Pew Explores Lawful Immigrant Demographics

As lawmakers wrestle with reforming immigration laws, the Pew Research Center lays out five key points around the demographics of legal immigrants in the country. The population, which consists of 33.8 million people as of 2015, includes 19.8 million immigrants who hold U.S. citizenship and 11.9 million immigrants who hold lawful permanent residence– green card– status.

At the crux of Pew’s “5 key facts about U.S. lawful immigrants” story, published in August, is an exploration of how President Trump’s reform of the nation’s immigration laws would affect current immigration flows in the country. With his endorsement of a merit-based immigration bill through the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act, Pew’s D’Vera Cohn points out enactment of such a policy changes “decades of policy in deciding who should receive lawful permanent resident status by shifting the emphasis on family ties to the value of job skills that applicants would bring.” The RAISE Act also eliminates the visa “diversity” category to increase immigration from countries with low representation and also decrease the number of refugees allowed to immigrate to the U.S.

Since his endorsement of the RAISE ACT, President Trump also terminated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA, which currently operates within the framework of an executive order signed by President Obama, will end in March.

As elected officials forge ahead in their task to amend the nation’s immigration laws, Cohn discusses five critical elements lawmakers should keep in mind in their development of new policies. These include:

  1. Each year, one million immigrants receive lawful permanent resident status, a first step in the path to citizenship. Most of these immigrants– 65 percent– are sponsored by relatives of a U.S, citizen or of a lawful permanent resident.
  2. Lawful immigrants most commonly hold Asian, European, Canadian or Caribbean roots. While unauthorized immigrants are more like to hold Mexican citizenship, Mexican immigrants are more like than not to hold lawful status.
  3. New York and Los Angeles are the nation’s metro areas with the highest populations of legal immigrants. Lawful immigrant populations are most concentrated in these areas.  
  4. Most lawful immigrants are of working age– 18-64 years– than the native population and these immigrants tend toward an extreme of either overrepresentation or underrepresentation in their occupations. In 2014, for instance, 76 percent of legal immigrants fell into the working-age range compared to only 60 percent of native-born citizens. In terms of occupation, lawful immigrants comprised 20 percent of farming, fishing, and forestry workers. In office and administrative support roles, the group only comprised 9 percent of the workers.
  5. Around two-thirds– 67 percent– of lawful immigrants eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship obtain the status, according to reported 2015 numbers. Additionally, the rate of obtaining citizenship status varies widely according to native region. Eligible immigrants from countries in the Middle East, for instance, obtained citizenship at a rate of 83 percent. This compares to only 42 percent of eligible Mexican nationals who obtained citizenship.

Approximately 13.4 percent of the U.S. population is immigrant to the country, slightly below the historic high of 14.8 percent, the foreign-born population in 1890. At the time, 9.2 million immigrants lived in the U.S.