Data Snapshot: Middle Eastern and North African Immigrants

by Robin Lundh

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) recently announced its revision of the race and ethnicity question on federal surveys, including the U.S. census, adding “Middle Eastern or North African (MENA)” as a new category. This welcoming news came ahead of the Arab American Heritage Month in April.

“These revisions will enhance our ability to compare information and data across federal agencies, and also to understand how well federal programs serve a diverse America,” said Karin Orvis, OMB’s chief statistician. People of MENA origins have been historically overlooked and underrepresented in government data. This new response option in federal surveys will help federal agencies collect more accurate information about this large community, including MENA immigrants.

As of now, one of the most accurate ways to identify the MENA population in census data is through looking at the country of origin of the immigrant population. This, of course, means that we are undercounting MENA data, as those that identify as such but are not first-generation immigrants cannot be identified in the data.

In 2022, 1.7 million Middle Eastern or North African immigrants lived in the United States. These immigrants came from the countries between Morocco in the west to Iran in the east, including the entire Arabian Peninsula.

The top countries of origin for MENA immigrants were Iran (23.6%), Egypt (13.4%), and Iraq (12.7%). Among recent immigrants, who migrated to the United States between 2017 and 2022 and made up 15.7% of all MENA immigrants, the top countries of origin were Saudia Arabia (42.2%), United Arab Emirates (34.9%), and Kuwait (24.0%).

California continues to be a hub for the MENA immigrant population, where 440,000 people represent over a quarter of the country’s total MENA immigrant population, followed by four other states with significant shares of the MENA population: New York (8.2%), Michigan (7.7%), Texas (7.2%), and Florida (6.0%).

MENA immigrants boast impressive educational attainment, with over half (52.4%) holding at least a bachelor’s degree, and nearly a quarter (24.0%) holding an advanced degree. This is significantly higher than all immigrants (34.7% and 15.6%) and the U.S.-born population (35.9% and 13.8%).

MENA immigrants are also more likely to be working-age, with 75.4% of them being between 16–64 years old, while only 61.3% of U.S.-born are of the same age.

MENA immigrants’ contributions to the workforce tells us a more nuanced story than educational attainment. MENA immigrants play a significant role in a wide range of occupations from physicians to truck drivers.

Top Occupations for MENA Immigrants

Sr.No.

Occupation

MENA Immigrants Working in Occupation

Share of MENA Immigrants

1

Physicians

32,783

3.4%

2

Other managers

32,470

3.4%

3

Driver/sales workers and truck drivers

29,696

3.1%

4

Retail salespersons

29,053

3.0%

5

Postsecondary teachers

27,549

2.9%

6

First-line supervisors of retail sales workers

26,056

2.7%

7

Cashiers

23,822

2.5%

8

Taxi drivers

20,061

2.1%

9

Software developers

19,240

2.0%

10

Chief executives and legislators

15,845

1.6%

Source: American Immigration Council analysis of the 2022 American Community SurveyCreated with Datawrapper

Entrepreneurship is also flourishing within the MENA community. MENA immigrants are more than twice as likely as the U.S.-born residents to be entrepreneurs: 9.8% of MENA immigrants are self-employed, compared to 4.4% of the U.S.-born.

MENA immigrants have a substantial impact to the U.S. economy, with MENA immigrant households having a combined household income of $92.0 billion, paying $17.9 billion in federal taxes and $8.3 billion in state and local taxes, leaving them with $65.8 billion in spending power.

It is worth noting, however, that there is economic diversity within the MENA community, as evident by the varying median incomes. The median income for immigrants from the United Arab Emirates and Israel/Palestine is $128k and $113k respectively, while the median income for immigrants from Algeria and Yemen is $55k and $45k. Another way to look at it is that while 13.8% (almost 4% higher than the U.S.-born population) of MENA immigrants are at the top of the country’s income distribution––the 90th income percentile––16.8% live below or at the federal poverty line.

While 70% of MENA immigrants have become naturalized citizens, with the upcoming election, it is important to understand the voting power of MENA immigrants. The 329,000 MENA immigrants in California that are eligible to vote make up 1.3% of eligible voters in the state. MENA immigrants made up 1.1% of eligible voters in Michigan and 0.8% in New Jersey.

Though representing a smaller segment of the immigrant population, MENA immigrants are gradually expanding in number and influence, emphasizing the need for continued support and inclusivity. This month we take the opportunity to recognize not only the impact of the MENA population, but also their diversity, and the necessary work to ensure that immigrants from all over have the opportunities they deserve for building a future in the United States.

This post originally appeared on Immigration Impact Reprinted with permission.


About The Author

Robin Lundh Our mission is to shape a rational conversation on immigration and immigrant integration. Through its research and analysis, we provide policymakers, the media, and the general public with accurate information about the role of immigrants and immigration policy on U.S. society. Our reports and materials are widely disseminated and relied upon by press and policy makers. Our staff regularly serves as experts to leaders on Capitol Hill, opinion-makers and the media. Formed in 2003, we are a non-partisan organization that neither supports nor opposes any political party or candidate for office.

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