Frequently Requested Statistics on Immigrants and Immigration in the United States


Originally published on the Migration Information Source, a project of the Migration Policy Institute. Reprinted with permission.

Immigration has been a touchstone of the American experience since the country’s founding. And the United States remains the world’s top destination for immigrants, accounting for about 20 percent of all international migrants. (Photo: David Sachs/SEIU)

Nearly 41 million immigrants lived in the United States in 2012—a historical numeric high for a country that has been a major destination for international migrants throughout its history. About 20 percent of all international migrants reside in the United States, which accounts for less than 5 percent of the world’s population.

This article compiles in one helpful resource some of the most frequently sought-after current and historical facts and figures about immigrants and immigration in the United States. It answers questions such as: which countries are the main sources for immigration to the United States? How many immigrants enter each year? How many became U.S. citizens last year? How many unauthorized immigrants are in the United States? Do immigrants have health insurance? How many immigrants live in poverty? How many unauthorized youth received a temporary reprieve from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) process? How many unauthorized migrants were recently deported?

The article brings together resources from the Migration Policy Institute (MPI); the U.S. Census Bureau's 2012 American Community Survey (ACS) and 2000 decennial census; and data from the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security and State; the Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project; Mexico's National Population Council (CONAPO); and Mexico’s 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 reside in the United States?

According to estimates from the 2012 ACS, the U.S. immigrant population stood at almost 40.8 million, or 13 percent of the total U.S. population of 313.9 million. Between 2011 and 2012, the foreign-born population increased by about 447,000, or 1.1 percent.

Check out the figure Number and Share of Total U.S. Population, 1850-2012 in MPI’s Data Hub (click on image) to see how immigrants’ share of the overall population has fluctuated over time.

"Foreign born" and "immigrants" are used interchangeably and refer to persons with no U.S. citizenship at birth. This population includes naturalized citizens, lawful permanent residents, refugees and asylees, persons on certain temporary visas, and the unauthorized.

Geographical regions: MPI follows the definition of Latin America as put forth by the UN and U.S. Census Bureau, which includes Central America (including Mexico), the Caribbean, and South America. For more information about geographical regions, see the U.S. Census Bureau site and United Nations Statistics Division.


What are the historical numbers and shares of immigrants in the United States?

Data on the nativity of the U.S. population were first collected in the 1850 decennial census. That year, there were 2.2 million immigrants in the United States, representing almost 10 percent of the total population.

Between 1860 and 1920, immigrants as a share of the total population fluctuated between 13 and 15 percent, peaking at 15 percent in 1890, mainly due to high levels of European immigration.

Restrictive immigration legislation of 1921 and 1924, coupled with the Great Depression and World War II, led to a sharp drop in new arrivals in the United States. As a result, the foreign-born share of the U.S. population continued to decline between the 1930s and 1970s, reaching a record low of approximately 5 percent in 1970 (9.6 million). Since 1970, however, the share and number have increased rapidly, mainly due to large-scale immigration from Latin America and Asia made possible by changes to admission rules adopted by Congress in 1965.

Table 1: Numerical Size and Share of the Foreign-Born Population in the United States, 1970-2012


How do today's top source countries compare to those 50 years ago?

In 2012, Mexican-born immigrants accounted for approximately 28 percent of the nearly 40.8 million foreign born in the United States, making them by far the largest immigrant group in the country. India was the second largest, closely followed by the China (including Hong Kong but not Taiwan), and the Philippines (each accounting for about 5 percent). El Salvador, Vietnam, Cuba, and Korea (each 3 percent), as well as the Dominican Republic and Guatemala (2 percent each), also were among the top ten countries of origin. Together, immigrants from these ten countries made up close to 60 percent of the U.S. immigrant population in 2012.

The predominance of immigrants from Latin American and Asian countries in the late 20th and early 21st centuries starkly contrasts with the trend seen in 1960 when immigrants tended to be from European countries. Italian-born immigrants made up 13 percent of all foreign born in 1960, followed by those born in Germany and Canada (accounting for about 10 percent each). In 1960s no single country accounted for more than 15 percent of the total immigrant population.

College-educated persons are defined as adults 25 years and older with a bachelor's degree or higher.

The concept of race as used by the Census Bureau reflects self-identification by people according to the race or races with which they most closely identify. Race categories include both racial and national-origin groups.

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 indicate that they are "other Spanish/Hispanic/Latino."

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

Read more about Census Bureau definitions here.


Demographic, Educational, and Linguistic Characteristics

Note: Some percentages do not add up to 100 due to rounding.

Are there equal shares of men and women in the U.S. immigrant population?

