Immigration/emigration is the process of moving away from the country of one's birth and/or citizenship in favor of a different country. People immigrate for various reasons. Some immigrants are seeking improved career opportunities. Others wish to reunite with family or other loved ones; or to gain access to better healthcare, education, or quality of life. Still others are refugees seeking to escape conflict. As a settler colonial society, the United States owes much of its population growth and cultural development to immigration. With the exception of those few individuals who are 100% Native American, every American is either an immigrant themselves or directly descended from immigrants.
The United States has the highest immigrant population in the world at 50.6 million (as of mid-2020), which equates to approximately 15.3% of the total U.S. population and 18% of international immigrants worldwide. The number of immigrants in the U.S. today is more than five times the 1960 total of 9.7 million. The U.S. immigrant population is also notably diverse, with the country welcoming new arrivals from more than 200 countries and territories (see table at page bottom) every year. Historically, the U.S. has been considered one of the easiest countries to which to immigrate, but the process has become more difficult over time.
Top 10 Countries of Origin for Immigrants to the U.S. (2020)
In 2020, the United States granted 707,362 people lawful permanent resident status, a significant drop from the usual average of more than a million. The states with the largest immigrant populations are California, New York, Florida, and Texas.
Mexico is the top origin country of the U.S. immigrant population. Tracking U.S. immigration trends across the decade from 2011-2020, the U.S. welcomed a total of nearly 10.3 million immigrants, of which nearly 1.5 million (14.3%) were from Mexico, more than twice that of any other country. This is arguably unsurprising, given the geographical proximity of Mexico to the United States. China (713,527) and India (631,689) occupy the second and third slots (for full data, see the table at page bottom).
LPRs, green cards, and more—a quick U.S. immigration primer
Immigrants who have been granted the right to reside permanently in the United States are referred to as lawful permanent residents (LPRs), more commonly known as green card holders. To become an LPR/green card holder, one must first be admitted to the country as a refugee and have been physically present as an admitted refugee for at least one year. Refugees admitted to the U.S. are required to apply for a green card after one year.
Not all LPRs choose to become U.S. citizens. Those looking to apply for citizenship must meet specific requirements, including having lived in the U.S. for five years. All immigration matters are handled through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).