September 28, 2015

Key takeaways on U.S. immigration: Past, present and future

It has been a half-century since the enactment of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which dramatically changed patterns of immigration to the U.S. by replacing long-standing national origin quotas that favored Northern and Western Europe with a new system allocating more visas to people from other countries around the world. A new Pew Research Center study explores how much the face of immigration has changed – and changed the country – and how much more it will do so by 2065.

Here are some of the key findings:

U.S. Foreign-Born Share Projected to Hit Record Milestone by 20651Nearly 59 million immigrants have arrived in the U.S. since 1965, and accounting for deaths or those who have left, 43 million of them live here now. When their children and grandchildren are included, these immigrants added 72 million people to the nation’s population, accounting for 55% of population growth from 1965 to 2015. Immigrants and their descendants are projected to account for 88% of the population increase over the next 50 years.

2A near-record 13.9% of the U.S. population today is foreign born, with 45 million immigrants residing here. This compares with 5% in 1965, when the immigration law was changed. The current share of the population that is foreign born is only slightly below the record 14.8% that was seen during the waves of European-dominated immigration in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This foreign-born share is projected to rise to 17.7% in 2065 as immigration continues to drive U.S. population growth.

3Since 1965, immigrants and their descendants have changed the country’s racial and ethnic makeup. In 1965, the population was 84% white, 11% black, 4% Hispanic and 1% Asian. The black share of the population has stayed steady since then, but Hispanics are now 18% of the population and Asians are 6%, while the white share of the population has fallen to 62%.

By 2055, U.S. Will Have No Racial or Ethnic Majority GroupWithout any post-1965 immigration, the nation’s racial and ethnic composition would be very different today: 75% white, 14% black, 8% Hispanic and 1% Asian. By 2055, the U.S. as a whole is projected to have no racial or ethnic majority.

4Americans have mixed views on the impact immigrants have had on American society. Some 45% of adults say immigrants in the U.S. are making American society better in the long run, while 37% say they are making it worse.

The U.S. public’s views vary when asked about some key aspects of American life. The most negative view of the impact of immigrants is on the economy and crime, where half of Americans say they are making things worse. It’s a different story when it comes to immigrants’ impact on food, music and the arts: About half say they’re making things better.

5There has been a shift since 1970 in the parts of the world sending the most immigrants to the U.S. – from Europe to Mexico to Asia. In 1970, the largest group of immigrants who had arrived within the previous five years were from Europe, continuing the trend of previous immigration waves. By 2000, almost half of newly arrived immigrants were from Central and South America (including 34% from Mexico alone). As immigration from Mexico slowed significantly in the 2000s, Asians came to make up the largest group of new immigrants beginning around 2011, and projections indicate that will still be the case in 2065.

Settlement of Recent Arrivals: Growing Concentration, Then Dispersion6Today’s immigrants are more dispersed across the U.S. than they were in 1970. After the passage of the 1965 law, newly arrived immigrants increasingly settled in California, New York, Texas and Florida. By 1980 over half of those who arrived within the previous five years had settled there and, by 1990, nearly two-thirds had. But starting in the 1990s, new arrivals began to settle in less-traditional immigrant states, and by 2013, half of new arrivals chose to live in areas other than these big four magnet states.

7Today’s immigrants are better educated than those of 50 years ago. Compared with their counterparts of 50 years ago, a larger share of recent immigrants in 2013 had a high school diploma, a college degree or an advanced degree, and a smaller share had less than a ninth-grade education. Compared with U.S.-born adults, recent arrivals are less likely to have finished high school, but they are more likely to have completed college or to hold an advanced degree.

Topics: Latin America, Demographics, Immigration Trends, Hispanic/Latino Demographics, Mexico

  1. Photo of Anna Brown

    is a research analyst focusing on social and demographic trends at Pew Research Center.


  1. Colin2 years ago

    The report uses “foreign born” and “immigrants” interchangeably.

    I myself was foreign born. I am now naturalized American citizen and have been in the US for more than 20 years. Based on this report, I will still be counted as one of the immigrant population. According to migration policy website: “In 2013, 19.3 million immigrants were naturalized U.S. citizens, accounting for 47 percent of the total foreign-born population (41.3 million) and 6 percent of the total U.S. population (316.1 million), according to ACS estimates.” (…).

    I wonder if it is more prudent to report the stats more precisely. But, do the general public really care about the distinction between foreign born and naturalized citizens? I don’t know.

  2. Warrina2 years ago

    Are people from the Middle East referred to as “Asians”? The word ‘Asian’ would imply that the US is undergoing significant immigration from Korea, Japan, Vietnam, and China. Is that TRULY the case? — or is there some attempt on your part at Pew Research to obfuscate the truth about the flood of immigrants from the Middle East?

    I cannot imagine why anyone from another country would BOTHER with the lengthy and complex process of trying to apply for LEGAL immigration to America when our floodgates are open wide. It is obvious that we have NO POLICY nor limitations on immigration. If you find the cost of a plane ticket to the USA from your native land — voila! You’re an American.

    1. Mark Robinson2 years ago

      Actually, the overwhelming majority of imigrants now coming to the U.S. are from China, India, Korea and Vietnam. These immigrants are significantly more affluent and better educated than the average U.S. citizen. The communities that they join are better off economically because of their arrival.

      Prior to 2000, undocumented (or illegal) immigrants from Asia probably made up as much as 30% – 40% of all immigration from Asia. In the past 15 years, however, most of the immigration from Asia has been legal and proper, with illegal immigration reduced to a relatively small percentage.

  3. S. Chatto2 years ago

    Excellent report content with relevant high impact graphic data presentation.
    When you say “Asian,” which nations aside from China are you referencing?
    Where does India fall? If it’s in the “Asian” category, do you have more granular data about Indian migration to the US since 1965?
    Thanks & best regards.
    SC (28Sep15)

    1. Anna Brown2 years ago

      When referring to Asians as a race (as in takeaway #3), these are people who have self-identified as Asian in the census (and did not additionally identify as another race or as Hispanic). But when looking at Asians by origin (as in takeaway #5), this refers to immigrants who were born in any country on the Asian continent, including India. The methodology section of the report details exactly which countries are included.

      We have a little bit of data on India specifically. Table 1 in the main report shows the total number of immigrants from India that have arrived since 1965 (2.7 million). The interactive map shows the largest country of origin among immigrants in each U.S. state over time. And finally, the statistical portrait shows the top ten countries of origin in each decade.

      I hope that helps!