (762,000). These five states accounted for 60.4 percent of all children with immigrant parents residing in the nation in 2008.

What are the top five states when looking at the share of children with immigrant parents in the state's total child population?
In terms of share of children with immigrant parents, the top five states in 2008 were California (49.6 percent of all children in the state), Nevada (37.0 percent), New York (34.1 percent), Texas (32.8 percent), and New Jersey (32.3 percent).

What are the top five states in terms of the absolute growth of the number of children with immigrant parents?
Between 1990 and 2000, the five states with the largest absolute growth of the total number of children with immigrant parents were California (1,282,400), Texas (643,000), Florida (384,500), New York (366,500), and Illinois (230,700).

Between 2000 and 2008, the five states with the largest absolute growth of the total number of children with immigrant parents were Texas (544,300), California (290,200), Florida (217,300), Georgia (196,400), and Arizona (162,200).

What are the top five states in terms of the percent growth of the number of children with immigrant parents between 1990 and 2000 and between 2000 and 2008?
Between 1990 and 2000, the five states with the largest percent growth of the total population of children with immigrant parents were Nevada (232.6 percent), North Carolina (223.7 percent), Georgia (193.8 percent), Nebraska (174.2 percent), and Arkansas (170.1 percent).

Between 2000 and 2008, the five states with the largest percent growth of the total population of children with immigrant parents were Tennessee (106.5 percent), Delaware (104.6 percent), North Carolina (95.7 percent), Arkansas (89.1 percent), and Georgia (88.5 percent).

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Note
The government fiscal year runs from October 1 to September 30. All figures for annual flows given here are for the 2008 fiscal year (October 1, 2007, to September 30, 2008).
Annual Flows

How many foreigners (in all categories) obtained US lawful permanent residence in 2008?
In 2008, 1,107,126 foreign nationals became lawful permanent residents (LPRs) (also known as green-card holders) according to the Department of Homeland Security's Yearbook of Immigration Statistics 2008. The total number represents a 5.2 percent increase from 2007 (1,052,415) and a 31.6 percent increase from 2000 (841,002).

Of the 1.1 million new green-card holders, 466,558 (42.1 percent) were new arrivals who entered the country in 2008, and 640,568 (57.9 percent) were status adjusters. The status adjusters arrived in the United States in any year before 2008, but their green card applications were approved during 2008.

In which categories did permanent immigrants enter in 2008?
Of the 1.1 million new LPRs in 2008, 44.1 percent were immediate relatives of a US citizen, 20.5 percent came through a family-sponsored preference, and 15.0 percent entered through an employment-based preference. Another 15.0 percent adjusted from a refugee or asylee status, and 5.2 percent were diversity-lottery winners.

How many people applied for permanent immigration to the United States through the green card lottery?
The Immigration Act of 1990 established the Diversity Visa Lottery (also known as the green card lottery) to allow entry to immigrants from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. The act states that no more than 55,000 diversity visas are made available each fiscal year. Of the 55,000 visas, 5,000 have to be used for applicants under the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act of 1997, thus reducing the available number to 50,000.

Applicants registered for the 2010 lottery (run between October 2 and December 1, 2008) were selected at random from over 13.6 million qualified entries. The number of qualified entries totaled 5.5 million in the 2007 lottery, 6.4 million in the 2008 lottery, and 9.1 million in the 2009 lottery. (The Department of State does not release the total number of applications received, only the number of qualified entries.)

From which countries did permanent immigrants originate?
Disaggregated by country of birth, 17.2 percent of LPRs were from Mexico. The top five countries of birth — Mexico, China (7.3 percent), India (5.7 percent), the Philippines (4.9 percent), and Cuba (4.5 percent) — accounted for 39.5 percent of all persons who received LPR status in 2008.

Persons born in the next five countries — the Dominican Republic (2.9 percent), Vietnam (2.8 percent), Colombia (2.7 percent), Korea (South and North) (2.4 percent), and Haiti (2.3 percent) — made up another 13.2 percent of all LPRs, so that the top 10 countries of birth made up more than half of the total (52.7 percent).

What was the total number of nonimmigrant admissions to the United States in 2008?
Temporary admissions of nonimmigrants to the United States more than quadrupled from 9.5 million in 1985 to 39.4 million (not including certain Mexicans and Canadians) in 2008. Between 2007 and 2008, temporary admissions of nonimmigrants increased 6.4 percent from 37.1 million to 39.4 million.

