American immigration – an overview

Today’s immigrants to the USA have much in common with previous generations of immigrants. Here is an overview of immigration in the United States of America today.


Americans grow up knowing their country’s proud history as “a nation of immigrants.” Except for Native Americans, all Americans’ ancestors came from another country, and many groups continue to celebrate their heritage alongside their American identity. Many of today’s immigrants also have overcome obstacles to get to the USA. They are proud Americans even while enriching our country with their cultures and traditions.

American immigration compared immigration around the world

The United States has more immigrants than any other country – in 2017 there were an estimated 43–44 million permanent foreign-born residents in the USA, or about 14% of the population. (In comparison, almost 15% of the US population were immigrants in 1890.)

How does American immigration compare to other countries? Australia (with a 29% immigrant population), New Zealand (23%) and Canada (21%) all have much higher percentages of immigrants, as do as Switzerland (30%), Austria (19%) and Sweden (18%). You can find more details about international migration at the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Who is coming to the USA?

People have come to the USA from all over the world, which is why we have the world’s most diverse population. According to the Pew Research Center and others who study American immigration, Mexicans are the biggest group of immigrants in the USA today, followed by people from India, China, and the Philippines.

This chart shows where immigrant groups in the United States came from. It includes naturalized citizens, lawful residents, undocumented residents, refugees and asylees, and some long-term nonimmigrants, such as those on student or work visas. Data courtesy of the Migration Policy Institute.

Today, however, it is mostly non-Mexicans who are arriving at the US border. Asylum seekers from Hondurans, El Salvador and Guatemalans far outnumber Mexicans.

Where do they go when they arrive?

The majority of immigrants will go to areas where there are jobs or where they have family members. In 2015, 27 % of all California residents, 23 % of New York residents, 20% of Florida residents, and 17% of Texas residents were immigrants. More than half of all foreign-born Americans live in one of those four states.

What are facts about American immigration and immigrants?

Compared to native-born Americans, foreign-born Americans are overall:

  • more likely to be married
  • more likely to work
  • more likely to be poor
  • less likely to commit a crime
  • less likely to have graduated from high school

What is their legal status?

Most immigrants in the USA (an estimated 77%) are lawful residents: visa holders, permanent residents, or citizens. About one quarter are unauthorized residents, also known as «undocumented» Americans. Find out more about different kinds of immigrants and pathways to immigration.

chart showing legal status of US immigrants
This chart shows where immigrant groups in the United States came from in 2017. It includes naturalized citizens, lawful residents, undocumented residents, refugees and asylees, and some long-term nonimmigrants, such as those on student or work visas. Data courtesy of the Migration Policy Institute.