In 2012, approximately 51 percent of the immigrant population was female; the share has fluctuated slightly during the past three decades. Women accounted for 53 percent of immigrants in 1980, 51 percent in 1990, and 50 percent in 2000.

What is the age distribution of the immigrant population?

Overall, the immigrant population in 2012 was older than the U.S.-born population: The median age of immigrants was 42.6 years, compared to 35.9 years among the native born.

In 2012, fewer than 1 percent of the foreign-born population was under the age of 5 (compared to 7 percent of the native-born population); 6 percent were ages 5 to 17 (compared to 19 percent in the U.S. -born population); 80 percent were ages 18 to 64 (60 percent for the native born); and the same proportions of immigrant and U.S.-born populations were age 65 and older (13 percent).

How many immigrants have entered the United States since 2000?

Thirty percent of the 40.8 million foreign born residing in the United States in 2012 entered between 2000 and 2009, 7 percent entered since 2010, and the majority (63 percent) entered before 2000.

How many immigrants are naturalized U.S. citizens?

In 2012, close to 46 percent of immigrants (18.7 million) were naturalized U.S. citizens. The remaining 54 percent (22.1 million) included lawful permanent residents, unauthorized immigrants, and legal residents on temporary visas, such as students and temporary workers.

Of the 18.7 million naturalized citizens in 2012, 11 percent have naturalized since 2010, 38 percent between 2000 and 2009, and 51 percent prior to 2000.

What is the racial composition of the immigrant population?

Of the foreign born in the United States in 2012, 48 percent reported their race as white, 9 percent as black, 25 percent as Asian, and 16 percent as some other race; more than 2 percent reported having two or more races.

How many immigrants are of Hispanic origin?

In 2012, 46 percent (18.9 million) immigrants reported having Hispanic or Latino origins.

How many Hispanics in the United States are immigrants?

The majority of Hispanics in the United States are native-born. Of the 53 million people in 2012 who identified themselves as Hispanic or Latino, 36 percent (18.9 million) were immigrants.

  • Use our State Immigration Data Profiles tool to learn more on the demographic characteristics of immigrants and the U.S.-born in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia as well as nationally.

Which languages are the most frequently spoken at home?

In 2012, approximately 79 percent (232.1 million) of the U.S. population* ages 5 and older stated that they speak only English at home. The remaining 21 percent (61.9 million) reported speaking a language other than English at home. Spanish was by far the most common language spoken within this category (62 percent), followed by Chinese (including Mandarin and Cantonese, almost 5 percent), Tagalog (almost 3 percent), Vietnamese (2 percent), French (including Cajun and Patois, 2 percent), Korean (almost 2 percent), German (almost 2 percent), Arabic (almost 2 percent), and Russian (1 percent).

Note: *Refers to the 294 million people ages 5 and older who resided in the United States at the time of the survey.

What is the size of the Limited English Proficient population?

In 2012, there were 25 million Limited English Proficient (LEP) individuals ages 5 and older in the United States, accounting for 8.5 percent of the 294 million people ages 5 and older. Spanish speakers - accounted for 64 percent (16.1 million) of the total LEP population. The next two languages most commonly spoken by LEP individuals were Chinese, including Mandarin and Cantonese (1.6 million, or 6.5 percent) and Vietnamese (835,000, or 3.3 percent).

Note: The term "Limited English Proficient" refers to any person ages 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.

What percentage of immigrants are LEP?

In 2012, approximately 50 percent (20.3 million) of the 40.6 million immigrants ages 5 and older were LEP.

What percentage of the adult foreign-born population is college educated?

In 2012, there were 35.1 million immigrants ages 25 and older. Of those, 28 percent (9.8 million) had a bachelor's degree or higher (compared to 29.4 percent, or 51.1 million, of the native-born population). Nearly 31 percent (10.8 million) of immigrants lacked a high school diploma, compared to10.2 percent (17.7 million) native-born adults.

  • Use our State Immigration Data Profiles tool for more information on the language and educational characteristics of immigrants and the U.S. born in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, and for the nation overall.

Distribution by Key States and Cities

What were 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 2012?

In 2012, the top five U.S. states by number of immigrants were California (10.3 million), New York (4.4 million), Texas (4.3 million), Florida (3.7 million), and New Jersey (1.9 million).

When classified by the share of immigrants out of the total state population, the top five states in 2012 were California (27 percent), New York (23 percent), New Jersey (21 percent), Florida, and Nevada (19 percent each).

Between 1990 and 2000, the five states with the largest absolute growth of the immigrant population were California (2.4 million), Texas (1.4 million), New York (1 million), Florida (1 million), and Illinois (577,000).

Between 2000 and 2012, the five states with the largest absolute growth of the immigrant population were California (1.4 million), Texas (1.4 million), Florida (1.1 million), New York (560,000), and New Jersey (407,000).

