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US: 45 million Foreign-born Residents in 2021

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October 10, 2023

The US had 45 million foreign-born residents in 2021, including a quarter who were born in Mexico and a quarter who were unauthorized; half of the unauthorized were born in Mexico. A third of foreign-born US residents are from Mexico and Central America, and almost a third are from Asia.

⅓ of US foreign-born residents are from Mexico and Central America

The US has a sixth of the 280 million international migrants, defined by the UN as persons outside their country of birth for a year or more regardless of the reason for being in another country or legal status. Legal immigration, unauthorized migration, and foreigners seeking asylum are increasing the number of foreign-born US residents.

Unauthorized. The 11 million unauthorized foreigners are concentrated in several ways. About half are from Mexico and a quarter are in California. Some of the unauthorized have a temporary legal status, such as DACA recipients who arrived in the US before the age of 16 and graduated from US high schools.

Citenzship and Legal Status of the U.S. Foreign-Born Population, 2019
Naturalized Citezens 45%
Lawful Permanent Residents 28%
TPS 1%
Asylum Seekers 2%
No Lawful Status 19%
Nonimmigrants 5%

Most unauthorized foreigners enter the US via Mexico, eluding the Border Patrol or applying for asylum after being encountered by Border Patrol agents. Monthly encounters were below 50,000 for most of the 2010-19 period, but rose to almost 133,000 in May 2019 and 224,000 in May 2022. There were 171,000 encounters in May 2023 and 182,000 in August 2023. Half of those encountered in summer 2023 were parents with children, and most were released into the US.

Over 2.2 million unauthorized migrants were encountered just inside the Mexico-US border in FY22, including almost 500,000 families with children. During the first 10 months of FY23, there were 1.6 million encounters, including over 400,000 families with children.

The number of migrants encountered by Border Patrol agents topped 224,000 in May 2022

President Biden tried to reduce unauthorized foreigner encounters at the border by expanding access to asylum. Migrants outside the US who are seeking asylum are encouraged to use the CBPOne app and enter legally via one of the 26 ports of entry on the Mexico-US border after they convince an immigration officer that they have a credible fear of persecution at home rather than entering the US illegally from Mexico; up to 40,000 a day were being admitted via the CBPOne app in September 2023.

After about 180 days in the US, foreign asylum seekers can work legally while they wait for immigration judges to hear their cases. There are about 2.5 million immigration cases awaiting first decisions or appeals pending in immigration courts, making waits for final determinations up to four years.

Another program allows citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela who have US financial sponsors to enter the US legally with two-year work permits. Over 160,000 citizens of these countries entered the US in the first half of 2023, while illegal entries from these countries declined by 90 percent.

In September 2023, DHS granted Temporary Protected Status to 470,000 Venezuelans who were in the US by July 31, 2023, allowing them to work immediately for 18 months. TPS gives renewable work and residence permits to unauthorized foreigners who are in the US and who would face hardship at home due to natural disasters or political instability. Over 672,000 foreigners had TPS in spring 2023, including 190,000 Salvadorans, 172,000 Venezuelans, and 165,000 Haitians. Most TPS recipients have been in the US for decades, as with Salvadorans who were granted TPS after a 2001 earthquake.

