April 19, 2016

Statistical Portrait of the Foreign-Born Population in the United States

There were a record 42.2 million immigrants living in the U.S. in 2014, making up 13.2% of the nation’s population. This represents a fourfold increase since 1960, when only 9.7 million immigrants lived in the U.S., accounting for just 5.4% of the total U.S. population.

For a statistical portrait of the Hispanic population in the United States, click here.

Click on any of the bold headings below in the summary table to see detailed tables for each.


Foreign-born Population in the United States, 1850-2014

Year Foreign-born population, in millions
1850 2.2
1860 4.1
1870 5.6
1880 6.7
1890 9.2
1900 10.3
1910 13.5
1920 13.9
1930 14.2
1940 11.6
1950 10.3
1960 9.7
1970 9.6
1980 14.1
1990 19.8
2000 31.1
2010 39.9
2013 41.3
2014 42.2

Source: U.S. Census Bureau population estimates and Pew Research Center tabulations of 2010, 2013 and 2014 American Community Surveys (IPUMS)

Pew Research Center

The foreign-born population residing in the U.S. reached a record 42.2 million, or 13.2% of the U.S. population, in 2014. The population has more than quadrupled since the 1960s, when the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act took effect. Though growth has begun to slow in recent years, the number of immigrants living in the United States is projected to almost double by 2065.

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Origins of the U.S. Immigrant Population, 1960-2014

Year Europe/Canada South and East Asia Other Latin America Mexico
1960 84.0 3.8 3.5 6.0
1970 67.8 6.8 10.8 8.1
1980 42.4 15.3 15.5 15.6
1990 25.8 22.0 20.8 21.7
2000 18.8 23.3 22.2 29.4
2010 14.5 24.9 23.7 29.4
2013 14.2 25.8 24.0 28.0
2014 13.6 26.4 23.9 27.7

Note: Other Latin America includes Central America, South America and the Caribbean.

Source: Pew Research Center tabulations of 1960-2000 decennial censuses and 2010, 2013 and 2014 American Community Surveys (IPUMS)

Pew Research Center

There has been a dramatic shift in the region of origin among the immigrant population residing in the U.S. since the passage of the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act. In 1960, 84% of immigrants living in the U.S. were born in Europe or Canada, while only 6% were from Mexico, 3.8% from South and East Asia, 3.5% from the rest of Latin America and 2.7% from other areas. By 2014, immigrant origins had changed dramatically as European and Canadian immigrants made up only a small share of the foreign-born population (13.6%), while Mexicans accounted for the largest share, 27.7%. Asian immigrants made up 26.4% of all immigrants, other Latin Americans stood at 23.9%, and 8.3% were born in another region.

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Length of Time in the U.S., 1970-2014

Year 0 to 10 years Over 10 years
1970 30.6 69.4
1980 39.6 60.4
1990 43.8 56.2
2000 42.4 57.6
2010 34.7 65.3
2013 28.4 71.6
2014 28.1 71.9

Source: Pew Research Center tabulations of 1970-2000 decennial censuses and 2010, 2013 and 2014 American Community Surveys (IPUMS)

Pew Research Center

The nation’s immigrants are more settled today than they were in 1990, when the share of those who arrived within the 10 years prior to the survey peaked at 43.8%. Now, as the current wave of immigrants has become more settled, their time in the U.S. has lengthened. In 2014, 71.9% have lived in the U.S. for over 10 years, a higher share than had done so in 1970, when 69.4% of immigrants had been in the country for over 10 years.

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English Proficiency Among U.S. Immigrants, 1980-2014

Year % of immigrants
1980 57.2
1990 53.0
2000 49.0
2010 48.4
2013 50.4
2014 50.4

Note: English proficiency are those who speak only English at home or if they speak a non-English language at home, they indicate they can speak English at least “very well.”

Source: Pew Research Center tabulations of 1980-2000 decennial censuses and 2010, 2013 and 2014 American Community Surveys (IPUMS)

Pew Research Center

The share of immigrants who are proficient in English has declined since 1980, though it has increased slightly in recent years. This decline has been driven entirely by those who speak only English at home, which fell from 30% of immigrants ages 5 and older in 1980 to 16% in 2014. The share who speak English “very well,” meanwhile, has increased slightly, from 27% to 35% over the same time period.

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Languages Spoken Among U.S. Immigrants, 2014

Language % of immigrants
English only 16%
Spanish 44%
Chinese 6%
Hindi 5%
Filipino/Tagalog 4%
Vietnamese 3%
French 3%
Korean 2%
All other 18%

Note: Languages spoken by at least 2% of the immigrant population are shown. Hindi includes related languages such as Urdu and Bengali.

Source: Pew Research Center tabulations of the 2014 American Community Survey (IPUMS)

Pew Research Center

Among the nation’s immigrants, Spanish is by far the most spoken non-English language (44% of immigrants say they speak Spanish at home), but it is not the only non-English language spoken by immigrants. Some 6% of immigrants speak Chinese (including Mandarin and Cantonese), 5% speak Hindi or a related language, 4% speak Filipino or Tagalog, 3% speak Vietnamese, 3% speak French or Haitian Creole and 2% speak Korean.

