Foreign-born immigrants in the United States have various immigration statuses, and their eligibility for citizenship depends on their specific circumstances. Many come as lawful permanent residents (LPRs), authorized to live and work in the U.S. indefinitely. They can apply for U.S. citizenship (naturalization) after holding their green card for at least five years, or three years if married to a U.S. citizen. Other requirements include continuous residency and good moral character. Refugee or asylee status holders can apply for LPR status one year after being granted that status.
Some immigrants enter the U.S. on temporary visas for work, study, or other purposes, with specific conditions tied to their visa status. To become citizens, they usually need to obtain a green card through employment or family sponsorship. DACA recipients, also known as “Dreamers,” are undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and provide temporary protection from deportation and work authorization.
Undocumented immigrants in the U.S. are not eligible for citizenship and face deportation risk. However, legislative proposals aim to provide a pathway for certain undocumented immigrants who meet specific criteria. Other immigration categories include U visas for crime victims and T visas for human trafficking victims. Eligibility for citizenship depends on factors like immigration history, family relationships, and employment. Immigration laws and policies can change over time, so it’s advisable for individuals seeking citizenship to consult with an immigration attorney or an accredited representative to understand their specific eligibility and requirements.
The American Community Survey (ACS) shows that the foreign-born population, including non-citizens, constitutes 13.9% of the US population. The proportion has fluctuated over time, peaking in 1910, 1890, and 1870. In the last century, it was 13.2% in 1920, declining to 4.7% in 1970.
The U.S. foreign-born population includes resident nonimmigrants, lawful permanent residents (LPRs), naturalized U.S. citizens, and unauthorized immigrants. The highest proportion was 13.2% in 1910, 1890, and 1870. The percentage of foreign-born individuals has risen over the last five decades, with the percentage increasing over the last five decades. The U.S. foreign-born population includes temporary visa holders, lawful permanent residents, and naturalized U.S Government surveys often underestimate the foreign-born population, particularly unauthorized, compared to the native-born population.
The Department of State (DOS) issues 9-10 million nonimmigrant visas annually, with a decrease in FY2020 and FY2021 due to COVID-19 closures and travel disruptions. In FY2022, issuances increased to 6.8 million, primarily for nonresidential purposes like tourists, despite lower issuances in FY2020 and FY2021.
The Department of Homeland Security estimates that approximately 3.2 million nonimmigrant workers, students, exchange visitors, diplomats, and their relatives were residing in the United States in 2019. In 2022, 12.9 million LPRs lived in the United States, with admissions for permanent residence being relatively low in FY2020 and FY2022. The largest number of LPRs are admitted through family-sponsored categories, followed by employment-based categories, grants of refugee status and asylum, and the diversity visa program.
Statutory caps limit the annual number of individuals granted LPR status through family-sponsored, employment-based, and DV programs. Family-sponsored categories include numerically limited preference immigrants and immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. LPRs from any single country cannot exceed 7% of the annual limit. In FY2022, 9.2 million LPRs were eligible to naturalize or become U.S. citizens.
The proportion of naturalized citizens relative to the total foreign-born population peaked in 1950 (74.5%) and then declined to its lowest point (40.3%) in 2000. The unauthorized population is challenging to measure, as there are no official counts of unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. Census Bureau surveys measure whether an individual is foreign-born and a U.S. citizen, but federal agencies and nongovernmental researchers have long produced estimates of the unauthorized population, ranging from 10.3 million to 11.4 million, representing about 23% to 26% of all foreign-born individuals living in the U.S.
Certain policies in the United States allow certain foreign nationals to remain in the country, regardless of their lawful immigration status but do not provide pathways to LPR status. These include individuals granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and DACA, which are blanket forms of humanitarian relief. Other individuals may be temporarily allowed to remain in the US with immigration parole, also known as humanitarian parole, on a case-by-case basis for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit. The Biden Administration has extended special parole processes for specific populations.
The U.S.-Mexico border has experienced an unprecedented level of migration in the past two years, with individuals seeking asylum and not having permission to enter the country. DHS charges may pursue asylum claims during the removal process and, if not subject to mandatory detention, may be released to reside temporarily in the U.S. while awaiting removal proceedings in immigration court. In FY2022, DHS’s U.S. Customs and Border Protection released 780,000 migrants, and in FY2023, approximately 764,000 migrants were released. Some individuals are covered by legal protections like humanitarian parole or TPS, while others may be released without any other status or protection.
Foreign-Born Population Percentage in the US
The United States, known as the “melting pot,” has a rich history of immigration, shaping its diverse cultural and demographic landscape. Understanding the composition of the population, particularly the percentage of foreign-born individuals, is crucial for policymakers, researchers, and the general public. As of September 2021, the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey provided the latest data, but demographic statistics can change over time due to immigration policies and global events.
As of 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau reported 44.9 million foreign-born individuals, accounting for 13.7% of the total population. This growth has been driven by family reunification and employment opportunities, reflecting the rich tapestry of backgrounds, cultures, and experiences that have become an integral part of American society.