Between 1990 and 2000, the five states with the largest percent growth* of the immigrant population were North Carolina (274 percent), Georgia (233 percent), Nevada (202 percent), Arkansas (196 percent), and Utah (171 percent).

Between 2000 and 2012, the five states with the largest percent growth* of the immigrant population were South Carolina (91 percent), Alabama (87 percent), Tennessee (83 percent), Arkansas (75 percent), and Wyoming (74 percent),

Note: *In some states, the starting population of the foreign born was rather small. Thus, relatively small absolute increases in the immigrant population in these states have translated into high percent growth.


Mexican Immigrants

How many Mexican immigrants are in the United States?

Nearly 11.6 million immigrants from Mexico reside in the United States, according to the 2012 ACS, accounting for 28.3 percent of all U.S. immigrants.

In which U.S. states do the Mexican born live?

Mexican immigrants are primarily concentrated in the West and Southwest, and more than half live in California or Texas. In 2012, the top five states with the largest proportion of Mexican immigrants were California (37 percent of the total Mexican immigrant population), Texas (22 percent), Illinois (6 percent), Arizona (4 percent), and Florida (2 percent).

In 2012, the foreign born from Mexico accounted for over half of the immigrant population in New Mexico (70 percent), Arizona (59 percent), Texas (59 percent), Idaho (51 percent), and Arkansas (50 percent). By contrast, Mexican-born individuals accounted for 2 percent or less of the immigrant population in Vermont (2 percent), Massachusetts (1.5 percent), and Maine (0.5 percent).

How many Mexican-born workers are in the U.S. labor force?

About 69 percent (7.6 million) of the 11 million immigrants from Mexico ages 16 and older were in the civilian labor force in 2012. This rate is slightly higher than the labor force participation of the total foreign-born population ages 16 and older (67 percent of 38.8 million immigrants in the civilian labor force) and the native-born population ages 16 and older (63 percent of 209.8 million U.S. born in the labor force).

How has the emigration rate from Mexico changed over time?

According to Mexico's National Survey of Occupations and Employment (Encuesta Nacional de Ocupación y Empleo or ENOE), the emigration rate from Mexico has remained relatively steady over the past three years, after a drop in 2007 following the start of the recession in the United States and around the world. In fall 2009, 5.4 migrants per 1,000 residents of Mexico left for the United States; in fall 2010 that rate declined to 3.3 per 1,000. In fall 2011, it increased to 3.8 per 1,000, but dropped again in 2012 to its 2010 rate of 3.3 per 1,000 Mexico residents.

The immigration rate to Mexico (i.e., the number of people who move to Mexico from abroad, who are overwhelmingly return migrants) has entered a moderate decline, dropping from 3.7 per 1,000 residents in fall 2008 to 2.1 per 1,000 in fall 2012.

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.

Which areas/regions do most Mexican migrants come from?

According to the Survey of Migration on the Northern Border of Mexico* (Encuesta de Migración en la Frontera Norte de México, or EMIF), the flow of immigrants heading from Mexico to the United States decreased  in recent years. In 2012, an estimated 276,000 immigrants crossed the country's northern border en route to the United States, a 13 percent decrease from 2011’s estimate of 317,000 individuals.

In 2010, traditional sending states such as Michoacán, Guanajuato, and Jalisco accounted for the largest numbers of the 492,000 Mexican migrants who headed toward the United States, representing nearly 16 percent, 11 percent, and 10 percent of the northward flows respectively. (For an overall map of flows by Mexican state, visit the INEGI website). This is a shift from recent years when larger shares of migrants came from new sending states in southern and eastern Mexico. The most significant drops were recorded in the states of Chiapas and Veracruz. Between 2007 and 2010, migrants from Chiapas declined from 12 percent to 7 percent of the total outflow from Mexico. Similarly, migrants from Veracruz declined from nearly 8 percent to 3 percent of the total outflow over the same period.

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 Welfare (STPS), the National Migration Institute (INM), the National Population Council (CONAPO), and the College of the Northern Border (COLEF) in Tijuana. It excludes Mexicans entering the United States by air, migrants under the age of 15, and non-Mexican nationals crossing the Southwest border. The category "migrants headed toward the United States" is restricted to those migrants who are traveling to the United States or a Mexican border city, are ages 15 and older, were not born in the United States, and do not have an immediate return itinerary.

  • Read more about the characteristics of Mexicans migrating to the United States from Instituto Nacional de Estadística Geografía e Informática, INEGI (in Spanish).
  • More information on Mexican migration is available at EMIF (in Spanish).

Health Insurance Coverage

How many immigrants in the United States have health insurance?

