Record 44.5 Million Immigrants in 2017

Non-Mexico Latin American, Asian, and African populations grew most

By Steven A. Camarota and Karen Zeigler on September 15, 2018

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Steven A. Camarota is the director of research and Karen Zeigler is a demographer at the Center.

On September 13, the Census Bureau released some data from the 2017 American Community Survey (ACS) that shows significant growth in the immigrant (legal and illegal) population living in the United States. The number of immigrants (legal and illegal) from Latin American countries other than Mexico, Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa grew significantly, while the number from Mexico, Europe, and Canada stayed about the same or even declined since 2010. The Census Bureau refers to immigrants as the "foreign-born", which includes all those who were not U.S. citizens at birth. The Department of Homeland Security has previously estimated that 1.9 million immigrants are missed by the ACS, so the total number of immigrants in 2017 was likely 46.4 million.1

Among the findings in the new data:

  • The nation's immigrant population (legal and illegal) hit a record 44.5 million in July 2017, an increase of nearly 800,000 since 2016, 4.6 million since 2010, and 13.4 million since 2000.
  • It is worth noting that the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey (CPS), released the same week but collected in March 2018, shows 45.4 million immigrants, an increase of 1.6 million over the prior year. While the CPS is smaller than the ACS, the newer survey may indicate the pace of growth has accelerated.
  • As a share of the U.S. population, the ACS (used in the remainder of this report) shows that immigrants (legal and illegal) comprised 13.7 percent or nearly one out of seven U.S. residents in 2017, the highest percentage in 107 years. As recently as 1980, just one out of 16 residents was foreign-born.
  • Between 2010 and 2017, 9.5 million new immigrants settled in the United States. New arrivals are offset by roughly 320,000 immigrants who return home each year and natural mortality of about 290,000 annually among the existing immigrant population.2 As a result, growth in the immigrant population was 4.6 million from 2010 to 2017.3
  • In addition to immigrants, there were 17.1 million U.S.-born minor children with an immigrant parent in 2017, for a total of 61.6 million immigrants and their children in the country — accounting for one in five U.S. residents.4
  • Of immigrants who have come since 2010, 13 percent or 1.2 million came from Mexico — by far the top sending country. However, because of return migration and natural mortality among the existing population, the overall Mexican-born population actually declined by 441,190.5
  • The sending regions with the largest numerical increases from 2016 to 2017 in the number of immigrants living in the United States were South America (up 233,696); East Asia (up 226,728); South Asia (up 216,495); Sub-Saharan Africa (up 149,846); the Caribbean (up 121,120); and Central America (up 71,720).6
  • Looking longer term, the regions with the largest numerical increases since 2010 were East Asia, (up 1,118,937); South Asia (up 1,106,373); the Caribbean (up 676,023); Sub-Saharan Africa (up 606,835); South America (up 483,356); Central America (up 474,504); and the Middle East (up 472,554).
  • The decline in Mexican immigrants masks, to some extent, the enormous growth of Latin American immigrants. If seen as one region, the number from Latin America (excluding Mexico) grew 426,536 in just the last year and 1.6 million since 2010 — significantly more than from any other part of the world.
  • The sending countries with the largest numerical increases in immigrants in the United States between 2010 and 2017 were India (up 830,215); China (up 677,312); the Dominican Republic (up 283,381); the Philippines (up 230,492); Cuba (up 207,124); El Salvador (up 187,783); Venezuela (up 167,105); Colombia (up 146,477); Honduras (up 132,781); Guatemala (up 128,018); Nigeria (up 125,670); Brazil (up 111,471); Vietnam (up 102,026); Bangladesh (up 95,005); Haiti (up 92,603); and Pakistan (up 92,395).
  • The sending countries with the largest percentage increases in immigrants since 2010 were Nepal (up 120 percent); Burma (up 95 percent); Venezuela (up 91 percent); Afghanistan (up 84 percent); Saudi Arabia (up 83 percent); Syria (up 75 percent); Bangladesh (up 62 percent); Nigeria (up 57 percent); Kenya (up 56 percent); India (up 47 percent); Iraq (up 45 percent); Ethiopia (up 44 percent); Egypt (up 34 percent); Brazil (up 33 percent); the Dominican Republic (up 32 percent); Ghana (up 32 percent); China (up 31 percent); Pakistan (up 31 percent); and Somalia (up 29 percent).
  • The states with the largest numerical increases since 2010 were Florida (up 721,298); Texas (up 712,109); California (up 502,985); New York (up 242,769); New Jersey (up 210,481); Washington (up 173,891); Massachusetts (up 172,908); Pennsylvania (up 154,701); Virginia (up 151,251); Maryland (up 124,241); Georgia (123,009); Michigan (up 116,059); North Carolina (up 110,279); and Minnesota (up 107,760).
  • The states with the largest percentage increases since 2010 were North Dakota (up 87 percent); Delaware (up 37 percent); West Virginia (up 33 percent); South Dakota (up 32 percent); Wyoming (up 30 percent); Minnesota (up 28 percent); Nebraska (up 28 percent); Pennsylvania (up 21 percent); Utah (up 21 percent); and Tennessee, Kentucky, Michigan, Florida, Washington, and Iowa (all up 20 percent).

