Published on People Move

U.S. Foreign-born population continues to increase

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The foreign-born population of the United States continues to increase according to new data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS). According to the ACS, the U.S. foreign-born population reached 40.8 million in 2012. This represents an increase of one percent from the prior year. Between 1990 and 2000, the U.S. foreign-born population increased 57 percent and between 2000 and 2010, it increased 28 percent. In another study, the Pew Hispanic Center reported that there has been an upturn in the unauthorized immigrant population following a decline during the global financial crisis. According to Pew, the unauthorized immigrant population increased from 11.5 million in 2011 to 11.7 million in 2012.This represents an increase of two percent. Between 1990 and 2000, the unauthorized immigrant population increased 146 percent and between 2000 and 2010, it increased 133 percent.  See Chart 1 (note that authorized includes naturalized foreign-born population).

The foreign-born population in 2012 accounted for 13.0 percent of the total U.S. population. Although the foreign-born population is spread across all states, a few states are dominant. California (27.1 percent) ranked first in the proportion of its population who were foreign-born. It was followed by New York (22.6 percent), New Jersey (21.2 percent), Florida (19.4 percent), and Hawaii (19.2 percent). States with some of the lowest foreign-born percentages included West Virginia (1.4 percent), Montana (1.6 percent), Mississippi (1.1 percent), South Dakota (2.7 percent), and North Dakota (2.8 percent).

By region of the world, the most common region of birth was Americas (54 percent) followed by Asia (29 percent), Europe (12 percent), Africa (4 percent), and Oceania (1 percent). In terms of growth, Africa is the fastest growing region of birth, increasing by 374 percent from 1990 to 2012. The second fastest growing region of birth is Americas, increasing by 341 percent in the same period. The slowest growth was registered by Europe, at 11 percent in the same period.


C. Omar Kebbeh

Economist, Balance of Payments Division, U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA)

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