According to the 2012 ACS, approximately one-third of immigrants (33 percent) are uninsured, compared to 12 percent of the native-born population. Approximately 49 percent of all immigrants in the United States had private health insurance (compared to 68 percent of the native born), and 24 percent had public health insurance coverage (compared to 32 percent of the native born).

Note: Health insurance coverage is only calculated for the civilian, noninstitutionalized population.

"Civilian labor force" — civilian persons ages 16 and older who were either employed or unemployed in the week prior to participation in the American Community Survey.

Workforce Characteristics

What is the foreign-born share of the total U.S. civilian labor force?

Immigrants accounted for more than 16 percent (25.7 million) of the 157.6 million workers in the civilian labor force in 2012. Between 1970 and 2012, the percentage of foreign-born workers in the civilian labor force tripled, from 5 percent to 16 percent. Over the same period, the foreign-born share of the total population grew from almost 5 percent to nearly 13 percent.

What types of jobs do immigrants hold?

Of the 23.7 million employed foreign-born workers ages 16 and older in 2012, 30 percent worked in management, professional, and related occupations; 25 percent in service occupations; 17 percent in sales and office occupations; 16 percent in production, transportation, and material moving occupations; and 13 percent in natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations.

Table 2. Share of Immigrant and U.S.-Born Workers By Select Occupation, 2012


Note: The perecentages do not add up to 100 due to rounding.


  • Use our State Immigration Data Profiles tool for more information on the workforce characteristics of immigrants and the U.S. born in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as nationally.

"Second-generation immigrant children" — any native-born child with at least one foreign-born parent.

"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 ages 17 and under who reside with at least one parent.


Children with Immigrant Parents

How many children in the United States live with immigrant parents?

In 2012, 17.4 million children under age 18 lived at home with at least one immigrant parent. They accounted for 25 percent of the 70.2 million children under age 18 in the United States.

The 15.2 million second-generation children—those who were born in the United States to at least one foreign-born parent—accounted for 88 percent of all children with immigrant parents. The remaining 12 percent (2.2 million) were children living in the United States in 2012 who were born outside the United States to foreign-born parents..

  • For state-by-state information on children living with immigrant parents, including both first- and second-generation children, see the Children in U.S. Immigrant Families tool.
  • Read more about second-generation immigrant children in this Source special issue.

How has the number of children living with immigrant parents changed?

Between 1990 and 2000, the number of children ages 17 and under with immigrant parents grew 60 percent, from 8.2 million to 13.1 million. Between 2000 and 2012, the number grew 33 percent from 13.1 million to 17.4 million.

For first-generation immigrant children (those born outside the United States), population growth was sizeable between 1990 and 2000, when the population grew by 43 percent (from 1.9 million to 2.7 million), but declined 20 percent between 2000 and 2012, from 2.7 million to 2.2 million.

The number of second-generation immigrant children (born in the United States to foreign-born parents) has grown steadily since 1990. Between 1990 and 2000, the number of second-generation immigrant children grew 65 percent (from 6.3 million to 10.4 million). Between 2000 and 2012, this population grew by 46 percent (from 10.4 million to 15.2 million).

In 1990, 13 percent of all children in the United States were living with immigrant parents, rising to 19 percent in 2000 and 25 percent in 2012. The share of second-generation children among all children with immigrant parents has grown from 77 percent in 1990 to 80 percent in 2000 and to 88 percent in 2012.

How many children living with immigrant parents are in low-income families?

There were 31.1 million children under 18 living in poor families (i.e., with family incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty threshold) in the United States. Of them, almost 9.6 million (or 31 percent) were children of immigrants.

What are the top five states in terms of the number of children living with immigrant parents?

In 2012, the top five states by the total number of children living with immigrant parents were California (4.4 million), Texas (2.3 million), New York (1.5 million), Florida (1.2 million), and Illinois (777,000). These five states accounted for 59 percent of all children with immigrant parents.

What are the top five states by share of children living with immigrant parents in the state's total child population?

In terms of the share of children with immigrant parents, the top five states in 2012 were California (50 percent of all children in the state), Nevada (39 percent), New Jersey and New York (36 percent each), and Texas (34 percent).

What are the top five states in terms of the absolute growth of the number of children living 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 (1.3 million), Texas (643,000), Florida (384,000), New York (366,000), and Illinois (231,000).

Between 2000 and 2012, the five states with the largest absolute growth of the total number of children living with immigrant parents were Texas (733,000), California (332,000), Florida (328,000), Georgia (243,000), and North Carolina (210,000).

What are the top five states in terms of the percent growth of the number of children living with immigrant parents between 1990 and 2000 and between 2000 and 2012?

