The ‘New Colossus’, a poem by Emma Lazarus, is engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty. Its most famous line, declaring to the world that America is ready to accept the “huddled masses” who are “yearning to breathe free”, has long been referenced to show America’s appreciation of immigrants. There is no doubt that America has developed a reputation of being a nation of immigrants; but is that reputation really deserved? Here we take a look at immigration to the United States compared to immigration to other countries around the world.
Immigration Around the World: By the Numbers
America Leads the World in Total Immigration
Do more people immigrate to America than other countries? According to a report put together by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the United States far and away leads the world in total immigrant population. Indeed, the United States has more than 46 million total immigrants, making up nearly 20 percent of the world’s total immigrant population. The country with the second-largest immigrant population is Germany with just over 7 million immigrants. Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom round out the top 5. On the other end of the spectrum, there are some large and highly developed countries that contain very few immigrants. For example, Japan has fewer than 3 million immigrants even though the population of the country is more than 125 million. South Korea also has very few immigrants; they make up less than 1 percent of the country’s total population. In Europe, it is very difficult to immigrate to some countries, including Poland, Hungary, and Bulgaria.
*data on charts gathered from United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs
The Per Capita Immigration Number Provide Additional Perspective
What percentage of the American population are immigrants? While the United States has by far the largest immigrant population in the world, part of the reason why is simply because of the country’s size. The U.S. has a population of nearly 320 million, the third-highest in the world. When viewing the immigrant population as a percentage of the total population, the United States still looks welcoming to immigrants, but the numbers are far more in line with some other countries. Immigrants make up about 14 percent of the total United States population, similar to the percentage in countries such as Spain, Norway, Australia, and Germany. This figure is actually somewhat behind Canada, where immigrants make up approximately 20 percent of the total population.
Immigration to America is Especially Diverse
Of course, simply looking at the total immigrant population of each country does not tell you the whole story of how the immigration system operates. For example, Germany has approximately the same rate of immigration inflow as does the United States, but the data suggests that the United States has a far more diverse immigrant population than does Germany. The New York Times reports that more than 60 percent of German immigrants originate from other countries within the European Union, mostly from nearby countries such as Poland, Italy, and France. On the other hand, immigration to the U.S. is extremely diverse. For the year 2015, the 10 most common country origins for individuals who became American citizens were:
- Mexico (15%)
- India (6%)
- Philippines (5%)
- China (5%)
- Cuba (4%)
- Dominican Republic (3%)
- Vietnam (2%)
- Columbia (2%)
- El Salvador (2%)
- Haiti (1%)
Is it noteworthy just how diverse the top 10 list is for 2015? Another interesting observation is the fact that collectively these countries each contribute such a small percentage to the total immigration inflow. In fact, these top 10 countries collectively contribute less than half of all immigrants for the year 2015. Finally, it is also striking to consider just how much the list of the top countries for American immigrants has changed over time. For perspective, consider the top 10 list of countries of origin for immigrants in the year 1960. Then, the top 5 largest immigrant groups in the U.S. were Italians, Germans, Irish, British, and Canadians. None of the countries appear in the top 10 any longer. Further, all of those countries are either in Europe or, in the case of Canada, largely made up of European descendants. In the year 2015, no European country is among the top 10 countries of origin for American immigrants.
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