B.I.A.S. Project
The Changing Nature of U.S. Immigration
Myths and Facts

MYTH: Immigrants are flooding into the United States.

FACT: Of the 100 million migrants worldwide, less than 1% come to the U.S. each year.

Approximately one million persons currently migrate to the United States annually. The numbers of foreign-born coming to the United States have gradually increased over the last six decades, so that the current migration level is comparable to the annual number of immigrants arriving during the historic peak of immigration at the turn of the century.

MYTH: There is a higher percentage of immigrants in the U.S. now than ever before in U.S. history.

FACT: The percentage of immigrants is lower than in the past.

Although the number of immigrants arriving today is comparable to previous peak periods, the percentage of the U.S. population that is foreign-born (8-9%) is lower than it was throughout the 1870 - 1920 peak immigration period, when close to 15% of the total population was foreign-born. From 1986-1995 the annual number of immigrants was 3.9 immigrants per every 1000 Americans, while from 1905-1914, this rate was 11.1. The composition of the newcomer population has changed. Historically, Europe was the source of most immigration to the U.S., but today, new arrivals come mostly from Latin America, the Carribean and Asia. Today, over 75% of the newcomers settle in six states--California, New York, Texas, Florida, New Jersey and Illinois. The top ten countries of immigration to the U.S. are Mexico, China, the Phillipines, Vietnam, former Soviet Union, Dominican Republic, India, Poland, El Salvador, United Kingdom.

MYTH: The United States is being overun with illegal immigrants.

FACT: Annual entry of illegal aliens amounts to only 1/10th of 1% of the total U.S. population.

MYTH: Most migrants to the United States are illegal, undocumented aliens who come only for economic reasons.

FACT: The vast majority of immigrants come legally for the same reasons as did our ancestors: family, work and freedom.

During 1993, 2/3 of the 800,000 legal immigrants came to the U.S. to be reunited with close family members. An additional 15% came as refugees escaping persecution, while another 15% came at the invitation of the U.S. employers to fill highly skilled positions for which U.S. workers were not available. The remaining individuals received specially designated visas of various types (for example, artists). The academic credentials of legal immigrants have risen. A study of immigrants in the 1980's found that of those aged 25 and older, 1/3 had college degrees, compared with 20 per cent of the native-born population. Recent legal immigrants have average household incomes that fall only 7 per cent lower than natives. Immigrants who arrived before 1980, have average incomes that exceed those of natives.

MYTH: Immigrants take jobs away from Americans.

FACT: Consensus exists on the fact that immigrants do not increase unemployment for native-born Americans. In fact, one recent study showed that the ten states with the lowest annual unemployment rates had a greater proportion of immigrants in their total population than the ten states with the highest annual unemployment rates. While temporary displacements in given localities may occur, there is no trend toward Americans becoming unemployed due to immigrant labor.

MYTH: Immigration is a drain on the U.S. economy.

FACT: The net economic effect of all immigration - both legal and illegal - is to add wealth to the country. An estimated 11 million immigrants are working, earning at least $240 billion a year and paying $90 billion in taxes. The average immigrant family pays about $2,500 more in taxes than the average native family.

Immigrants expand total output and demand for labor. As immigrant workers enter the labor force, they create jobs by spending their earnings on the output of other workers. That generates employment. Many jobs are also created by immigrant entrepreneurs. Immigrants are generally highly productive because they are willing to put in long hours of hard work to make a business succeed. Immigrants also promote capital formation because they save a greater proportion of their earnings than do native-born Americans.

In the 1980s, 1.5 million college-educated immigrants joined the U.S. work force, mainly as scientists and engineers. These skilled immigrants are helping to keep America internationally competitive in high-technology industries. Immigrants also benefit the U.S. economy by using connections to their former countries to boost exports, especially exports to the fast-growing regions of Asia and Latin America. In addition, immigrants contribute a global perspective to American businesses.

MYTH: Immigrants abuse the welfare system.

FACT: Only 9% of immigrant households received welfare payments, according to the 1990 census.

MYTH: Immigrants cause urban problems.

FACT: Immigrant communities are revitalizing dying neighborhoods in cities and older suburbs that would otherwise be suffering from middle class flight and a shrinking tax base. Immigrants start businesses, buy homes, pay local taxes, and shop in the cities. In the 1980s, population in the nation's 10 largest cities grew by 4.7%; without new immigrants it would have shrunk by 6.8%.

Sources: Immigration and Naturalization Service, Interpreter Releases, MN Advocates for Human Rights.

  BIAS Project Volunteer Opportunities                   BIAS Project Publications

Back to BIAS Program