Data Source. On September 13, 2018, the Census Bureau released some of the data from the 2017 American Community Survey (ACS). The survey reflects the U.S. population as of July 1, 2017. The ACS is by far the largest survey taken by the federal government each year and includes over two million households.7 The Census Bureau has posted some of the results from the ACS to its American FactFinder website.8 It has not released the public-use version of the ACS for researchers to download and analyze. However, a good deal of information can be found at FactFinder. Unless otherwise indicated, the information in this analysis comes directly from FactFinder.

The immigrant population, referred to as the "foreign-born" by the Census Bureau, is comprised of those individuals who were not U.S. citizens at birth. It includes naturalized citizens, legal permanent residents (green card holders), temporary workers, and foreign students. It does not include those born to immigrants in the United States, including to illegal immigrant parents, or those born in outlying U.S. territories, such as Puerto Rico. Prior research by the Department of Homeland Security and others indicates that some 90 percent of illegal immigrants respond to the ACS. Thus all the figures reported above are for both legal and illegal immigrants.


Graph: Immigrants in the US, Number and Percent, 1900-2017; Plus Census Bureau Projections to 2060
Table: Immigrant Population in the US by Country and Region 1990-2017
Table: Year of Arrival in 2017 by Region
Table: State Immigrant Populations, 1990 to 2017
Table: Immigrant share by state, 2017

End Notes

1 See Table 2 on page 5 in Bryan Baker, "Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: January 2014", Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics", July 2017.

2 In addition to asking about citizenship and country of birth, The ACS also asks immigrants what year they came to the United States.

3 It is possible to roughly estimate out-migration from the data released so far. Given the characteristics of immigrants by age, race, and sex, there were likely about 2.043 million deaths in this population from 2010 to 2017. The number of new arrivals from 2010 to 2017 was 9.487 million. (See Table 2.) However, this figures includes all of 2010 while growth from 2010 to 2017 (4.57 million) in the ACS is measured from July 1, 2010, to July 1, 2017, which is the population control date for the survey. Excluding one-half of a year of new arrivals (632,000) — to represent those who came in the first half of 2010 — allows us to match arrival numbers to growth figures. Using this approach means there were 8.855 million new arrivals from July 1, 2010, to July 1, 2017. Out-migration can be estimated using the following formula: Out-migration = new arrivals - (growth + deaths). Plugging in the numbers we get the following: 2.24 million = 8.855 million - (4.570 million + 2.043 million). This implies a rough estimate of 2.24 million immigrants who left the United States during the seven years from 2010 to 2017, or about 320,000 annually. This figure includes legal and illegal immigrants.

4 The figures for immigrants are from the 2017 American Community Survey (ACS). The figures for children are from the public-use files of the 2017 and 2018 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement (CPS ASEC) and are for those under age 18 born in the United States with either a mother or father born outside of the United States. Unlike the ACS, the CPS ASEC asks all respondents, including children, about their parents' places of birth. The CPS ASEC is collected in March each year. The 2017 survey showed 16.88 million U.S.-born children with at least one immigrant parent and the 2018 survey showed 17.40 million children with at least one immigrant parent. Assuming constant growth from 2017 to 2018 means that four months after July 1, 2017, the control date of the 2017 ASC, there were 17.1 million U.S.-born minor children of immigrants.

5 Using the same method to estimate out-migration used in endnote 3 indicates that roughly 1.01 million Mexican immigrants returned home between 2010 and 2017. There were 1.14 million new arrivals (the 1.22 million shown in Table 1 minus one half year of arrivals) from Mexico, so net migration from Mexico is almost certainly not zero as is sometimes reported in the media. However, it is now nearly so. Moreover, it is not zero or even negative if one includes the U.S.-born children who go to Mexico with their immigrant parents. To arrive at the above number, we estimate 570,000 deaths among Mexican immigrants living in the United States between 2000 and 2017.

6 Regions are defined in the following manner, East Asia: China (including Hong Kong and Taiwan), Japan, Korea, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Burma (Myanmar), Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Other South Eastern Asia, Other Eastern Asia, Asia n.e.c. South Asia: Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka. Caribbean: The Bahamas, Barbados, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, West Indies, Other Caribbean, Other Northern America. Central America: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Other Central America. South America: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela, Other South America. Middle East: Afghanistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, Sudan, Other Northern Africa, Other South Central Asia, Other Western Asia. Europe: United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Other Northern Europe, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Other Western Europe, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Albania, Belarus, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Armenia, Other Southern Europe, Other Eastern Europe, Europe, n.e.c. Sub-Saharan Africa: Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Other Eastern Africa, Cameroon, South Africa, Other Southern Africa, Cape Verde, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Other Western Africa, Other Middle Africa, Africa n.e.c. Oceania/Elsewhere: Australia, Oceania, Pacific Islands, Fiji, and elsewhere. Predominately Muslim Countries includes the following: the Middle East (excluding Israel) as well as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Somalia, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Country list reflects 2010 and 2014; in 2000 the list of specific countries was less detailed.

7 Detailed information on the American Community Survey methodology, questions, and other topics on the can be found here.

8 Unless otherwise indicated, all the information on the foreign-born used in this analysis for 2017, 2016, 2010 and 2000 can be found on FactFinder.