Some 672,000 foreigners had TPS in spring 2023

Some 672,000 foreigners had TPS in spring 2023
County (designation year) Immigrants with or newly eligible for TPS Required date of U.S. residence Designation expires
Afghanistan 5 Mar 15, 2022 Nov 20, 2023
Cameroon 645 Apr 14, 2022 Dec 7, 2023
El Salvador 190,865 Feb 13, 2001 Jun 30, 2024
Ethiopia 26,730 Oct 20, 2023 Jun 12, 2024
Haiti (2011) 27,465 Jan 12, 2011 Jun 30, 2024
Haiti (2021) 59,595 Nov 6, 2022 Aug 3, 2024
Haiti (2023) 105,000 Nov 6, 2022 Aug 3, 2024
Honduras 57,605 Dec 30, 1998 Jun 30, 2024
Myanmar 1,195 Sep 25, 2022 May 25, 2024
Nepal 8,545 Jun 24, 2015 Jun 30, 2024
Nicaragua 3,085 Dec 30, 1998 Jun 30, 2024
Somalia (2021) 370 Jan 11, 2023 Sep 17, 2024
Somalia (2023) 2,200 Jan 11, 2023 Sep 17, 2024
South Sudan 80 Mar 1, 2022 Nov 3, 2023
Sudan (2013) 570 Jan 9, 2013 Jun 30, 2024
Sudan (2022) 280 Mar 1, 2022 Oct 19, 2023
Syria 4,025 Jul 28, 2022 Mar 31, 2024
Ukraine 9,520 Apr 11, 2022 Oct 19, 2023
Venezuela 171,550 Mar 8, 2021 Mar 10, 2024
Yemen (2015) 1,510 Dec 29, 2022 Sep 3, 2023
Yemen (2023) 1,200 Dec 29, 2022 Sep 3, 2024
Total 672,205  

Language and Education. Foreign-born US residents are more likely than US-born residents to be in the 25-54 age group because there are relatively fewer children and elderly among the foreign born. Foreign-born US residents are more likely to speak a language other than English at home. Among the 68 million people five and older who reported speaking a language other than English at home in 2021, over 60 percent spoke Spanish, followed by five percent who spoke Mandarin at home and about two percent each who spoke Tagalog, Vietnamese, and Arabic.

Most common language spoken at home excluding English and Spanish

Most Commonly Spoken Languages other than English and Spanish by State, 2021
State Language
Alabama Korean
Alaska Eskimo-Aleut languages
Arizona Navajo
Arkansas Marshaliese
California Chinese
Colorado Chinese
Connecticut Portuguese
Delaware Chinese
Florida Haitian
Georgia Vietnamese
Hawaii Ilocano
Idaho Chinese
Illinois Polish
Indiana German
Iowa German
Kansas Chinese
Kentucky German
Louisiana French
Maine French
Maryland Chinese
Massachusetts Portuguese
Michigan Arabic
Minnesota Baja, Somali, Cushiti languages
Mississippi Vietnamese
Missouri German
Montana German
Nebraska Vietnamese
Nevada Tagalog
New Hampshire French
New Jersey Chinese
New Mexico Navajo
New York Chinese
North Carolina Chinese
North Dakota German
Ohio German
Oklahoma Vietnamese
Oregon Chinese
Pennsylvania German
Rhode Island Portuguese
South Carolina German
South Dakota Dakota
Tennessee Arabic
Texas Vietnamese
Utah Portuguese
Vermont French
Virginia Arabic
Washington Chinese
West Virginia Arabic
Wisconsin Hmong
Wyoming German

Immigrants. Over 70 percent of the one million foreigners who obtained immigrant visas in 2019 were sponsored by relatives already in the US, followed by 14 percent who obtained immigrant visas for economic reasons, usually because a US employer sponsored them for a visa, and 11 percent who were admitted as refugees or granted asylum. Over 840,000 foreigners became naturalized US citizens in 2019.

Over 70% of immigrant visas in 2019 were issued to foreigners with US relatives who sponsored them

Foreign-Born People Who Obtained U.S. Citizenship or Lawful Permanent Resident Status in 2019 (millions of people)
Naturalized Citizens 0.84
People Obtaining Lawful Permanent Resident Tstatus
Family Members of Citizens or of Lawful Permanent Residents 0.71
People Granted Employment-Based Preferences 0.14
Refugees and People Granted Asylum 0.11
People Granted Diversity Visas (from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States) 0.04
Other (for example, victims of human trafficking) 0.03

Over three million foreigners have a temporary legal status in the US, including guest workers and their families and foreign students. Most guest workers and foreign students are in the US without family members, and many find ways to become immigrants after being sponsored by the employers that brought them into the US or by employers who hire graduates of US colleges.

