Statistical Portrait of the Foreign-Born Population in the United States
There were a record 43.2 million immigrants living in the U.S. in 2015, making up 13.4% of the nation’s population. This represents more than 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.
The foreign-born population residing in the U.S. reached a record 43.2 million, or 13.4% of the U.S. population according to the American Community Survey, in 2015. 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.
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 2015, immigrant origins had changed dramatically as European and Canadian immigrants made up only a small share of the foreign-born population (13.5%), while Mexicans accounted for one of the largest shares, 26.8%. Asian immigrants made up 26.9% of all immigrants, other Latin Americans stood at 24.2%, and the other 8.6% of immigrants were born in other regions.
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 2015, 72.1% 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.
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 2015. The share who speak English “very well,” meanwhile, has increased slightly, from 27% to 35% over the same time period.
Among the nation’s immigrants, Spanish is by far the most spoken non-English language (44% of immigrants say they speak Spanish at home in 2015), 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.
While immigrants account for 13.9% of the U.S. population according to the Current Population Survey, 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.
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 declined sharply, especially from Mexico. Meanwhile, Asian immigration to the U.S. continues to grow.
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.
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 million in 2015, where it has remained. Unauthorized immigrants from Mexico make up about 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 5.6 million in 2015.
About one-quarter of the U.S. foreign-born population are unauthorized immigrants, while the majority of the nation’s immigrants are in the U.S. legally. Naturalized citizens account for the largest portion of the foreign-born population (44.1%).
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 2015. Mexican immigrants are among the youngest, with a median age of 41. 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.