The Impact of Immigration on the United States in the Twenty-First Century

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Chapter 7
The Impact of Immigration on the United States in the Twenty-First Century


The history professor Alan Kraut states in Michael Bowman's "From Colonial Times, Immigrants Have Changed, Invigorated the United States" (Voice of America, May 3, 2005):

Newcomers have contributed to the heterogeneity of American culture and the richness, the texture of American life. Whether we are talking about a young George Gershwin coming out of the teeming lower Eastside or modern day Latino musicians or young Asian playwrights, there is no question about it. Our culture has always fed upon newcomers, who have brought with them cultural traditions and added their traditions to ours. Today's immigrants, whether they are coming from Latin America or Southeast Asia, have a great deal in common with those who have come from Italy, Poland, Russia, Ireland, other countries in the past. They are coming for economic reasons and economic opportunities, or they are coming to escape oppressive political regimes. But they are certainly coming for very similar reasons.

Kraut compares the experiences of some Hispanic immigrants with poor Irish Catholics who arrived in large numbers in the mid-1800s. The Irish had to struggle for both an economic foothold and broader societal acceptance. Kraut concludes that "despite being a nation of immigrants and their offspring, established communities have not always been welcoming to new arrivals."

What Will the United States Look Like in Another Fifty Years?

Bowman notes that Fred Hollmann, a demographer for the U.S. Bureau of the Census, predicts a historic shift in the population:

The non-Hispanic white population is not going to continue to be a majority population, as it is now this group [will drop] below 50% sometime in the 2050s. The Hispanic population, we suspect, will become an increasingly large portion [of U.S. population], but at the same time the Hispanic population will be increasingly a native populationa smaller proportion of it will be recent immigrants, or even immigrants at all. The Asian population will continue to grow quite rapidly. It is still a relatively small proportion of the population, and yet, we see trends that are showing increases in migration from these areas.

American Views on Immigration

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press and the Pew Hispanic Center, in America's Immigration Quandary (March 30, 2006,, state, "The American public views today's immigrants with a mix of admiration and concern. Overall impressions of recent migrants to the U.S. from Latin American and Asian nations are generally positive, and nearly half of the public believes immigrants today are just as willing to assimilate as those of two centuries ago. Still, majorities express the view that new immigrants do not learn English fast enough and pluralities believe that most immigrants today are here illegally."

According to the Pew study, American attitudes toward Latin American immigrants improved dramatically between 1997 and 2006. Just 63% of survey respondents in 1997 believed immigrants from Latin America work very hard, and 55% said Latino immigrants often go on welfare. Responding to the same survey choices in a 2006 survey, 80% said Latinos work very hard, and 37% saw Latinos as frequent welfare users. Nationwide, 49% said they often came in contact with people who speak little or no English, a dramatic increase from 28% in a 1997 survey.

The Pew study finds that exposure to immigrants influenced American attitudes. Native-born Americans who lived in areas with few immigrants did not see immigration as a problem in their local communities. However, they were more likely to view immigrants as a burden to the nation and a threat to American customs. They also held more negative opinions of Hispanics. Sixty percent of respondents living in areas with low concentrations of foreign-born people saw immigrants as a threat and believed that immigrants from Latin America often go on welfare (43%) and increase crime (40%). (See Table 7.1.) By contrast, only 47% of respondents who lived in areas with high foreign-born populations saw immigrants as a threat. Just 29% believed Latin American immigrants were on welfare, and 30% believed they increased crime. Attitudes also changed over time. The Pew study finds that impressions of both Latin American and Asian immigrants have become significantly more favorable since the 1990s. Just 37% of total 2006 survey respondents thought Latin American immigrants ended up on welfare, compared with 60% in 1993. (See Table 7.2.) Images of Asian immigrants as increasing crime dropped from 43% in 1993 to 19% in 2006.