Half of the 3 million temporary foreign residents are guest workers

Foreign-Born People in the United States With Temporary Legal Status, 2019 (millions of people)
Workers and Their Families 1.6
Students, Exchange Visitors, and Their Families 1.5
Other (for example, officials of foreign governments) 0.1

Over a million work permits were granted in FY22

Effects. Immigration increases the labor force and expands economic output, but the effects on per capita output and income are uncertain. Most economic models assume that an increase in the supply of labor due to immigration reduces the wages of US workers, increases the profits of US businesses, and generates a net economic surplus, all of which goes to owners of capital.

The question is what happens after the economy adjusts to more immigrants. Some analysts believe that the drive and ambition that prompt some people to cross national borders increases productivity and thus speeds economic growth, while others point to the low skills of many immigrants and congestion and crowding to argue that productivity may not increase and the quality of life may decline.

Immigration expands the labor force and economic output

The Effect of an Increase in Immigration on Economic Output: Immigration increases -> Labor force grows -> (1) Labor force produces more, (2) Capital investment expands, (3) Workers are more productive -> Economic output grows

Foreign-born US residents have a different education profile than US-born people. The foreign-born who are 25 and older are grouped at the extremes of the education ladder, which means that a higher share of foreign-born adults have have very low and very high levels of education.

The share of recent immigrants with less than a ninth grade education is falling, and the share of recent immigrants with a college degree or more is rising to almost half. Many of the least-educated foreign-born adults are from Mexico and Central America, while most of the best-educated foreign-born adults are from Asian countries.

Foreign-born adults are grouped at the extremes of the education ladder

Educational Attainment of U.S.-Born, Immigrant, and Recently Arrived Immigrant Adults, 2021
  U.S. Born All Immigrants Recently Arrived Immigrants
Less than 9th Grade 2% 16% 12%
9th-12th Grade 5% 9% 7%
High School Diploma or GED 27% 22% 19%
Some College of Associate's Degree 30% 19% 14%
Bachelor's Degree or Higher 35% 34% 47%

One consequence of low educational levels among the foeign born is a higher share of foreign- versus US-born workers in service, farming, and production occupations, while a higher share of US-born workers are in technical and managerial occupations. This difference in occupational profiles helps to explain why US-born workers earn more than foreign-born workers.

Foreign-born workers are concentrated in service, farming, and production occupations

Foreign-born workers have lower median weekly earnings that US-born workers, $945 versus $1,087 in 2022.

Median Weekly Earnings, 16 years and old
Foreign-born $945
Native-born $,1087

Benefits. The question of whether immigrants “pay their way” is hotly debated. Taxes rise and federal benefits fall as incomes increase, so household income is the major predictor of whether a particular household will pay its way in the US tax system.

Most studies agree that immigrants pay their way in the federal tax system because the federal government collects payroll taxes from all workers and makes transfers to elderly residents via Social Security and Medicare; most foreign-born residents work and have payroll taxes deducted from their earnings and are younger than 65. Many immigrants do not pay their way at the state and local levels of government because their low incomes mean that they pay low taxes despite having children who attend K-12 schools.

Legal immigrants are generally eligible for federal benefits

Are Foreign-Born Noncitizens Eligible for Benefits?
  People With Permanent Legal Status People With Temporary Legal Status People Without Legal Status
Eligible for Social Security Yes Yes Generally, no
Eligible for Medicare Generally, yes Generally, yes Generally, no
Eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program Yes, but generally with a delay Generally, no Generally, no
Eligible for Refundable Tax Credits Yes Yes, but generally with a delay Generally, no
Eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Yes, but generally with a delay Generally, no Generally, no
Eligible for Subsidies Through the Health Insurance Marketplaces Yes Yes Generally, no
Eligible for Supplemental Security Income Yes, but generally with a delay Generally, no Generally, no
Eligible for Unemployment Insurance Yes Yes Generally, no
Eligible for Child Nutrition Programs Yes Yes Yes
Eligible for Pell Grants and Student Loans Yes Generally, no Generally, no


Congressional Budget Office. 2023. The Foreign-Born Population, the U.S. Economy, and the Federal Budget.

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