The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) released today shows 45.3 million foreign-born residents, up 1.8 million from 2020. However, significant data collection issues in 2020 due to Covid-19 make it difficult to interpret the increase of 1.8 million between 2020 and 2021.1 Equally important, the 2021 ACS survey only reflects population through July 2021 and does not fully reflect the ongoing border surge or increase in legal immigration in 2021 as restrictions on travel from Covid-19 have declined.
In contrast, the more updated 2022 Annual Current Population Survey Social and Economic Supplement (CPS ASEC), which was released just two days ago, reflects the population in March this year and shows 46.8 million foreign-born residents. Additionally, the monthly Current Public Survey (CPS) for August this year, the most recent data available, shows 47.3 million foreign-born residents. All available evidence indicates that the scale of immigration (legal and illegal together) has been enormous. The “foreign-born” or “immigrant” population includes all those who were not US citizens at birth, whether legal or illegal immigrants.
The ACS, ASEC CPS, and Monthly CPS are all collected by the Census Bureau and usually produce similar estimates of the foreign-born population, but not always.2 (See Figure 1 below.) But surveys are released on different schedules. As a rule, it does not matter too much. However, the rapidly changing immigration situation means that only the most recent data fully reflect current conditions. While the large size of the ACS makes it ideal for studying foreign-born people, it does not reflect the population until July each year and is not published until more than a year later. The CPS ASEC is smaller than the ACS, but it oversamples minorities, which helps to study the foreign-born. However, it is not collected until March and is not published for six months. The monthly CPS is the smallest of the surveys, although it still surveys over 60,000 households, and is released monthly, providing the most up-to-date information.
About the size and growth of the foreign-born population:
- The 2021 American Community Survey (ACS), which reflects population as of July 2021, shows that 45.3 million foreign-born residents live in the United States. AEC.
- However, the increase of 1.8 million between 2020 and 2021 is difficult to interpret due to significant issues in collecting 2020 data during the pandemic.3 Compared to ACS 2019, the foreign-born population grew by only 367,000 from 2019 to 2021.
- The Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey 2022 (CPS ASEC), which was released just two days ago, reflects the population in March this year and shows 46.8 million residents born abroad. (Table A-1 of the Census Bureau’s health insurance report)
- Analysis by the Center for Immigration Studies of the monthly Current Population Survey (CPS) for public use from August 2022 shows a foreign-born population of 47.3 million.
- Although the ACS 2021 is somewhat outdated, the large size of the survey allows growth to be measured by country of emigration. The largest digital increases from 2010 to 2021 were for immigrants from India, up 929,000; China, up 588,000; the Dominican Republic, up 376,000; Venezuela, up 361,000; Guatemala, up 276,000; Honduras, up 245,000; Brazil, up 230,000, Nigeria, up 224,000; and Colombia, up 218,000. (Table 1)
- The largest percentage increases from 2010 to 2021 by country were for Venezuela, up 196%; Nepal, up 151%; Afghanistan, up 127%; Burma, up 111%; Nigeria, up 102%; Bangladesh, up 86%; Syria, up 79%; Kenya, up 74%; and Brazil, up 68%. (Table 1)
- The large size of the ACS also makes it possible to measure the growth of the foreign-born population by state. The largest digital increases from 2010 to 2021 in immigrant populations occurred in Florida, up 951,000; Texas, up 950,000; California, up 301,000; New Jersey, up 290,000; Washington State, up 257,000; Massachusetts, up 244,000; Pennsylvania, up 200,000; Maryland, up 175,000; Virginia, up 159,000; and North Carolina, up 151,000. (Table 2)
- States with the largest percentage increases from 2010 to 2021 were North Dakota, up 103%; Delaware, up 41%; South Dakota, up 39%; Idaho, up 32%; Kentucky, Washington, Minnesota and Nebraska, each up 29%; Tennessee, up 28%; and Pennsylvania, up 27%. This compares to a national increase of 13 percent. (Table 2)
Figure 1. Total foreign-born population, 2011-2022, based on three Census Bureau surveys
As of 2018 the CPS ASEC produced higher numbers than the ACS but not in 2021. It is likely that once the ACS 2022 data is released next year it will show a population foreign-born of approximately 47 million. (in millions)
Source: Data for the Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey (CPS ASEC) and the Monthly Current Population Survey (CPS) are from public use files found at Ipums.
1 The Census Bureau has experienced significant collection issues for ACS 2020 due to disruptions caused by Covid-19. Consequently, the desktop states that it was “unable to collect information from certain segments of the population” in 2020, particularly low-income and less-educated people. We therefore do not have a clear picture of the foreign-born population in 2020 based on the ACS. The office issued a Detailed analysis showing some of the problematic ACS 2020 results. Although the Census Bureau has released very little data from the ACS 2020, the ACS 2020 public use files have been released. All ACS 2020 figures in this report are based on our analysis of this data.
2 In an earlier analysis, the Center examined long-term trends in the foreign-born population in the ACS compared to the CPS ASEC and explained how the ACS generally produces higher estimates, but more recently, the CPS ASEC showed a larger immigrant population. We also discuss differences in how data is collected and how this might impact survey estimates. Figure 1 also presents the size of the foreign-born population based on the ACS, CPS ASEC and monthly CPS.
3 See endnote 1.