Foreign-born population in US hits 108-year peak

Boxes for Korean-language newspapers in Buena Park, California. An analysis of 2017 census data by the Brookings Institution shows that 41 percent of the people who said they arrived in the United States since 2010 came from Asia.
Boxes for Korean-language newspapers in Buena Park, California. An analysis of 2017 census data by the Brookings Institution shows that 41 percent of the people who said they arrived in the United States since 2010 came from Asia.PHOTO: NYTIMES

Census Bureau figures show immigrants arriving from Asia since 2010 have overtaken those from Latin America

WASHINGTON • The foreign-born population in the United States has reached its highest share since 1910 and the new arrivals are more likely to come from Asia and to have college degrees than those who arrived in past decades, government data showed.

The Census Bureau's figures for 2017 released on Thursday confirm a major shift in who is coming to the US. For years, newcomers tended to be from Latin America, but a Brookings Institution analysis of the latest data indicated that 41 per cent of the people who said they arrived since 2010 came from Asia.

Just over a third, or 39 per cent, were from Latin America. About 45 per cent were college educated, the analysis found, compared with about 30 per cent of those who arrived between 2000 and 2009.

"This is quite different from what we had thought," said Mr William H. Frey, the senior demographer at the Brookings Institution who conducted the analysis.

"We think of immigrants as being low-skilled workers from Latin America, but for recent arrivals that's much less the case. People from Asia have overtaken people from Latin America."

The new data was released as the nation's changing demography has become a flash point in American politics.

President Donald Trump and many Republicans have sounded alarms about immigration and suggested the government needs to restrict both the number and types of people coming into the country.

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We think of immigrants as being low-skilled workers from Latin America, but for recent arrivals that's much less the case. People from Asia have overtaken people from Latin America.

MR WILLIAM H. FREY, the senior demographer at the Brookings Institution who analysed the latest Census Bureau data.

The last historic peak in immigration to the US was at the end of the 19th century, when large numbers of Europeans fled poverty and violence in their home countries. Some of the largest numbers came from Germany, Italy and Poland. That wave peaked around the turn of the century, when the total foreign-born population stood at nearly 15 per cent.

But after the passage of strict racial quotas in the 1920s, the foreign-born population fell sharply for decades in the middle of the 20th century.

By 1970, the population was below 5 per cent.

The passage of a more liberal immigration law in 1965, which ended ethnic quotas and prioritised family reunification, ushered in new demographics.

And the changes have only accelerated in recent years.

For many years, Mexico was the single largest contributor of immigrants.

But since 2010, the number of immigrants arriving from Mexico has declined, while those from China and India have surged. Since 2010, the increase in the number of people from Asia - 2.6 million - was more than double the 1.2 million who came from Latin America, Mr Frey found.

The foreign-born population stood at 13.7 per cent in 2017, or 44.5 million people, compared with 13.5 per cent in 2016.

Some of the largest gains were in states with the smallest immigrant populations, suggesting that immigrants were spreading out across the country. New York and California, states with large immigrant populations, both had increases of less than 6 per cent since 2010.

But the foreign-born population rose by 20 per cent in Tennessee, 13 per cent in Ohio, 12 per cent in South Carolina and 20 per cent in Kentucky over the same period.

The data also suggests a political pattern among states with large percentages of foreign-born residents. Of the 15 states with the highest concentration of immigrants, all but three - Florida, Texas and Arizona - voted for Mrs Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race.

Many of the states with low and moderate concentrations of foreign-born people voted for Mr Trump, Mr Frey found.

In those low-concentration states, the foreign-born population tended to be more educated than the native-born.

In Ohio, for example, 43 per cent of the foreign-born population is college educated, compared with just 27 per cent of US-born Ohioans.

North Dakota had the single largest rise in foreign-born residents since 2010, Mr Frey said, with the number surging 87 per cent.

Dr Fadel E. Nammour, a gastroenterologist in Fargo who moved to the US from Lebanon in 1996, said he has noticed more immigrant-owned restaurants since he moved to North Dakota in 2002.

"There is more diversity now," Dr Nammour said. "You can tell by the food."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2018, with the headline 'Foreign-born population in US hits 108-year peak'. Print Edition | Subscribe