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First- and Second-Generation Share of the Population, 1900-2015

Year 2nd generation 1st generation
1900 20.8 13.7
1910 20.1 14.6
1920 20.6 12.7
1930 20.1 11.3
1940 18.8 8.5
1950 16.2 6.9
1960 13.8 5.4
1970 12.1 4.7
1980 10.5 6.0
1990 9.7 7.9
2000 10.1 11.1
2006 10.8 12.2
2010 11.3 12.7
2015 11.9 13.9

Note: First generation immigrants are those born outside the U.S. Second generation immigrants are those born in the U.S. with at least one immigrant parent.

Source: 2000-2015 data and all second-generation data from Pew Research Center analysis of Current Population Surveys (IPUMS); historical trend from Passel and Cohn (2008) and Edmonston and Passel (1994)

Pew Research Center

While immigrants account for 13.9% of the U.S. population, the U.S.-born children of immigrants (second-generation Americans) make up another 11.9% of the nation’s population. By 2050, these two groups could account for 19% and 18% of the population, respectively, according to Pew Research Center projections.

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Among new arrivals, Asians outnumber Hispanics 

Year Hispanic Asian
2001 52.9 22.1
2002 52.2 22.3
2003 53.5 22.2
2004 55.2 21.6
2005 51.1 24.8
2006 46.1 29.3
2007 42.9 32.1
2008 39.8 32.4
2009 35.2 34.9
2010 33.5 35.5
2011 32.8 36.8
2012 32.1 36.0
2013 28.0 37.7
2014 32.6 34.5

Note: Figures for 2001 to 2005 are based on the household population and do not include arrivals residing in group quarters. 2014 figure represents only arrivals between January 1 and April 1, 2014. Figures reflect only immigrants who are residing the U.S. as of April 1, 2014. Race and ethnicity based on self-reports. Asians include only single-race non-Hispanics. Hispanics are of any race.

Source: Pew Research Center tabulations of 2001-2014 American Community Surveys (IPUMS)

Pew Research Center

As recently as 2009, more Asian immigrants than Hispanic immigrants have arrived in the U.S. annually. In the early 2000s, the number of newly arrived Hispanic immigrants greatly outnumbered newly-arrived Asian immigrants. But with the Great Recession, Latin American immigration slowed sharply, especially from Mexico. Meanwhile, Asian immigration to the U.S. continues to grow.

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Educational Attainment Among U.S. Immigrants, 1960-2014

Year Bachelor's degree Post-graduate degree
1960 2.5 2.6
1970 4.0 5.0
1980 7.0 8.7
1990 11.5 8.8
2000 13.7 10.3
2010 15.9 11.1
2013 16.4 11.9
2014 16.6 12.0

Source: Pew Research Center tabulations of 1960-2000 decennial censuses and 2010, 2013 and 2014 American Community Surveys (IPUMS)

Pew Research Center

Just as among those born in the U.S., education levels among the nation’s immigrants have been steadily rising since the 1960s. While there have been gains across the board by immigrant’s region of origin, these gains have been most dramatic among Asians, Europeans and those from the Middle East, but less so among those from Mexico and Central America.

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U.S. Unauthorized Immigrant Population, 1990-2014

Note: Shading surrounding lines indicates low and high points of the estimated 90% confidence interval.Trends are plotted from unrounded numbers; data labels are rounded independently and are not adjusted to sum to the total U.S. figure or other totals. See Methodology for details of rounding rules and definitions of regions and countries.

Source: Pew Research Center estimates for 2005-2012 based on augmented American Community Survey data from Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS); for 1995 and 2000 based on March supplements to Current Population Survey; for 1990 from Warren and Warren (2013) and U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (2003).

Embed this Graphic:

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The nation’s unauthorized immigrant population grew rapidly between 1990 and 2007, reaching a peak of 12.2 million. Since then, the population declined to 11.2 million, where it has remained. Unauthorized immigrants from Mexico make up half of all unauthorized immigrants, and have been a driver of the group’s population decline—since 2007, the number of Mexican unauthorized immigrants fell from a peak of 6.9 million to 5.9 million in 2012.

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PH_15.06.15_StatPortraits-Unauthorized-Immigrant

About one-quarter of the U.S. foreign-born population are unauthorized immigrants, while the majority of the nation’s immigrants is in the U.S. legally. Naturalized citizens account for the largest portion of the foreign-born population (41.8%).

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Foreign-born Age Pyramids US-born Age Pyramids

As the origins of immigrants have changed, so has the age structure of the population. European and Canadian immigrants tend to be older, with a median age of 52 in 2014. Mexican immigrants are among the youngest, with a median age of 40. As the largest group of immigrants shifted from Europeans and Canadians to Mexicans, the largest age group shifted from ages 65-69 to ages 40-44. The U.S.-born population also went through a transformation, from the late years of the Baby Boom to to the much more evenly dispersed age structure of today.

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