Public opinion on how attitudes toward immigration relate to experience with foreign-born people, 2006
Concentration of foreign-born in area*
*Percent foreign-born in respondent's zip code, based on national survey only. Analysis limited to those whose parents were U.S.-born.
Source: "Immigration: Where You Live And How You Feel," in America's Immigration Quandary, The Pew Research Center for the People & The Press, Pew Hispanic Center, March 30, 2006, (accessed January 19, 2007)
The growing number of newcomers to the US %%%
Threaten traditional American customs and values474660
Strengthen American society484833
Mixed/don't know567
Immigrants from Latin America
Have strong family values878076
Often go on welfare293443
Increase crime302640
Legal immigration should be decreased373952
Immigration problem in your community
Very big331910
Moderately big212118
Don't know234


Expanding Influence of Spanish Language

The Census Bureau reports in Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2007 (2006, that 49.6 million people living in the United States in 2004 spoke a language other than English at home. Spanish was predominant in 61% of these homes. (See Figure 7.1.) The next largest single language group was the 5% who spoke Chinese at home.

Public opinion about Latin and Asian immigrants, 1993, 1997, and 2006
199319972006Change 93-06
Source: "Impressions of Latin and Asian Immigrants Grow More Positive," in America's Immigration Quandary, The Pew Research Center for the People & The Press, Pew Hispanic Center, March 30, 2006, (accessed January 19, 2007)
Immigrants from Latin American countries%%%
Work very hard656380+15
Have strong family values727580+8
Keep to themselves45
Do very well in school4229411
Often end up on welfare60553723
Significantly increase crime62433329
Immigrants from Asian countries
Work very hard747782+8
Have strong family values777379+2
Do very well in school746975+1
Keep to themselves49
Significantly increase crime43281924
Often end up on welfare38271721

By 2006 a dramatic rise in Spanish-language marketing and bilingual services added to American concerns about assimilation of the growing Spanish-speaking population. In "Marketing en Español" (Denver Post, December 24, 2006,, Elizabeth Aguilera reports that the estimated $750 billion annual spending power of the Spanish-speaking population is "captivating corporate America." She estimates spending on Spanish-language marketing by the five hundred largest print and television advertisers in the United States had increased 42% since 2003. Using Wal-Mart as an example of businesses that cater to the Spanish-speaking population, Aguilera reports the national retailer had implemented signage in several languages to make stores user-friendly. It also added services such as low-cost payroll check cashing and money transfers that are particularly attractive to Spanish-speaking immigrant shoppers.

Radio, television, and print media sought to tap the Spanish-speaking market. Sandra Yin reports in "Look Who's Tuned InOverview of Spanish-Language Radio Broadcasting Market" (American Demographics, October 1, 2002) that in 2001 the 603 Spanish-language radio stations in the United States represented just 5.6% of all commercial stations. However, this represented an 82% increase in just ten years. In Hispanic Radio Today: How America Listens to Radio (2005,, Arbitron indicates that 750 of the more than 13,800 U.S. radio stations broadcast in Spanish.


According to Aguilera, critics contend that Spanish-focused advertising makes it easier for illegal immigrants to survive in the United States and weakens efforts to get legal immigrants to assimilate and learn English. U.S. Representative Tom Tancredo, a leading spokesperson for tougher immigration laws, believes that marketing in Spanish "is causing a problem. It makes it easier for people to be here without assimilating." Tan-credo accuses companies that do business in Spanish of accommodating the deficiencies of people who lack adequate English skills.

Barbara Schoetzau reports in "New US Immigrants Creating Different Assimilation Patterns" (Voice of America, May 2, 2005) that Anthony Orum, a specialist in immigration issues and trends at the University of Illinois, cites studies showing noticeable differences in recent patterns of assimilation. Most strikingly, unlike earlier groups, many recent immigrants have abandoned inner cites and resettled in suburban ethnic enclaves, where they are able to survive without learning English well.

Anxiety about the growing use of Spanish and bilingual services is evidenced by efforts in some states and cities to adopt English as the official language. In "English as Official Language Gains Support at Local Level" (USA Today, November 17, 2006), Oren Dorell notes that many states have designated English the official language for conducting business. One such law, Arizona's Proposition 103, passed by a three-to-one ratio in the 2006 elections. An Associated Press exit poll estimated 48% of Hispanic voters supported the measure. The Pew Hispanic Center, in the fact sheet "Hispanic Attitudes toward Learning English" (June 7, 2006,, finds that in 2006, 57% of His-panics believed "immigrants have to speak English to be a part of American society." Dorell notes that Lydia Guzman of the Phoenix Coalition for Latino Political Action opposes the new English-only law. Guzman believes that many Arizona Hispanics have lived in the United States for generations, do not speak Spanish, and thus do not appreciate the language struggles of new immigrants. Further expressing their frustration with illegal immigration, Arizona voters also passed a law mandating that all public school education be conducted in English; students not fluent in English are placed in intensive English programs for one year while continuing with other academic subjects.