An additional 135.6 million admissions were exempt from completing the I-94 arrival/departure form at the port of entry. These nonimmigrant admissions are from two groups: Canadians who travel to the United States for business or pleasure, and Mexicans who possess a nonresident alien Border Crossing Card (i.e., laser visa).

Note: Nonimmigrant admissions represent the number of arrivals, not the number of individuals, admitted to the United States. DHS only reports characteristics of nonimmigrants who have to complete an I-94 arrival/departure form.

How did nonimmigrant admissions break down by visa category?
Similar to the past, temporary visitors (tourists and business travelers) accounted for an overwhelming majority of all arrivals. In 2008, they represented 89.0 percent (35.1 million) of all admissions to the United States. Of those, 29.4 million were tourist admissions and 5.6 million were business-traveler admissions.

Temporary workers and trainees, including H-1B "specialty occupation" workers, registered nurses, temporary agricultural workers, North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) professional workers, treaty traders, and intracompany transferees, among others, accounted for 1,949,695 arrivals (5.0 percent of total admissions); this figure includes spouses and children of all temporary workers and trainees.

Students who came to the United States to study at academic or vocational institutes together with their family members made up 3.6 percent (1,424,613) of total arrivals.

How many visas did the Department of State issue in 2008?
The US Department of State (DOS) reports the number of visas issued to foreign nationals who wish to come to the United States for the purpose of traveling, conducting business, working, studying, and other reasons.

In 2008, DOS issued 6,603,073 nonimmigrant visas, which is lower than the decade's peak of 7,588,778 visas in 2001 but higher than the decade's bottom of 4,881,632 visas issued in 2003 (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Nonimmigrant Visas Issued by Fiscal Year (in millions), 1998 to 2008
Source: State Department, Report of the Visa Office 2008, Table XVIII. Nonimmigrant Visas Issued by Nationality. Available online.

The vast majority (71.1 percent) of nonimmigrant visas issued in 2008 were temporary business and tourist visas (B-1, B-2, BCC, and BCV visas). The next largest groups were J-1 and J-2 exchange visitors and their spouses and children (5.9 percent), and F-1, F-2, and F-3 academic student and family of academic student visas (5.5 percent).

Disaggregated by region of origin, the majority of temporary visas were issued in 2008 to foreign nationals from Asia (39.8 percent) and North America (21.3 percent, including Central America and the Caribbean), followed by South America (16.7 percent), Europe (16.6 percent), Africa (4.7 percent), and Oceania (0.8 percent).

Note: The number of visas issued does not necessarily match the number of foreign nationals who came to the United States in the same year because some nonimmigrant visas may not be used.

Notes on Refugees and Asylees
What is the difference between a refugee and an asylee?

In the United States, the main difference is the person's location at the time of application.

Refugees are generally outside of the United States when they are considered for resettlement, whereas asylum seekers submit their applications while they are physically present in or at a port of entry to the United States.

How many foreign born came as refugees and where were they from?
In 2008, 60,108 individuals were admitted to the United States as refugees. This figure represented a 24.7 percent increase compared to the number in 2007 (48,218) and a 16.7 percent decline compared to the 72,143 refugees admitted in 2000.

Nationals of Burma, Iraq, and Bhutan represented 62.0 percent (37,282) of all refugees admitted in 2008. Altogether, nationals of the top 10 countries made up 91.9 percent of the 60,108 refugee arrivals in 2008. In addition to the top three, these countries include Iran, Cuba, Burundi, Somalia, Vietnam, Ukraine, and Liberia.

According to the Department of State, the United States expects to accept at least 17,000 Iraqis, 12,000 Bhutanese, and 5,500 Iranians in 2009.

How many foreign born came as asylees and where were they from?
The number of foreign born who were granted asylum in 2008 was 22,930. This represents an 8.7 percent decrease over the corresponding number in 2007 (25,124).

Nearly 5,500 persons from the People's Republic of China, 1,646 from Colombia, and 1,237 from Haiti were granted asylum, accounting for 36.6 percent of all individuals who received asylum status in 2008. Those granted asylum from Venezuela (1,057), Iraq (1,022), Ethiopia (899), and Russia (574) accounted for another 15.4 percent. Together, nationals of these seven countries made up over half of all individuals who received asylum status in 2008.

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Illegal Immigration

How many unauthorized immigrants are in the United States?
According to Pew Hispanic Center estimates, there were 11.9 million unauthorized immigrants living in the United States in March 2008. The size of the unauthorized population appears to have declined since 2007. However, this finding is inconclusive because of the margin of error in the estimates, which are based on data from the US Census Bureau's Current Population Survey of 50,000 households each month.

