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Foreign-Born Population Hits Record 46.6 Million in January 2022


Census Bureau data shows the number of immigrants in the U.S. rebounded dramatically after declining through mid-2020

Magazine, Immigration, Culled From Center For Immigration Studies (CIS), By Steven A. Camarota and Karen Zeigler

An analysis of the Census Bureau’s monthly Current Population Survey (CPS) from January 2022 shows that the total immigrant population (legal and illegal) in the U.S., hit 46.6 million — the highest number ever in American history. Immigrants are also referred to by the government as the “foreign-born”. The growth and size of the immigrant population in the CPS are important because, unlike arrival figures for legal immigrants or border apprehensions, the CPS measures the total number of foreign-born people living in the country, which is what ultimately determines immigration’s impact on American society.

For the immigrant population to grow, new arrivals must exceed emigration and deaths. Births to immigrants, legal or illegal, in the U.S. do not add to the foreign-born — all children born in the U.S. are by definition native-born. After declining in size through the middle of 2020, as a result of Covid-19 travel restrictions, the foreign-born population rebounded dramatically after Biden’s victory. The restarting of visa processing overseas and the surge of illegal immigration at the border are the primary reasons for the dramatic growth. Some of the recent increase in the CPS may also be due to better data collection as the pandemic abated. Moreover, there is a lot of variation month to month in the data. However, the 1.6 million increase over the last year is quite large and statistically significant. The foreign-born in Census Bureau data includes all persons who were not U.S. citizens at birth — mainly naturalized citizens, lawful permanent residents, long-term temporary visitors, and illegal immigrants.

Among the findings:

  • The 46.6 million immigrants (legal and illegal) in the country in January 2022 is the largest number recorded in any government survey or decennial census going back to 1850.
  • The number of immigrants in the country grew 1.6 million between January 2021 and January 2022, after declining by 1.2 million between February and August 2020 at the height of the Covid pandemic.
  • It is possible to see the recent rebound as a resumption of pre-Covid-19 trends. However, the increase in the immigrant population between January 2020, before Covid-19 hit, and January 2022 was nearly 2.2 million, or 1.1 million a year, much more than the 770,000 average annual increase in the decade before the pandemic.
  • Hispanic immigrants accounted for 70 percent (1.1 million) of the increase in the foreign-born in the last year, indicating that a large share of growth was likely caused by illegal immigration. The federal government and outside researchers have estimated about three-quarters of illegal immigrants are Hispanic.
  • As a share of the total population, immigrants were 14.2 percent — the highest percentage in 112 years.
  • If present trends continue, the immigrant share is likely to surpass the all-time highs reached in 1890 (14.8 percent) and 1910 (14.7 percent) in the next few years.
  • States with the largest increase in the immigrant population from January 2020 to January 2022 are Florida (up 531,000), Virginia (up 268,000), Texas (up 263,000), California (up 212,000), Indiana (up 205,000), Tennessee (up 198,000) and New Jersey (up 183,000).


Growth in the Immigrant Population. We use the terms “immigrant” and “foreign-born” interchangeably in this analysis. Figure 1 shows the total legal and illegal immigrant population living in the United States from January 2010 to January of 2022, along with margins of error. The figure shows that the immigrant population declined through the middle of 2020, hitting a low of 43.8 million in August and September of 2020. The foreign-born population has since rebounded, increasing by 2.8 million to 46.6 million in January of this year. Just between January 2021 and January of this year, it has increased by 1.6 million. Figure 2 shows the change in the immigrant population when compared to the same month in the prior year. The figure shows that the immigrant population began to grow, relative to the same month in the prior year, in December 2020 and has continued to increase every month thereafter.

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