Net International Migration Projected to Fall to Lowest Levels in the United States

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US Census Bureau

Net international migration added 595,000 to the U.S. population between 2018 and 2019, the lowest level this decade. This is a notable drop from this decade’s high of 1,047,000 between 2015 and 2016.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s Vintage 2019 population estimates released show that international migration added about 7.9 million people to the nation’s population since the last census in 2010. Annual growth in net international migration slowed between 2015 and 2016 and has been declining since.

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Migration patterns measured since 2015 primarily reflect three major trends: declining immigration of the foreign born, increasing foreign-born emigration, and changes in Puerto Rican migration following Hurricane Maria in September 2017.

China replaced Mexico to become the largest sending country of foreign-born immigrants to the United States as of 2018.

The population estimates show that net migration from Puerto Rico to the 50 states and the District of Columbia, which rose after Hurricane Maria, reversed between 2018 and 2019. More people are moving to than away from Puerto Rico.

Foreign-born immigration is the largest contributor to net international migration and is measured based on the American Community Survey (ACS) estimate of the foreign born whose residence one year ago was outside the United States, Puerto Rico and U.S. Island Areas.

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Foreign-born immigration this decade peaked at 1.46 million in 2016 and declined by 250,000 to 1.21 million in 2018, according to the ACS.

China replaced Mexico to become the largest sending country of foreign-born immigrants to the United States as of 2018. At the beginning of the decade, Mexico was the largest, but immigration from Mexico has dropped significantly since the recession at the end of the last decade.

Since 2010, immigration from China and India has either approached or surpassed Mexican immigration levels while immigration from Canada has remained relatively unchanged.

More People Moving to Than Leaving Puerto Rico

Estimates of net Puerto Rico migration are based on residence one year ago from the ACS and Puerto Rican Community Survey (PRCS).

The estimates also incorporate flight passenger data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics to account for recent movement following Hurricane Maria.

Net migration from Puerto Rico to the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia increased from 78,000 during the 2017 period (July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017) to 123,000 during the 2018 period (July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018), which covers the month Hurricane Maria made landfall.

However, it reversed during the 2019 period (July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019), resulting in net in-migration of 8,000 people to Puerto Rico.

State Estimates

Florida, California, Texas, New York and Massachusetts typically gain the most migrants from abroad and comprise about half of net international migration for the nation most years.

Mid-decade estimates showed large increases in net international migration in Florida, California and Texas, but modest increases for New York and Massachusetts. Texas doubled from 59,000 to 118,000 between 2010 and 2015, which surpassed New York’s mid-decade estimate of 84,000 to become the third largest net migration state. Several states approached or dipped below 2010 levels this year.

Between the last census in 2010 and July 1, 2019, international migration added 1,107,000 people to Florida; 1,022,000 to California; 819,000 to Texas; 698,000 to New York; and 362,000 to Massachusetts.

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What Does Migration Measure?

Migration occurs when a person changes their usual residence across a geographic boundary, regardless of citizenship or legal status, according to the Census Bureau.

International migration is the movement between the 50 states and the District of Columbia and abroad.

This excludes commuters, tourists and business visitors, but does include immigrants, temporary migrants and the native born moving between the United States and foreign countries, movers between the United States and Puerto Rico and deployed U.S. military personnel.

What Is “Net” Migration?

Net migration measures in-migration minus out-migration. It is positive when more people move into than leave a geographic area and negative when more people move out than move in.

Net international migration is a more complete measure than immigration for estimating population change since it accounts for people leaving the United States.

Who Are the Foreign Born?

The Census Bureau defines the foreign born as people who are not U.S. citizens at birth.

The foreign born include naturalized citizens and non-citizens but not people born in a foreign country to U.S. citizens.

A Note on Methodology

Net international migration in 2019 is a projection and is subject to revision as more recent data on foreign-born migration become available. In addition, previous years in the time series may be revised to include more recent data on people who leave the United States.

See the Vintage 2019 methodology statement for a description of input data and methods, as well as other migration components not highlighted in this story.

Vintage 2019 Population Estimates for metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas and counties will be released in the spring of 2020. Demographic characteristics will be released in the summer of 2020.

(Anthony Knapp is a demographer in the Net International Migration Branch, Population Division, U.S. Census Bureau.)

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