Public concern about illegal immigration, particularly among older native-born Americans, as well as the the rising voting power of Latinos, all but guarantees that immigration is an issue that will remain at the forefront in the run-up to the 2016 elections. Nor is this merely a right-wing issue, as evidenced in the controversy over “sanctuary cities”; even the progressive Bernie Sanders has expressed concern that massive uncontrolled immigration could “make everybody in America poorer.”
Yet despite the political heat, there is precious little dispassionate examination of exactly where immigrants are coming from, and where in the U.S. they are headed. To answer these questions, we turned to demographer Wendell Cox, who analyzed the immigration data between 2010 and 2013 for the 52 metropolitan statistical areas with populations over a million.
One would think listening to the likes of Donald Trump that the country is awash with hordes of unwanted newcomers from Mexico and Central America. But sorry, Donald, the numbers show a changing picture in terms of who is coming, as well as the places that they choose to settle.
Perhaps due to Mexico’s stronger economy and lower birthrates, Mexicans are no longer as dominant in the ranks of new immigrants as in the last decade. Mexico is still the single largest place of origin of new immigrants, but from 2010 through 2013, Mexican migration to the U.S. dropped 17.7% to an average of 140,266 a year, according to data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Meanwhile the inflow from Asia has increased: immigration from China is up 25.8% to 74,458 a year, and 10.7% from India to 65,336 a year. Asia now equals the Americas as a source of new immigrants, with each accounting for 40% of the annual total.
European immigration, once the mainstay of growth for the U.S., fell 32% from 2010 to 2013 to an average of 91,000 a year, surpassed by the number of African immigrants, which has soared 29.6% to 98,000 annually.
America’s new African population tends to be well-educated — considerably more than the national average: they are more than 60% more likely to have a graduate degree than other Americans. The vast majority are fluent in English and fully one-third hold management or professional level jobs. Not surprisingly, they are generally doing well in their new country. The places where they settle — notably New York, greater Washington, Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth — will likely benefit from their presence in coming years.
Just as Mexican and Asian immigration changed the ethnic geography of America, boosting economies and changing local culture, one can expect the Africans to do much the same in the coming years.
The Largest And Fastest-Growing Immigrant Hubs
The largest foreign-born communities in America reflect both size and longstanding immigrant populations. The leader remains the New York metropolitan statistical area, which was home in 2013 to 5.69 million people born elsewhere, following by Los Angeles with 4.3 million, Miami with 2.2 million, Chicago with 1.69 million and Houston with 1.39 million.
But a look at the metro areas with the fastest-growing foreign-born communities tells a different story, one of growing migration into the more interior and central parts of the country. In many ways, this reflects the attraction of areas with relatively low housing prices and buoyant local economies. In contrast, the economies of many traditional immigrant hubs like Los Angeles and Chicago have not done so well, while places in coastal California and near New York suffer from high housing prices.
Pittsburgh ranks first for recent pace of growth, with a 17.4% jump in its foreign-born population to 89,000 from 2010 through 2013, almost four times the 4.3% national rate over the same span. The western Pennsylvania city has built a robust economy based on energy, medical services and technology. Its housing prices are low — roughly a third those of the Bay Area based on median income — and the city is situated in an attractive setting with rolling hills. Pittsburgh is attracting both less educated immigrants from more expensive places, and also educated newcomers, notes demographer Jim Russell, some due to the strong universities in the area.
Other surprising heartland destinations for immigrants include Indianapolis, whose foreign-born population expanded 14.3% in 2010-13 to 127,767, the second fastest rate of growth among the largest metro areas; Oklahoma City (third fastest, up 12.9% to 110,269); and Columbus, Ohio (up 9.8% to 139,562). Generally, these cities, like Pittsburgh, have strong economies, low housing prices and favorable state regulatory climates.
The Move South Continues
Until the 1970s, the South was an also-ran in immigration, with the exception of Florida. But today many of the fastest-growing foreign-born communities are in the South. These include still-recovering New Orleans, whose numbers of foreign born surged 12.4% in 2010-13 to 91,412, as well as Charlotte (up 11.2% to 225,673) and Austin (up 10.7% to 279,923).
This movement to the South in recent decades has changed the geography of the most immigrant rich parts of the country. Three of the 10 metro areas with the largest number of foreign born residents are in the south. Miami has some 2.26 million immigrant residents make up with 38.8% of its population, the highest proportion of any large metro area in the country. The Houston metro area has the fifth biggest foreign-born population, Dallas-Ft. Worth, the eighth.
The Texas metro areas, and their emerging southern counterparts, offer much of what the prospering Rust Belt cities also provide — strong broad-based economies and an affordable cost of living, particularly housing. Immigrants tend to prioritize home ownership and often work in thriving blue-collar fields such as manufacturing , logistics and construction.
Coastal Growth Follows The Economy
The Atlantic and Pacific coasts have long dominated immigration, but there appears to be some subtle changes in this picture. Most big coastal metro areas have logged steady but below average growth of their foreign-born populations, including New York, with a 3.67% increase. (Note that even with relatively slow growth in percentage terms, New York added a net 208,800 immigrants, more than the total foreign-born populations of any of the four fastest growers.) Some blue areas are doing much better in terms of growth rate, including Seattle (9th), Boston (11th) and San Jose (15th). All tend to be expensive, but have done very well in the recovery, largely due to technology-related growth.
In contrast, some traditional immigrant hubs with weaker economies have lagged behind. Chicago’s foreign-born population increased 1.71%, less than half the national average. Los Angeles’ foreign born population ticked down 0.1% amid economic stagnation and rising housing prices. When it comes to immigration, it is the geography of opportunity that still prevails.
U.S. Metropolitan Areas with the Highest Share of Immigrants
No. 1: Miami, Fla.
Number of Foreign-Born: 2.26 million
Percentage of Population, 2013: 38.8%
No. 2: San Jose, Calif.
Number of Foreign-Born: 719,460
Percentage of Population, 2013: 37.5%
No. 3: Los Angeles, Calif.
Number of Foreign-Born: 4.39 million
Percentage of Population, 2013: 33.2%
No. 4: San Francisco, Calif.
Number of Foreign-Born: 1.34 million
Percentage of Population, 2013: 29.7%
No. 5: New York, NY-NJ-PA
Number of Foreign-Born: 5.69 million
Percentage of Population, 2013: 28.5%
No. 6: San Diego, Calif.
Number of Foreign-Born: 761,580
Percentage of Population, 2013: 23.7%
No. 7: Houston, Tex.
Number of Foreign-Born: 1.42 million
Percentage of Population, 2013: 22.6%
No. 8: Washington, D.C.
Number of Foreign-Born: 1.31 million
Percentage of Population, 2013: 22.0%
No. 9: Las Vegas, Nev.
Number of Foreign-Born: 440,866
Percentage of Population, 2013: 21.7%
No. 10: Riverside-San Bernardino, Calif.
Number of Foreign-Born: 932,747
Percentage of Population, 2013: 21.3%