The flow of unauthorized immigrants grew more slowly (by about 500,000 per year) between 2005 and 2008 than it did between 2000 and 2004, when the flow grew by about 800,000 per year. Reversing a long-term trend, the flow of unauthorized immigrants fell below the flow of lawful permanent residents between 2005 and 2008.

Unauthorized immigrants made up 30 percent of the nation's foreign-born population, about 4 percent of the entire US population, and 5.4 percent of US workers. Approximately 44 percent of the nation's unauthorized immigrants have arrived since 2000. About three-quarters (76 percent) of the 11.9 million unauthorized immigrant population were of Hispanic origin.

Where are unauthorized immigrants from?
The vast majority of unauthorized immigrants are from Mexico and Latin America: 59 percent from Mexico, 11 percent from Central America, 7 percent from South America, and 4 percent from the Caribbean. An additional 12 percent are from South and East Asia, while the rest come from other areas of the world.

How many children have unauthorized immigrant parents?
About 5.5 million children in 2008 had at least one parent who was an unauthorized immigrant, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Of this group, 73 percent (4.0 million) were US citizens by birth and 27 percent (1.5 million) were unauthorized immigrants themselves. The number of US-citizen children with unauthorized immigrant parents has grown 48 percent since 2003, when there were just 2.7 million such children. At the same time, the number of children who are unauthorized immigrants has remained at about 1.5 million since 2005.

In 2008, children of unauthorized immigrants, both those who are unauthorized immigrants themselves and US citizens, made up 6.8 percent of the students enrolled in US elementary and secondary schools according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

  • In February 2009, the Department of Homeland Security released estimates of the unauthorized immigrant population in the United States as of January 2008. See the DHS estimates.
  • Read Pew Hispanic Center's fact sheet on unauthorized immigrants.
How has illegal immigration responded to the economic crisis in the United States?
Research in the United States and other countries indicates that along with temporary migrant workers, flows of unauthorized immigrants are most closely linked to the economy, and thus the ones most likely to fall in poor economic times.

US population survey data show that while the annual number of new arrivals from Mexico — the largest source of illegal immigration to the United States — was about 650,000 between March 2004 and March 2005, and 420,000 between March 2007 and March 2008, the estimated annual inflow dropped to just 175,000 between March 2008 and March 2009, which is the lowest total this decade. This finding is reinforced by US Border Patrol apprehensions data and Mexican government surveys.

A second central story is that even now — nearly two years into the recession — return migration remains the exception and not the rule. There has been virtually no change in return flows to Mexico despite the fact that unemployment rates for Mexican and Central American immigrants in the United States have nearly doubled from 6.4 percent in December 2007 to 11.5 percent in August 2009 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  • Read more about Mexican immigrants during the recession in this Pew Hispanic Center report.
  • For more information on how various immigration streams have responded to the financial downturn in the United States and around the world, read MPI's September 2009 report Migration and the Global Recession.
How many apprehensions were there in 2008?
There were nearly 800,000 apprehensions in 2008. The overwhelming majority, 97 percent, were along the Southwest border. The total number of alien apprehensions reported by the Department of Homeland Security steadily increased during the 1990s, from 1,169,939 apprehensions in 1990 to 1,814,729 apprehensions in 2000. Since 2000, the number of apprehensions has declined steadily, numbering 960,756 in 2007 and 791,568 in 2008. The 2008 figure is the lowest since 1989 and the second lowest since 1982.

Note: Apprehensions are events, not individuals. In other words, the same individual can be apprehended more than once.

How many people were deported in 2008?
The United States deported almost 1.2 million aliens in 2008. The total number of aliens deported follows a similar trend to apprehensions, rising from 1,052,572 in 1990 to 1,864,343 in 2000 before declining to 1,170,149 in 2008.

However, the number of removals (forced deportations) rose throughout the period from 30,039 in 1990 to 188,467 in 2000 and 358,886 in 2008. By contrast, voluntary returns first increased over the period, from 1,022,522 in 1990 to 1,675,876 in 2000, but they declined to 811,263 in 2008 (see Figure 3).

Note: Removals are the compulsory and confirmed movement of an inadmissible or deportable alien out of the United States based on an order of removal. An alien who is removed has administrative or criminal consequences placed on subsequent reentry owing to the fact of the removal. Returns are the confirmed movement of an inadmissible or deportable alien out of the United States not based on an order of removal. Most of the voluntary departures are of Mexican nationals who have been apprehended by the US Border Patrol and are returned to Mexico.

