Just the FACTS

Immigrants in California

  • California has more immigrants than any other state.
    California is home to more than 10 million immigrants—one in four of the foreign-born population nationwide. In 2011, 27% of California’s population was foreign-born, about twice the U.S. percentage. Foreign-born residents represented more than 30% of the population of seven California counties: Santa Clara, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Mateo, Imperial, Alameda, and Orange. And half of the children in California had at least one immigrant parent.
  • Most immigrants in California are documented residents.
    Almost half (47%) of California’s immigrants are naturalized U.S. citizens, and another 26% have some other legal status (including green cards and visas). According to the Department of Homeland Security, about 27% of immigrants in California are undocumented.
  • Immigration to California has slowed.
    The state’s immigrant population increased by only 15% (1.3 million) in the 2000s, compared to 37% (2.4 million) in the 1990s. This decline in international immigration has been a contributing factor in the slowdown of California’s overall population growth.
  • Most immigrants in California come from Latin America, but recent arrivals are primarily from Asia.
    The vast majority of California’s immigrants were born in Latin America (53%) and Asia (37%). California has sizeable populations of immigrants from dozens of countries; Mexico (4.3 million), the Philippines (812,000), and China (760,700) are the leading countries of origin. However, more than half (53%) of those arriving in the state between 2007 and 2011were born in Asia; only 31% came from Latin America.
  • Most immigrants in California are working-age adults …
    About eight of every ten immigrants (81%) in California are working-age adults (age 18 to 64), compared to four of every seven (57%) U.S.-born California residents. This means that more than a third (34%) of working-age adults in the state are immigrants.
  • … and are likely to be on either end of the education spectrum.
    In 2011, 37% of California’s immigrants age 25 and older had not completed high school, compared to 9% of U.S.-born California residents. A quarter of California’s foreign-born residents had attained at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to a third of U.S.-born residents. Foreign-born residents accounted for 72% of all high school dropouts in the state and 31% of college-educated residents. But recent immigrants and immigrants from Asia tend to have very high levels of educational attainment. Almost half (47%) of foreign-born residents who came to the state between 2007 and 2011—and 60% of those who came from Asia—had bachelor’s degrees or more.
  • Immigrants are more likely than U.S.-born residents to be employed but make less money.
    California’s foreign-born residents are more likely to be in the civilian labor force than U.S.-born residents: in 2011, 66% of immigrants were in the labor force, compared to 62% of the U.S-born. They are also more likely to be employed (59% compared to 54%). However, the median income for households with foreign-born householders in 2011 was 20.9% lower than that for households with U.S-born householders ($48,851 compared to $61,752). And foreign-born residents are more likely than the U.S.-born to live in poverty (18.9% compared to 15.7%).

Sources: U.S. Census Bureau Decennial Censuses, American Community Survey, and the Department of Homeland Security.


Marisol Cuellar Mejia
Research Associate
Hans Johnson
Senior Fellow

Policy Areas

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