You think you know where US immigrants come from? But actually, you don't

Everybody knows who’s immigrating into the United States. Or thinks they do.

Turns out, we’re all wrong about the nationalities and the characteristics of those born elsewhere in the world and moving into the United States for a variety of  reasons including family and opportunities.

They’re from Latin America, surely? Poor, uneducated? Uh, not really.

Then Europe? Nope.

Oh, then, they’re from the Middle East fleeing the wars, turmoil and religious strife? Buzzer. Wrong again.

A new study of foreign-born United States residents since 2010 finds that today they are the most numerous here in more than a century. The largest number  among them is not poor, not uneducated. And they’re from Asia.

William Frey, who studied new Census Bureau data for the Brookings Institution, said:

This is quite different from what we thought. We think of immigrants as being low-skilled workers from Latin America. But for recent arrivals that’s much less the case. People from Asia have overtaken people from Latin America.

Frey’s analysis of the 2017 numbers found that of those arriving in the last eight years, 41 percent said they came from Asia, while Latin America, once the overwhelming source of immigrants, produced only 39 percent.

And it turns out, contrary to conventional wisdom, the new wave of immigrants is much better-educated than previous ones. About 45 percent now have college degrees, which is about half again larger than the 30 percent in the previous nine years.

This augurs better than often understood for providing the vast volume of skilled workers needed to keep the U.S. economy growing. But because it’s counter-intuitive, it’s unlikely to figure in the midterm election campaigns now underway.

Currently, the foreign-born U.S. population is around 44.5 million, or about 13.7 percent of the 325.7 million. That’s up slightly from 13.5 percent in 2016.

The last peak of foreign-born population came about a century ago, especially Italians, Germans and Poles fleeing strife and poverty. At that point, the foreign-born population was 15 percent of the U.S. total.

Rigid racial quotas in the 1920’s staunched that flow until immigration laws were liberalized in 1965. That lead to Mexico becoming the largest contributor of immigrants.

However, Frey’s analysis found that in the last eight years, the increase in the number of Asian immigrants (2.6 million) was more than twice the 1.2 million originating from Mexico.

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