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Just the FACTS

Immigrants in California

  • California has more immigrants than any other state.
    California is home to more than 10 million immigrants—about a quarter of the foreign-born population nationwide. In 2016, the most current year of data, 27% of California’s population was foreign born, about twice the US percentage. Foreign-born residents represented more than 30% of the population in seven California counties; in descending order, these counties are Santa Clara, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Mateo, Alameda, Monterey, and Orange. Half of California children have at least one immigrant parent.

California has had high shares of foreign-born residents for decades

figure - California has had high shares of foreign-born residents for decades

SOURCE: US Census Bureau, decennial censuses and the American Community Survey.

  • Most immigrants in California are documented residents.
    About half (49%) of California’s immigrants are naturalized US citizens, and another 26% have some other legal status (including green cards and visas). According to the Center for Migration Studies, about 25% of immigrants in California are undocumented.
  • Net immigration to California has slowed.
    In the 1990s, California’s immigrant population grew by 37% (2.4 million). But in the first decade of the 2000s, that growth slowed to 15% (1.3 million), and in the past 10 years, the increase was 8% (about three-quarters of a million). The decline in international immigration has contributed to the slowdown of California’s overall population growth.
  • The majority of recent arrivals are from Asia.
    The vast majority of California’s immigrants were born in Latin America (51%) or Asia (39%). California has sizable populations of immigrants from dozens of countries; the leading countries of origin are Mexico (4.2 million), China (936,000), the Philippines (813,000), Vietnam (534,000), and India (482,000). However, most (58%) of those arriving between 2012 and 2016 came from Asia; only 28% came from Latin America.

Asia has surpassed Latin America as the leading source of recent immigrants to California

figure - Asia has surpassed Latin America as the leading source of recent immigrants to California

SOURCE: American Community Survey.

NOTE: New arrivals are based on the place of residence one year prior to the survey (excluding US-born citizens).

  • Most immigrants in California are working-age adults.
    About eight in every ten immigrants (79%) in California are working-age adults (age 18 to 64), compared to less than six in ten (57%) US-born California residents. This means that more than a third (34%) of working-age adults in the state are immigrants.
  • California’s immigrants have both very low and very high levels of education.
    In 2016, 34% of California’s immigrants age 25 and older had not completed high school, compared with 8% of US-born California residents. Twenty-eight percent of California’s foreign-born residents had attained at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 36% of US-born residents. Foreign-born residents accounted for 72% of state residents without a high school diploma and 31% of college-educated residents. But recent immigrants and immigrants from Asia tend to have very high levels of educational attainment. About half (49%) of foreign-born residents who came to the state between 2012 and 2016—and 56% of those who came from Asia—have at least a bachelor’s degree.
  • Immigrants and US-born residents are equally likely to work—but immigrants make less money.
    California’s foreign-born residents are about as likely to be in the labor force—either working or looking for work—as US-born residents: in 2016, 64% of immigrants were in the labor force, compared to 63% of US-born residents. Immigrants are also slightly more likely to be employed (61% compared to 58%). However, among families with foreign-born heads of household, the median income in 2016 was 24% lower than that of families with US-born heads of household ($60,100 compared to $79,000). Foreign-born residents are about as likely as US-born residents to live in poverty (17% and 16%, respectively).


Sources: American Community Survey and decennial census data from the US Census Bureau and IPUMS; Ruggles, Steven, Katie Genadek, Ronald Goeken, Josiah Grover, and Matthew Sobek, Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 6.0 (University of Minnesota 2015); State-Level Unauthorized Population and Eligible-to-Naturalize Estimates (Center for Migration Studies 2016).


Hans JohnsonHans Johnson
Center Director and Senior Fellow
Photo of Sergio SanchezSergio Sanchez
Research Associate
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