Given that about a quarter of the world’s population is Muslim, and that we have found ourselves in serious conflict with Muslim entities (both state and non-state), the question of the share of arriving legal immigrants who are Muslims is potentially relevant to policy, as is the question of which parts of our complex immigration system are most likely to facilitate Muslim migration.
Since our government bends over backward to avoid collecting data along religious lines, we had to use some approximations to get even rough answers to our questions. We cannot tell you how many of the million or so immigrants arriving each year are of the Islamic faith, but we can tell you how many of them are from Muslim-majority nations.
A quick look at what percentage of the population in Muslim-majority (henceforth MM) nations consists of Muslims is instructive, and perhaps worrisome to some. Muslim migrants from MM nations, typically, are not from just the largest part of some ethnic or religious melting pot, most of them come from places where the religion is overwhelmingly dominant. According to the World Population Review, there are 48 MM nations and, in a majority of those, 26, the percentage of Muslims runs from a low of 95.3 percent (The Gambia) to a high of 99.9 percent (Morocco). One can safely assume that the vast majority of the arrivals from these 26 nations have never had any exposure to any religion other than Islam, and never had any personal contact with people of any other faith.
In addition to legal immigrants from these 48 nations, almost all of whom are Muslim, we have some Muslim migrants coming from non-MM countries, such as from India, China, and Bosnia; our general assumption is that the numbers from these non-MM sources probably balance out the non-MM migrants from MM nations. If this is so, then the estimated total of Islamic immigrants roughly equals that of the arriving people from the 48 MM nations.
This is a ballpark sort of estimation which, one hopes, will be explored by others. It is also likely to produce an under-estimate of Muslim migration, but it is the best tool readily available.
With all that in mind, what was the total — and the percentage of the incoming cohort of 2020 admissions — from the 48 World Population Review-designated MM nations?
As the following table shows, there were 96,906 people from MM nations among the 2020 cohort of legal immigrants, or less than 10 percent of the total flow. Some 9,655 of them came as Diversity Visa Lottery winners, which account for about 18 percent of that population.
Legal Immigrants from the 48
Pct. in the
Diversity Visa Lottery
|Bangladesh||90.80%||9,272||Not in program.|
|Comoros||98.30%||≤ 10||≤ 2|
|Maldives||98.40%||≤ 10||≤ 2|
|Mayotte||98.60%||≤ 10||≤ 2|
|United Arab Emirates||75.00%||1,251||101
|Western Sahara||99.40%||≤ 10||≤ 2|
Sources: Columns 1 and 2: World Population Review; Column 3: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, “Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2020”, Table 10.
1 Refugees not included.
2 Pakistan was not in the 2020 Diversity Visa Lottery, but a few visas from earlier years were reported with the 2020 data.
3 Palestinian migration numbers are included with Israel.
So, in 2020 the ratio of incoming Muslims in the legal migration stream, even in the lottery sub-stream, was lower than their share of the world’s population. Those ratios, however, are sure to rise once the current influx of Afghan refugees starts to be counted — as it was not in 2020.
Also not counted in the table is a substantial population of Muslims in the Temporary Protected Status category — a status that, as Mark Krikorian has observed, is anything but temporary. Currently there are 15 TPS nations, of which six are in the MM category: Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.
While Burma (Myanmar), which is on the TPS list, is a primarily Buddhist nation, the majority of its refugees (the Rohingya) are Muslims. Most of those fleeing Afghanistan, by the way, while Muslims, are getting away from an extreme form of Islam forced on the population by the Taliban.
One category of entrants (both immigrants and nonimmigrants) in which only a handful of Muslims participate consists of needed workers. The low-skilled ones are too expensive to import because of distance and travel costs, while high-skilled ones rarely appear in the H-1B tallies. Only one of the 48 nations noted above shows up on the list of the top providers of H-1B workers: Pakistan, which is ninth on the list of such nations. Pakistan’s contribution is 0.5 percent of the H-1B total according to the 2020 USCIS report “Characteristics of H-1B Specialty Occupation Workers”.
The public policy rationale for admitting different groups of arriving Muslims thus ranges from the completely understandable to the completely absurd, with our allies in losing wars in Asia, such as the Afghan translators, being of high priority and the Diversity Visa Lottery winners at the other end of the scale.
The author is grateful to Gabriel Millar, a CIS intern, for his diligent research assistance.