Between 1990 and 2000, the five states with the largest percent growth of the total population of children with immigrant parents were Nevada (about 233 percent), North Carolina (about 224 percent), Georgia (about 194 percent), Nebraska (174 percent), and Arkansas (170 percent).

Between 2000 and 2012, the five states with the largest percent growth of the total population of children living with immigrant parents were Tennessee (141 percent), North Carolina, and Alabama (125 percent each), Kentucky (124 percent), and South Carolina (122 percent).

Annual Flows

How many immigrants  obtain lawful permanent residence in the United States?

In 2012, 1,031,631 foreign nationals became lawful permanent residents (LPRs), also known as green-card holders, according to DHS data. The total number decreased slightly from 2011 (1,062,040). New arrivals comprised approximately 47 percent (484,072) of those granted LPR status in 2012. The majority of green-card recipients in 2012 (547,559, or 53 percent) were status adjusters—persons who were already living in the United States before 2012, but whose green-card applications were approved that year. Most status adjusters were formerly one of the following: refugees, asylees, temporary workers, foreign students, family members of U.S. citizens or green-card holders, or unauthorized immigrants.

Under which categories do permanent immigrants enter?

Of the roughly 1 million new LPRs in 2012, 46 percent were an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, 20 percent entered through a family-sponsored preference, and 14 percent entered through an employment-based preference. Another 15 percent adjusted from refugee or asylee status, and 4 percent were diversity-lottery winners.

Which countries did permanent immigrants come from?

The top five countries of birth for new LPRs in 2012 were Mexico (14 percent), China (8 percent), India (6 percent), the Philippines (6 percent), and the Dominican Republic (4 percent). Approximately 394,000 new LPRs were from one of the top five countries of birth, accounting for about 38 percent of all persons who received LPR status in 2012.

Persons born in the next five countries—Cuba and Vietnam (3 percent each), and Haiti, Colombia, and Korea (2 percent each)—made up another 12 percent of all LPRs. The top ten countries of birth made up half of total LPRs for 2012.

How many people apply 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 DV lottery or the green-card lottery) to allow entry to immigrants from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. The law states that 55,000 diversity visas are made available each fiscal year, of which 5,000 must be used for applicants under the Nicaraguan and Central America Relief Act of 1997, thus reducing the available number to other nationalities to 50,000. In 2012, 40,320 people received LPR status as diversity immigrants, representing 4 percent of the 1 million new LPRs.

Before receiving permission to immigrate to the United States, lottery winners must provide proof of a high school education or its equivalent or show two years of work experience within the past five years in an occupation that requires at least two years of training or experience. They also must pass a medical exam and a background check.

Overall interest in the DV lottery is significantly higher than the 50,000 available visas; more than 9.4 million qualified applications were registered for the DV-2014 program. (The application number varies each year depending on which countries are eligible). Check out the full list of qualified entries by country for DV-2007 to DV-2013 here.

What is the total number of temporary admissions to the United States?

The total number of nonimmigrant (temporary) admissions for 2012 was approximately 165.5 million, including primarily tourists, business travelers, and international students. That figure includes an estimated 111.6 million admissions of travelers who are exempt from completing the I-94 arrival/departure form at the port of entry. (Canadians who travel to the United States for business or pleasure, and Mexicans who possess a nonresident Border Crossing Card (i.e., laser visa) are exempt from completing this form).

Total temporary admissions of I-94 nonimmigrants increased slightly from 53.1 million to 53.9 million (1.5 percent) from 2011 to 2012.  

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

How do nonimmigrant admissions break down by visa category?

Temporary visitors (tourists and business travelers) account for an overwhelming majority of all nonimmigrant admissions. In 2012, they represented 89 percent (47.7 million) of all admissions to the United States. Of those, 42 million were tourist admissions and 5.7 million were business-traveler admissions.

Temporary workers and trainees (as well as their spouses and children), 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 about 3 million arrivals (more than 6 percent of total I-94 admissions)

Students, who entered the United States to study at academic or vocational institutes, made up about 4 percent (close to 1.7 million) of the total arrivals including their family members but not including exchange visitors.

According to recent estimates by DHS, about 1.9 million foreign nationals on various temporary visas resided in the United States on January 1, 2012 (Note: this estimate excludes tourists and other short-term visitors). Of the 1.9 million, 45 percent were temporary workers and their families, followed by foreign students and their families (40 percent). Nearly half of the 1.9 million temporary visa holders were from Asia. Another quarter came from Europe and Canada. The top five countries of origin—India, China, South Korea, Canada, and Mexico—accounted for half of the 1.9 million residents on temporary visas.

How many visas does the Department of State issue?

The Department of State (DOS) reports the number of visas issued to foreign nationals who wish to enter the United States for the purpose of traveling, conducting business, working, studying, and for other reasons.

