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Just the FACTS

Immigrants in California

    • California has more immigrants than any other state.
      California is home to almost 11 million immigrants—about a quarter of the foreign-born population nationwide. In 2017, the most current year of data, 27% of California’s population was foreign born, more than double the percentage in the rest of the country. Foreign-born residents represented at least one-third of the population in five California counties: Santa Clara (39%), San Francisco (36%), San Mateo (35%), Los Angeles (34%), and Alameda (33%). 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.
      More than half (52%) of California’s immigrants are naturalized US citizens, and another 25% have some other legal status (including green cards and visas). According to the Center for Migration Studies, only about 23% of immigrants in California are undocumented. From 2010 to 2017, the number of undocumented immigrants in the state declined from 2.9 million to 2.4 million.
    • After decades of rapid growth, the number of immigrants has leveled off.
      In the 1990s, California’s immigrant population grew by 37% (2.4 million). But in the first decade of the 2000s, growth slowed to 15% (1.3 million), and in the past 10 years, the increase was only 6% (about 600,000). 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 (50%) or Asia (40%). California has sizable populations of immigrants from dozens of countries; the leading countries of origin are Mexico (4.1 million), China (969,000), the Philippines (857,000), Vietnam (524,000), and India (507,000). However, most (56%) of those arriving between 2010 and 2017 came from Asia; only 29% 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 of California’s immigrants speak English.
    Most immigrants in the state are bilingual. More than two-thirds (69%) report speaking English proficiently, while only 10% of immigrants speak no English. Even among recently arrived immigrants, those in the United States for five years or less, 67% report proficiency in English. At home, most immigrants speak a language other than English, with Spanish and Chinese (including Mandarin and Cantonese) being the most common.
  • California’s immigrants have both very low and very high levels of education.
    In 2017, foreign-born residents accounted for 71% of Californians age 25 and older 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 (48%) of foreign-born residents who have come to the state since 2010—and 58% of those who have come from Asia—have at least a bachelor’s degree. Overall, 34% of California’s immigrants have not completed high school, compared with 8% of US-born California residents. Twenty-nine percent of California’s foreign-born residents have attained at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 36% of US-born residents.
  • Californians have positive views of immigrants.
    Nearly three in four Californians (72%) believe immigrants are a benefit to the state because of their hard work and job skills, compared to only 23% who believe they are a burden. An even larger share (84%) believe there should be a way for undocumented immigrants to stay in the country legally, and a majority (58%) favor state and local governments making their own policies and taking actions, separate from the federal government, to protect the legal rights of undocumented immigrants in California.


Sources: American Community Survey and decennial census data from the US Census Bureau and IPUMS; Ruggles et al., 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); Baldassare et al., PPIC Statewide Survey: Californians and Their Government (PPIC, December 2018).

Related Content

Just the Facts: Immigrants and Education in California

Just the Facts: Immigrants and Health in California

Just the Facts: Immigrants and Political Engagement

Supported with funding from the James Irvine Foundation


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