Every day, people across the globe leave their homes to travel to other countries. Their reasons vary, but all of them share the common experience of leaving a place they know and love to live somewhere new. Some people move because they want to pursue opportunities or work in a different country. Others leave their home to escape political unrest, economic hardship, gang violence, natural disasters or other serious circumstances. And some people leave for the chance to reunite with family. These people are known as migrants, while those who move to a new country permanently and settle there are called immigrants.
In the United States, immigrants have been a large part of our national story. Despite fears that they will take jobs and harm the economy, immigrants contribute enormously to our country’s prosperity. They are also a vital source of innovation and cultural enrichment.
Currently, about 11.4 million people are legally considered immigrants in the United States. This population includes lawful permanent residents (green card holders), those with temporary visas like students or business workers, refugees and asylum seekers, and unauthorized immigrants. The Department of Homeland Security’s estimate includes beneficiaries of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS), as well as those who entered the country without passing through immigration or overstayed their visas.
The vast majority of immigrants come from the Asia-Pacific region, with India (24%), China (16%) and Mexico (10%) leading the way. California, Texas and Florida have the largest immigrant populations of any state. Immigrants make up about 17 percent of the U.S. population, and they are particularly important in the nation’s service industries—25 percent of all foreign-born residents work in this sector, including health care, education, social services and the environment. They are overrepresented in high-tech and construction jobs as well.
Immigrants also help grease the wheels of our economy, especially when bottlenecks and shortages limit growth. For example, in the Internet boom of the 1990s and 2000s, many of the engineers, computer software developers and other tech professionals who filled these jobs were immigrants. And during the housing boom of the same period, construction workers were often immigrants.
Moreover, by relieving these restrictions to growth, immigrants speed up the pace of the economy. That’s because when a country has more workers available, firms have more freedom to hire and fire workers as they please. This accelerates growth, which is good for everyone.
For all of these reasons, it is essential that we understand the positive impact of immigration and the difference between migrants and immigrants. Using the right terms will allow us to better discuss their unique contributions, and promote an open-minded discussion about how we can best support them. In doing so, we can ensure that all people, regardless of their legal standing in the United States, have the opportunity to pursue their dreams and create a fulfilling life. Those who are willing to do so deserve our respect and humanity.