In 2012, DOS issued 8,927,090 nonimmigrant visas, which is a 19 percent increase from the 7,507,939 visas issued in 2011.

The vast majority (77 percent) of the 8.9 million nonimmigrant visas issued in 2012 were temporary business and tourist visas (B-1, B-2, and BCC visas). The next largest visa class (F-1, F-2, and F-3) was for academic students and exchange visitors and their family members, who comprised 6 percent of all nonimmigrant visas issued, followed by the J-1 and J-2 visa categories for exchange visitors and their spouses and children (4 percent).

The distribution of the 8.9 million visas issued to foreign nationals in 2012 by region shows that the majority of temporary visas were issued to nationals from Asia (35 percent) and North America (24 percent, including Central America and the Caribbean), South America (24 percent), Europe (11 percent), Africa (4 percent), and Oceania (0.5 percent).

Note: The number of visas issued does not necessarily match the number of foreign nationals who entered 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.

Asylum seekers can submit an asylum request either affirmatively or defensively. An asylum seeker present in the United States may submit an asylum request either with a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) asylum officer (affirmative request), or, if apprehended, with an immigration judge as part of a removal hearing (defensive request). During the interview, an asylum officer will determine whether the applicant meets the definition of a refugee.


How many immigrants enter the United States as refugees, and where are they from?

In 2012, 58,179 refugees were admitted to the United States, a roughly 3 percent increase from 2011 (56,384). Bhutan, Burma, and Iraq were the primary countries of nationality for refugees admitted in 2010, 2011, and 2012. The nationals of these three countries made up 71 percent (41,393) of all refugees admitted in 2012.  The next seven countries of origin for refugee resettlements in 2012 were Somalia, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iran, Eritrea, Sudan, and Ethiopia. Altogether, nationals of these ten countries totaled 94 percent (54,916) of all refugee arrivals in 2012.

Each year, the President and Congress set the annual refugee admissions ceiling and regional allocations. For fiscal year (FY) 2014 the ceiling was set at 70,000, same as 2013 (down from 80,000 between 2008 and 2011). The Near East/South Asia regions received 47 percent (33,000) of the total regional allocations in response to the refugee crises in Iraq and Burma.

How many foreign born enter the United States as asylees, and where are they from?

In 2012, 29,484 principal applicants and their spouses and/or unmarried children under the age of 21 were granted asylum after seeking protection upon arriving or after arrival in the United States. An additional 13,049 individuals outside of the United States were approved for asylum status as immediate family members of principal applicants. (Note that this number reflects travel documents issued to these family members, not their arrival to the United States.)

Asylees from the top five countries of origin for asylum seekers made up 55 percent (16,228) of all asylees in 2012. China was the top country of origin, with 10,151 Chinese receiving asylum in 2012, accounting for 34 percent of all asylum grants that year. The next four largest origin groups were from Egypt (2,882), Ethiopia (1,122), Venezuela (1,099), and Nepal (974). Together, nationals of these five countries made up more than half of all individuals who received asylum status in 2012.

Illegal Immigration and DACA Statistics

How many unauthorized immigrants are in the United States?

According to DHS’ Office of Immigration Statistics (OIS), an estimated 11.5 million unauthorized immigrants resided in the United States in January 2011. The latest available estimates from DHS, released in March 2012, suggest that the unauthorized population was virtually unchanged compared to the revised 2010 estimate of 11.6 million. The largest shares of the 11.5 million unauthorized immigrants resided in California (25 percent), Texas (16 percent), and Florida and New York (6 percent each). Between 2000 and 2011, Georgia’s unauthorized population nearly doubled (from about 220,000 to 440,000), while the number of unauthorized migrants in Florida decreased by 9 percent (from 800,000 to 740,000). These figures can be compared to 36 percent growth between 2000 and 2011 at the national level. Georgia was home to 4 percent of the nation’s unauthorized immigrants in 2011.

The Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project also produced estimates of the size and characteristics of the unauthorized immigrant population. According to recent Pew data, there were 11.7 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States in March 2012. The difference between the size of the unauthorized immigrant population from 2011 (11.5 million) to 2012 (11.7 million) is not statistically significant.

Note: The data sources and estimating methodologies used by the DHS Office of Immigration Statistics (OIS) and Pew to describe the unauthorized population are different. Hence the estimates are not fully comparable, and we urge readers not to mix them. The two organizations cover somewhat different topics. For instance, OIS has estimates on the unauthorized population by period of entry, origin, state of residence, age, and sex. In addition to covering trends over time, Pew estimates include national and state-level estimates of the unauthorized labor force, as well as data on children with unauthorized parents.

Where are unauthorized migrants from?

