Immigration is a hot topic in politics and public discourse around the world, and people have strong opinions on how it should be handled. Regardless of whether one is in favor or against immigration, it’s important to understand what it means to be an immigrant.
A person who has moved to a new country for any reason is an immigrant. That includes anyone who has taken citizenship of their new country, served in its military or married a native. It also includes those who live in the country as permanent residents or citizens. The term “immigrant” encompasses a wide range of experiences and legal statuses, so a clear definition is critical for the proper discussion of this issue.
The United States has a long history of welcoming newcomers, and the nation is built in large part by immigrants and their descendants. But the experience of being an immigrant is often challenging and complicated. The most common reasons given by respondents in our survey for moving to the United States include work and educational opportunities, a better life overall, and a more prosperous future for their children. Other reasons cited are joining family members or escaping unsafe and/or violent conditions.
Immigrants have a significant impact on the economy, both as workers and consumers. In fact, they are responsible for driving much of the recent growth in the U.S. economy, including high-tech industries and many jobs that require specialized education or training. Many of these jobs also pay better salaries than traditional American jobs, which is helping to reduce inequality in the country.
As a group, immigrants are more likely to be employed than non-immigrants. About a third of working immigrants are self-employed or own a small business. These owners and entrepreneurs are also more likely to be in highly skilled fields, such as engineering, software development, health care, financial services and professional sales. However, it is important to note that the vast majority of working immigrants do not own their businesses or have a bachelor’s degree.
Almost all immigrants report that their lives have improved since they moved to the United States, although the vast majority still say they face challenges. These struggles include workplace discrimination and difficulties making ends meet. The most pronounced challenges are experienced by lower-income households, Black and Hispanic immigrants, and those with limited English proficiency.
Most of the immigrants in the United States live in 20 major metropolitan areas, mainly in New York, Los Angeles and Miami. About two-thirds of the nation’s unauthorized immigrants are in these three cities, as well. The number of unauthorized immigrants has been decreasing in these metro areas over the past decade, but it is increasing in other parts of the country. Unauthorized immigrants are largely from Central America and make up the bulk of those caught trying to cross the border at the southern U.S. border, with most of them claiming asylum. This is an especially difficult situation for the parents of these kids, because they cannot return to their homes.