Figure 3. Total Deportations by Type, 2000 to 2008
Source: Department of Homeland Security, "Table 36. Aliens Removed or Returned: Fiscal Years 1892 to 2008," Yearbook of Immigration Statistics 2008 (Washington DC: DHS, 2009).

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Note
The government fiscal year runs from October 1 to September 30. All figures for immigration control and enforcement given here are for the government fiscal year.
Immigration Control and Enforcement

How much does the government spend on immigration control and enforcement?
Funding for the US Border Patrol, then part of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in the Department of Justice, increased 519 percent between 1986 and 2002, from $268 million to $1.6 billion. The Border Patrol budget was more than $3.5 billion in 2008 according to the Office of Management and Budget. The Border Patrol is responsible for enforcing 8,000 miles of US land and water boundaries between legal points of entry (designated points where immigration officials can regulate entry).

Following the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2003, the Border Patrol became part of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), an agency within DHS.

CBP's responsibilities also include regulating and facilitating international trade, collecting import duties, enforcing US trade laws, and protecting US agricultural and economic interests from pests and diseases.

According to DHS annual budgets from various years, the total CBP budget (gross discretionary and mandatory, fees, and trust funds) was $5.9 billion in 2003. The agency's budget increased 32 percent to $7.7 billion in 2007 and another 20 percent to $9.3 billion in 2008. In 2009, it rose to $11.3 billion, and President Barack Obama has requested $11.4 billion for 2010.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is the investigative branch of DHS and is responsible for enforcing immigration laws. In 2003, the total budget for ICE was $3.3 billion, which rose 44 percent to $4.7 billion in 2007 and another 8 percent to $5.1 billion in 2008 (gross discretionary and mandatory, fees, and trust funds). In 2009, it increased to $5.9 billion, and the president has requested $5.8 billion for 2010.

Two of ICE's four main offices have immigration responsibilities: the Office of Detentions and Removal Operations (DRO) and the Office of Investigations (OI).

DRO processes, detains, and removes criminal aliens, unauthorized immigrants, and nonimmigrants who have violated immigration laws (such as being legally resident but working without authorization). In 2008, DRO's budget was $2.2 billion (including discretionary and mandatory spending), about 56 percent of ICE's total budget. In 2009, it is expected to rise to $3.1 billion, or about 59 percent of ICE's total budget.

OI enforces trade, immigration, and customs laws. In 2008, OI's total budget was $2.1 billion, or about 42 percent of ICE's total budget; in 2009, its budget is expected to decline to $2.0 billion, or about 37 percent of ICE's total budget.

How many Border Patrol agents are there?
The number of Border Patrol agents has nearly doubled from approximately 9,000 in 2001 to 17,499 in 2008. Top of section | Top of page

Note
The government fiscal year runs from October 1 to September 30. All naturalization figures from the Department of Homeland Security are for the 2007 fiscal year (October 1, 2007 to September 30, 2008).
Naturalization Trends

How many foreign born are naturalized citizens?
Of the 38 million foreign born in the United States in 2008, 16.3 million (43.0 percent) were naturalized citizens according to 2008 American Community Survey (ACS) estimates.

How many immigrants naturalized in 2008?
According to data from the Department of Homeland Security, US Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalized 1,046,539 lawful permanent residents (LPRs) in 2008.

From a historical perspective, the number of naturalizations increased dramatically in recent decades. On average, between 1970 and 1979, 141,000 LPRs naturalized each year. The average annual number of naturalizations rose to about 205,000 in the 1980s, 498,000 in the 1990s, and 629,000 on average each year for the 2000-2008 period.

There was a 58 percent increase in the number of naturalizations between 2007 and 2008 from 660,477 to 1,046,539. A few factors explain the increase.

One was the 2008 presidential elections, which immigrant advocacy groups used in their ongoing campaigns to promote naturalization. Another was the 80 percent increase in naturalization fees (from $330 to $595) scheduled for the end of July 2007 and announced in January 2007.

How many foreigners became US citizens through military naturalization?
Between September 2001 and March 2009, 47,481 foreign-born military personnel have naturalized on US soil, overseas, or on board Navy ships. Of those, 2,655 were naturalized in ceremonies in Iraq.

What are the countries of origin of newly naturalized citizens?
Of those who naturalized in 2008, 22.2 percent were born in Mexico (231,815), 6.3 percent in India (65,971), and 5.6 percent in the Philippines (58,792). Nationals of these three countries, together with those from China (40,017), Cuba (39,871), Vietnam (39,584), El Salvador (35,796), the Dominican Republic (35,252), Colombia (22,926), and Korea (22,759), accounted for 56.6 percent (592,782) of all naturalizations in 2008.