According to DHS estimates, about 8.9 million unauthorized immigrants in 2011 were born in North America (which includes Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and Canada). About 1.3 million were from Asia, 800,000 from South America, 300,000 from Europe, and 200,000 from the remaining parts of the world. Mexico (59 percent), El Salvador (6 percent), and Guatemala (5 percent) were the top three countries of birth of the unauthorized immigrant population.

How many U.S. children have unauthorized immigrant parents?

About 5.5 million children living in the United States in 2010 (the most recently available estimates) had at least one parent who was an unauthorized immigrant, according to the Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project. Of this group, about 82 percent (4.5 million) were U.S. citizens by birth and 18 percent (1 million) were unauthorized immigrants themselves. The number of children with unauthorized immigrant parents has significantly increased since 2000, when there were 3.6 million such children. However, over the same period, the number of unauthorized immigrant children declined from 1.5 to 1.0 million, while the number of U.S.-born children with unauthorized immigrant parents grew from 2.1 million to 4.5 million.

  • Read the Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project’s fact sheet on unauthorized immigrants.

How many apprehensions of unauthorized immigrants are there per year?

There were more than 600,000 apprehensions in 2012 (643,474) by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the two agencies within DHS responsible for the identification and removal of inadmissible noncitizens. About 365,000 (57 percent of all apprehensions) were reported by the Border Patrol in 2012, up 25,000 from 2011 (approximately 340,000), a year which had the lowest number of apprehensions by the Border Patrol since 1971. About 98 percent of Border Patrol apprehensions occurred along the Southwest border. Additionally, ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations made 262,769 administrative arrests (or 41 percent of total apprehensions in 2012) and ICE Homeland Security Investigations made 15,937 administrative arrests (or 3 percent).

The leading countries of nationality of those apprehended in 2012 were Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Nationals from these four countries comprised 92 percent of all apprehensions, with Mexican nationals comprising the overwhelming majority—70 percent—in 2012 (down from 76 percent in 2011).

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

How many people are deported per year?

Foreign-born individuals who must leave the United States are categorized as either "removals" or "returns." Both removals and returns result in the departure of a foreign-born individual from the United States. There were 649,352 removals and returns in 2012, a 9 percent drop from 2011 (710,573 removals and returns).

In 2012, returns accounted for 35 percent (or 229,968) of total removals and returns, while removals comprised 65 percent (or 419,384)—an all-time high for removals. The number of removals has generally increased since 1990 when there were 30,039 removals. At the same time the number of returns has declined, from 1.02 million in 1990 to 229,968 in 2012 (the lowest since 1969).

Notes: Removals (deportations) are the compulsory and confirmed movement of an inadmissible or deportable unauthorized immigrant out of the United States based on an order of removal. An unauthorized immigrant who is removed has administrative or criminal consequences placed on subsequent re-entry owing to the fact of the removal. Returns are the confirmed movement of an inadmissible or deportable unauthorized immigrant 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 U.S. Border Patrol and are returned to Mexico.

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.

How many Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) applications were received in 2012?

On June 15, 2012, the Secretary of Homeland Security announced that certain unauthorized immigrants who entered the United States as children would be able to apply for deferred action, granting relief from deportation and work authorization for two years. MPI estimates that approximately 1.9 million people could be eligible for the DACA initiative. Prospective beneficiaries have to meet a series of requirements, including the following:

  • Entered the United States before the age of 16
  • Have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007
  • Are currently in school, have graduated from high school or earned a GED, or are honorably discharged veterans of the U.S. armed forces (including the Coast Guard)
  • Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors; or otherwise pose a threat to public safety or national security.

MPI estimated that about 1.09 million unauthorized youths and young adults were eligible to apply because they met both age and education criteria. Between August 15, 2012, when U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began accepting applications, and December 2013 a total of 610,694 of applications were accepted for consideration by the agency. Thus, as of December 2013 (the most recent data offered by USCIS at the time of this article’s publication), about 56 percent of the currently eligible population had applied.

The top states of residence for DACA applicants (refers to applications accepted) are California (29 percent), Texas (16 percent), Illinois and New York (5 percent each), and Florida (4 percent).

The top countries of origin are Mexico (77 percent), El Salvador (4 percent), Honduras (3 percent), Guatemala (3 percent), and Peru (1 percent). 

By the end of December 2013, 521,815 of the accepted applications had been approved and 15,968 denied.

Naturalization Trends

How many foreign born are naturalized citizens?

In 2012, 18.7 million immigrants were naturalized U.S. citizens, accounting for 46 percent of the foreign-born population (40.8 million) and 6 percent of the total U.S. population (313.9 million) according to ACS estimates.

How many immigrants naturalize?