Immigration laws and policies, such as visa programs, refugee resettlement, and citizenship pathways, significantly influence the number of foreign-born individuals entering and residing in the United States. Employment opportunities, economic stability, and higher education attract individuals from around the world. Many come to the US to reunite with family members already living there. Geopolitical events, such as conflicts and disasters, can also lead to an influx of refugees and asylum seekers.
The Diversity Visa Program, also known as the Green Card Lottery, offers a legal immigration pathway for individuals from historically low-immigration countries. The foreign-born population has made significant contributions to the nation’s social, cultural, and economic fabric, bringing diverse traditions, languages, and perspectives. They have also played a crucial role in sectors like technology, healthcare, and agriculture. Immigrants have historically been at the forefront of entrepreneurship, creating small businesses and driving innovation.
Immigration Status for U.S. Citizens
The U.S. immigration law is complex and multifaceted, with citizens not subject to the same regulations as foreign nationals. However, citizens can still face issues related to immigration status. Immigration status is a legal classification that determines an individual’s rights and responsibilities while residing in the U.S., and it varies significantly for citizens and non-citizens. Citizens enjoy the full spectrum of rights and benefits offered by the country, including the right to vote, work, and live without fear of deportation.
Non-citizens are categorized into various visa or immigration status classifications, each with its own conditions and limitations. Mixed-status families, which include both citizens and non-citizen family members, can be a common scenario where immigration status can be a concern for citizens. For example, a U.S. citizen with an uncertain immigration status may worry about family separation due to deportation, while the well-being of children, access to public benefits, and housing stability can also be affected.
Immigration-related issues can affect U.S. citizens in various aspects of life, including employment, travel, and dual citizenship. Employers must verify employee eligibility through Form I-9, which can create hurdles for some citizens. For instance, those with missing identification documents or incorrect Social Security records may face delays in the hiring process.
In some cases, citizens may be flagged as non-citizens during these checks, highlighting the interconnectedness of immigration status and employment. Travelling abroad also presents immigration-related challenges, as citizens must navigate customs and immigration checks upon returning, potentially affecting their re-entry into the country. Dual citizenship holders may also face complexities in multiple immigration statuses and travel restrictions, making international travel a delicate matter.
Foreign-Born Immigrant Experience in the United States
A foreign-born immigrant is an individual born in a country other than the United States who migrated to the U.S. in search of better opportunities, safety, or a new way of life. They come from any corner of the globe and contribute to the nation’s cultural mosaic. Notable foreign-born immigrants include Albert Einstein, Madeleine Albright, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who have left an indelible mark on American history.
Immigrants, both documented and undocumented, significantly contribute to the U.S. economy, filling vital roles in industries like agriculture, healthcare, technology, and hospitality. Immigrant entrepreneurs have also founded successful businesses, generating jobs and stimulating economic growth. The influx of foreign-born immigrants has infused American culture with diversity and creativity, making the U.S. a cultural melting pot. This rich diversity is celebrated through events like cultural festivals, parades, and heritage months.
The United States is often viewed as a land of opportunity, but foreign-born immigrants face unique challenges in their integration and success. Language barriers, complex immigration systems, and adjusting to a new culture can hinder their ability to secure employment, access education, and fully engage in American society. Immigrants may also face discrimination, such as racial profiling, workplace discrimination, and hate crimes.
Economic disparities may also affect them, as they may be limited to low-wage jobs or live in impoverished neighbourhoods. Despite these challenges, many immigrants hope to achieve the “American Dream,” which involves upward mobility, economic prosperity, and a better life for their families. Despite the arduous path, many immigrants persevere, embodying resilience and determination.
State with Highest Proportion of Foreign-Born Residents in the U.S.
California, known as the land of opportunity, is the state with the highest proportion of foreign-born residents in the United States. The Golden State, known for its booming economy, stunning landscapes, and diverse climate, has become a magnet for immigrants seeking a better life. According to the 2020 United States Census, 27.3% of California’s population was born outside the country, highlighting its historical reputation as a destination for immigrants.
The state’s diverse economy, including technology hubs like Silicon Valley, agricultural regions, and a thriving entertainment industry, offers a wide range of job opportunities, attracting immigrants from various backgrounds. This economic diversity has attracted immigrants from various fields, including tech-savvy professionals, farm labourers, and aspiring actors. California’s educational institutions, including Stanford and the University of California system, attract international students seeking top-tier education, contributing to its diverse population.
The state’s proximity to Mexico has also influenced its immigrant population, with the southern border serving as a point of entry for both legal and undocumented immigrants. California’s policies, including sanctuary city measures, protect undocumented residents from deportation and provide essential services, making it an attractive destination for immigrants seeking refuge from political instability, economic hardship, or persecution in their home countries.
While California leads the nation in foreign-born residents, other states like New York, Florida, Texas, and Nevada also have high percentages of foreign-born residents, benefiting from the cultural diversity, economic contributions, and unique perspectives immigrants bring to their communities.