Foreign-Born Population Hits Highest Level Since 1910 As Immigration From Asia Surpasses Latin America

Will Racke | Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter

The share of foreign-born residents in the U.S. is larger than any time since 1910, boosted by a wave of new arrivals from Asia, according to government data released Thursday.

The foreign-born population stood at 44.5 million people, or 13.7 percent of U.S. residents, at the end of 2017, according to the Census Bureau. That compares to about 15 percent in the first decade of the 20th century, the last historic peak of U.S. immigration.

In a marked shift in geographical origin over the past decades, people from Asia have surpassed those from Latin America as the largest immigrant group, The New York Times reported, citing an analysis of the data by Brookings Institution demographer William Frey.

Of the immigrants who said they arrived since 2010, 41 percent came from Asia while 39 arrived from Latin American countries. Over the same time period, the foreign-born population from Asia increased by 2.6 million people, compared to 1.6 million from Latin America.

“This is quite different from what we had thought,” Frey told TheNYT. “We think of immigrants as being low-skilled workers from Latin America, but for recent arrivals that’s much less the case. People from Asia have overtaken people from Latin America.”

The U.S. foreign-born population has been rising — in relative and absolute terms — since 1965, when Congress repealed national-origin quotas that were enacted in the 1920s. The trend has accelerated over the past two decades thanks to historically high levels of legal immigration: Since 2000, the U.S. has accepted an average of roughly 1.1 million immigrants per year, about the same average as it did in the first decade of the 20th century. (RELATED: One Out Of Every Eight US Residents Is An Immigrant)

If current migration levels hold steady, the foreign-born population will expand far beyond today’s share. Census Bureau projections put the immigrant share of the overall U.S. population at 15.8 percent by 2030 and 18.8 percent — or nearly one in five U.S. residents — by 2060.

Some skeptics of large-scale immigration worry about the country’s ability to continue absorbing large numbers of immigrants at a time of stagnating wages and historically low labor force participation among prime working-age adults. Others argue high levels of immigration hurt low-skilled Americans without a college degree because the current family-based system skews toward less-educated immigrants who compete with them in the labor market.

Frey says this concern might be overblown because recent immigrants are now more likely to be college-educated than in the past. About 45 percent of immigrants who’ve arrived since 2010 have college degrees, compared to about 30 percent of those who arrived between 2000 and 2009, according to Frey’s analysis.

Educational attainment among immigrants varies widely depending on region of origin. In 2015, about 51 percent of foreign-born U.S. residents from South and East Asia had at least a bachelor’s degree, according to a May 2017 report from the Pew Research Center.

That compares to 31 percent of people from South America, 9.4 percent from Central America and 6.2 percent from Mexico.

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