Where do newly naturalized citizens live in the United States?
In 2008, 28.5 percent of those who naturalized lived in California (297,909), 12.3 percent in Florida (128,328), and 8.7 percent in New York (90,572).

More than 13 percent of all those who naturalized in 2008 lived in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area (138,618), 12.9 percent in the greater New York metropolitan area (134,572), and 8.5 percent in the greater Miami metropolitan area (89,440). These metropolitan areas, together with the Chicago (4.2 percent), Washington (3.9 percent), San Francisco (3.6 percent), and Houston (2.7 percent) metropolitan areas, were home to 49 percent of new US citizens in 2008.

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Backlogs

How many visa applications for permanent immigration (green cards) are backlogged?
Two types of backlogs impact issuance of green cards. The first is due to visa availability. For example, the government caps employment-based permanent visas for foreign workers and their families at 140,000 per year. Also, no country can receive more than 7 percent of the total number of annual worldwide visas (approximately 25,600 visas).

The second type of backlog is due to processing delays of applicants' documents. This is related to the government's lack of financial and human resources as well as increased scrutiny.

Once the State Department grants a visa to an immigrant, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation conduct background checks.

As of October 9, 2009, USCIS was processing some family-related visas applications filed as far back as January 1987, and it was still processing some employment-related visa applications from June 2001.

A US citizen wishing to sponsor an unmarried adult child from Mexico has to wait more than 18 years before the application will be processed (see Table 1). LPRs applying to bring their immediate family members (spouses and children) can expect to wait between four and 18 years depending on their country of origin.

Table 1. Date of Submission of Lawful Permanent Residence Applications Processed, October 2009
  Mainland China India Mexico Philippines All other countries
Family
1st: Unmarried adult children of US citizens Oct. 15, 2003 Oct. 15, 2003 Jun. 8, 1992 Oct. 22, 1993 Oct. 15, 2003
2A: Spouses/minor children of LPRs Aug. 15, 2005 Aug. 15, 2005 June 15, 2003 Aug. 15, 2005 Aug. 15, 2005
2B: Unmarried adult children of LPRs Oct. 1, 2001 Oct. 1, 2001 June 1, 1992 May 15, 1998 Oct. 1, 2001
3rd: Married adult children of US citizens March 1, 2001 March 1, 2001 May 1, 1992 Oct. 22, 1991 March 1, 2001
4th: Siblings of US citizens June 15, 1999 June 15, 1999 Nov. 8, 1995 Jan. 15, 1987 June 15, 1999
Employment
1st: Workers/persons with extraordinary ability current current current current current
2nd: Professionals with advanced degrees/persons with exceptional ability April 1, 2005 Jan. 22, 2005 current current current
3rd: Skilled or professional workers June 1, 2002 April 22, 2001 June 1, 2002 June 1, 2002 June 1, 2002
Other workers June 1, 2001 April 22, 2001 June 1, 2001 June 1, 2001 June 1, 2001
4th: Certain special immigrants current current current current current
Certain religious workers unavailable unavailable unavailable unavailable unavailable
5th: Employment creation current current current current current
Target employment areas/regional centers current current current current current
Note: In this table, "current" means that the visa numbers are available for all qualified applicants.
Source: US Department of State, Visa Bulletin, November 2009. Available online.

Originally published on the Migration Information Source www.migrationinformation.org, a project of the Migration Policy Institute.

Copyright @ 2010 Migration Policy Institute. All rights reserved.


About The Author

Aaron Matteo Terrazas is a Research Assistant at the Migration Policy Institute, where he focuses on the migration-development nexus and on US immigrant integration policy. Mr. Terrazas holds a BS with honors from the Edmund Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, where he majored in International Affairs and earned a certificate in Latin American Studies. He was awarded the William Manger Latin American Studies Award for his senior thesis, “The Mexican Connection: Remittances, Diaspora Engagement, Economic Development, and the Role of the State.” He also studied at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Paris.

Jeanne Batalova is a Political Analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, where she focuses on the impacts of immigrants on social structure and labor markets; integration of immigrant children and elderly immigrants; and the policies and practices regulating immigration of highly skilled workers and foreign students. She is also Manager of the MPI Data Hub, a one-stop, web-based resource that provides instant access to the latest facts, stats, and maps covering US and global data on immigration and immigrant integration.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.


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