Immigrants and the United States

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A person who lives in a country other than their birthplace is an immigrant. International migration is a global phenomenon that affects nearly all nations. It occurs when people move across borders or between countries, either permanently or temporarily, usually for economic, social and family reasons. Migrants may cross an ocean or a desert, or travel over long distances on foot, boat, plane, train or automobile.

During the past century, immigration has played an important role in the history of the United States. Today, more than 45 million people in America are immigrants — a group that has grown rapidly over the years and now accounts for about 14% of the nation’s population.

This group of people are a vital part of our society, making contributions that benefit all Americans. As workers, business owners, students, taxpayers and neighbors, they are integral to our economy and culture. They are an essential part of the American story, and their experiences have much to teach us about our world and our future.

Some of the biggest challenges facing these people are high levels of workplace and other discrimination, financial struggles, and confusion and fears related to U.S. immigration laws and policies. These challenges are especially acute for lower-income households, Black and Hispanic immigrants, and those with limited English proficiency.

In their own words, the most prevalent reasons why immigrants say they moved to the United States are for better work and education opportunities and a good life for their children. A smaller share cites joining family members or fleeing unsafe or violent conditions.

While the number of unauthorized migrants has grown, most newcomers enter the country legally. For example, people who arrived under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) have legal authorization to live and work in the country on a temporary basis. Other immigrants are admitted as refugees or asylum seekers, who have a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country.

The largest geographic clusters of immigrants are in large metropolitan areas, with two-thirds living in the top 20 destinations. Most of these are in California, Texas and Florida.

Many people from the same region or country migrate together, and their influx can have an impact on local housing markets, workforces and other factors. These trends make it essential to understand regional patterns in the United States and elsewhere when analyzing immigration trends.

The most popular countries of origin for newcomers are China, India, Mexico and the Philippines. The number of immigrants from these four countries has grown in recent decades, although immigration from Mexico has slowed since the Great Recession. People from these countries represent a larger share of the immigrant population than other origins. This is because these regions have relatively high unemployment rates and large numbers of people with college degrees who could be a valuable addition to the labor force. This can lead to competition for jobs among employers and a push for higher wages and benefits.