According to DHS data, USCIS naturalized 757,434 LPRs in 2012. The total number of immigrants naturalized increased by 9 percent between 2011 and 2012.

From a historical perspective, the number of naturalizations has increased dramatically in recent decades. On average, 141,000 LPRs naturalized each year between 1970 and 1979, 205,000 in the 1980s; 498,000  in the 1990s, and 682,000 during the 2000s.

The number of naturalizations reached an all-time high in 2008 (1,046,539) before falling by almost 29 percent in 2009. The sharp 59 percent increase in naturalizations between 2007 and 2008 (from 660,477 to 1,046,539) came as a result of impending application fee increases and the promotion of naturalization in advance of the 2008 presidential elections.

How many foreign nationals become U.S. citizens through military naturalization?

In 2012, 7,257 foreign-born military personal naturalized as U.S. citizens, 13 percent less than in 2011 when the number of military naturalizations was 8,373.

Since September 2002, 89,095 foreign-born military personnel have naturalized on U.S. soil. Another 10,719 have become citizens overseas or aboard Navy ships.

What are the countries of origin of newly naturalized citizens?

Of those who naturalized in 2012, 13 percent were born in Mexico (102,181), and 6 percent each in the Philippines and India (44,958 and 42,928 respectively). Immigrants from these three countries, together with those from Dominican Republic (33,351), China (31,868), Cuba (31,244), Colombia (23,972), Vietnam (23,490), Haiti (19,114), and El Salvador (16,685), comprised the top ten countries of birth for newly naturalized citizens in 2012 and accounted for approximately 49 percent of all naturalizations that year.

Where do newly naturalized citizens live in the United States?

In 2012, 54 percent of all newly naturalized citizens lived in one of four states. California has the largest number of newly naturalized citizens, comprising 21 percent (158,850) of the total newly naturalized. Thirteen percent (100,890) of the newly naturalized resided in Florida in 2012, 12 percent in New York (93,584), and 8 percent in Texas (57,762).

Approximately 16 percent of those who naturalized in 2012 lived in the greater New York metropolitan area (123,891) and 9 percent each in the greater Miami and Los Angeles metropolitan areas (68,072 and 65,679 respectively). These areas, together with the greater Washington DC metropolitan area (4 percent), Chicago (4 percent), San Francisco and Houston (about 3 percent each), and the greater Boston area (2 percent) were home to half of new U.S. citizens in 2012.

How many green-card holders are eligible to naturalize?

According to the latest available USCIS estimates, 13.3 million LPRs resided in the United States in January 1, 2012. Of them, about 8.8 million were eligible to naturalize.

How long does it take on average for green-card holders to naturalize?

To be naturalized, LPRs must meet a number of criteria, including being at least 18 years of age, have resided in the United States with LPR status continuously for at least five years, and pass an English and civic exam.

According to USCIS estimates, immigrants who naturalized in 2012 spent a median of seven years in LPR status before becoming U.S. citizens. The time varied by country of origin: African born spent about 5 years in LPR status before naturalization, followed by those born in Asia and South America (both 6 years), Europe (7 years), Oceania (8 years), and North America (including Mexico and Central America, 10 years).

Visa 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. The government caps employment-based, permanent visas for foreign workers and their families at 140,000 per year world-wide. Family-sponsored preferences are limited to 226,000 visas per year. Also, no country can receive more than 7 percent of the total annual number of family-sponsored and employment-based visas (approximately 25,600 visas).

The second type of backlog is due to processing delays of applicants' documents, which is related to government processing capacity as well as increased background and criminal checks.

Once the Department of State grants a visa to an immigrant, USCIS and the Federal Bureau of Investigation conduct background checks.

In January 2014, the government was processing some family-related visas applications filed as far back as July 1990, and it was still processing some employment-related visa applications from September 2003.

A U.S. citizen wishing to sponsor an unmarried adult child from Mexico, for instance, must wait about 21 years before the application will be processed, and a U.S. citizen wishing to sponsor a sibling from the Philippines must wait 24 years. However, recent years have witnessed dramatic reductions in the backlogs for certain categories of immigrants, particularly the immediate family members (spouses and children) of LPRs (i.e., see Preference 2A).

  • For more details about the waiting time by immigration category and country of origin, see the U.S. Department of State’s Visa Bulletin.

About The Author

Jeanne Batalova Jeanne Batalova is a Senior Policy Analyst at MPI and Manager of the MPI Data Hub, a one-stop, online resource that provides instant access to the latest facts, stats, and maps covering US and global data on immigration and immigrant integration. She is also a nonresident fellow with the Migration Policy Institute Europe.

Gregory Auclair was a consultant at MPI.

Chiamaka Nwosu is an intern at MPI.

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

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