Unauthorized Immigrant Population in the U.S. Reaches 10.5 Million in 2021: Pew Research Center

New estimates reveal the size and characteristics of the unauthorized immigrant population in the United States, shedding light on trends and changes over the past few years.

The unauthorized immigrant population in the United States has reached 10.5 million in 2021, according to recent estimates by the Pew Research Center. While this represents a modest increase over 2019, it remains below the peak of 12.2 million in 2007. The new data offers insights into the changing composition of this population, including shifts in origin countries and geographic distribution. Additionally, the report highlights the presence of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. labor force, providing a comprehensive overview of this often-debated issue.

Methodology and Estimation

The Pew Research Center has been producing estimates of the unauthorized immigrant population in the United States for over two decades. Their latest research utilizes a “residual method” similar to that used by other organizations and government agencies. This method involves estimating the total number of immigrants living in the country, subtracting the number of lawful immigrants, and making adjustments to account for potential undercounts. The estimates are based on a variety of data sources, including official records, surveys, and censuses.

Who are Unauthorized Immigrants?

Unauthorized immigrants include individuals who are not in categories such as lawful residents, refugees, or asylum grantees. The Pew Research Center’s estimate of unauthorized immigrants also includes those with temporary permission to be in the United States, such as individuals with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). These immigrants account for about 20% of the total unauthorized immigrant population.

Trends in the Unauthorized Immigrant Population

From 2017 to 2021, the number of unauthorized immigrants from Mexico decreased by 900,000, reaching a total of 4.1 million. However, there were increases in unauthorized immigrants from other regions, including Central America, the Caribbean, South America, Asia, Europe, and sub-Saharan Africa. Only Florida and Washington saw increases in their unauthorized immigrant populations, while California and Nevada saw decreases.

The U.S. Immigrant Population

The foreign-born population in the United States was 14.1% of the total population in 2021, slightly higher than in previous years but below the record high in 1890. The unauthorized immigrant population accounted for about 3% of the total U.S. population and 22% of the foreign-born population, marking some of the lowest shares since the 1990s. Over the past decade, the unauthorized immigrant population decreased by 14%, while the lawful immigrant population and the number of naturalized U.S. citizens grew significantly.

Origin Countries of Unauthorized Immigrants

Mexico remains the most common origin country for unauthorized immigrants in the United States, although the number has decreased significantly in recent years. In 2021, Mexico accounted for 39% of the unauthorized immigrant population, the smallest share on record. The total number of unauthorized immigrants from countries other than Mexico has grown rapidly, with notable increases from Central America and South and East Asia. El Salvador, India, Guatemala, and Honduras are among the countries with the largest unauthorized immigrant populations in the U.S.

U.S. States of Residence

While the unauthorized immigrant population in most states remained steady from 2017 to 2021, Florida and Washington saw significant increases. California and Nevada, on the other hand, experienced decreases. The six states with the largest unauthorized immigrant populations in 2021 were California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois. However, the concentration of unauthorized immigrants has become less geographically focused over the years.

Unauthorized Immigrants in the Labor Force

Unauthorized immigrants make up about 4.6% of the U.S. workforce, a share that has remained relatively stable since 2017. The total number of unauthorized immigrants in the labor force was about 7.8 million in 2021. Demographics play a role in this figure, as the unauthorized immigrant population includes fewer children and elderly adults who are not in the labor force.

Conclusion: The latest estimates from the Pew Research Center shed light on the size, composition, and trends within the unauthorized immigrant population in the United States. While the overall number has seen a modest increase in recent years, it remains below previous peaks. The data also highlights the changing origin countries and geographic distribution of unauthorized immigrants, as well as their presence in the U.S. labor force. As policymakers continue to grapple with immigration issues, a comprehensive understanding of the unauthorized immigrant population is crucial for informed decision-making.


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