Mary Kent and Robert Lalasz, in "In the News: Speaking English in the United States" (Population Reference Bureau, June 2006,, discuss the studies by the researchers Rubén G. Rumbaut and Alejandro Portes. Rumbaut and Portes argue that young immigrants (aged five to seventeen) adapt to English quickly because it is the dominant language of popular youth media from video to the Internet. When they studied second-generation (born in the United States) immigrant students in the Miami and San Diego school systems, they found that 99% spoke fluent English by age seventeen, and less than one-third remained fluent in the language of their parents.


The study Crossing the Divide: Immigrant Youth and Digital Disparity in California (Center for Justice, Tolerance, and Community, September 2006, by Robert W. Fairlie et al. raises concerns about the lack of access to computers in education and language acquisition of immigrant youth. Nationwide in 2003, 53.9% of immigrant children had access to a computer at home, compared with 75% of native-born children. (See Figure 7.2.) Asian immigrant youth were the exception; they had greater home access to computers, Internet, and high-speed Internet than any other group, including native-born Asian youth. Immigrant families from the Philippines had the greatest rate of home computer availability (82.6%), whereas families from India had the greatest rate of home Internet (77.3%) and high-speed Internet access (42.4%). (See Table 7.3.) Families from Mexico, by far the largest immigrant population group, fell among the lowest three groups for home computer availability (33.5%) and Internet access (23%). Fairlie and his collaborators note that Spanish-speaking households are least likely to have home computers and Internet access. According to the authors of Crossing the Divide, other research finds high school graduation rates are six to eight percentage points higher for students with home computer access. Researchers speculate that students with home computers have less idle time to become involved in disruptive or dangerous behaviors.

Home technology access rates for 20 largest immigrant groups, 2003
Country of originPercent with home computerPercent with home InternetPercent with high-speed InternetPopulation in U.S.
Source: Robert W. Fairlie, Rebecca A. London, Rachel Rosner, and Manuel Pastor, "Exhibit 3.8. Home Technology Access Rates for 20 Largest Immigrant Groups in the United States," in Crossing the Divide: Immigrant Youth and Digital Disparity in California, Center for Justice, Tolerance, and Community, Community Technology Foundation of California, September 2006, (accessed January 26, 2007)
Dominican Republic51.1%42.4%17.7%695,399
El Salvador50.6%33.2%11.7%947,793


The U.S. Library of Congress (LOC), in Immigration: Mexican (April 20, 2005,, notes that Mexican-Americans now live in all regions of the country and can be found in most professions and trades. The greatest impact of Mexican immigration may be its contribution to the growing Latin American influence on the everyday life of all Americans. The nation's clothing, music, architecture, literature, and food have all been influenced by growing Latin and Mexican-American populations. According to the LOC, American English has been most profoundly affected by the influx of Spanish-speaking immigrants from Mexico and other nations. More people in the United States speak Spanish than ever before, and many find it a great advantage to speak more than one language. Mexican immigrants and their descendants now make up a significant portion of the U.S. population and have become an influential social and cultural group in the United States.

Immigration Energizes the Catholic Church

In "Nuevo Catholics" (New York Times Magazine, December 24, 2006), David Rieff describes Sunday Mass at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in downtown Los Angeleseight packed services, seven in Spanish. The Hispanic influence on this Californian church might be expected because the state has a long history of immigration from Latin America and has the largest immigrant population of any U.S. state. However, Rieff suggests that Hispanic immigrants are leading a nationwide resurgence of the Catholic Church. In Smyrna, Georgia, where Hispanic immigration was a recent phenomenon, one Catholic church offered three out of seven Sunday masses in Spanish.

Rieff states, "Today, more than 40 percent of the Hispanics residing in the United States, legally and illegally, are foreign-born, and the fate of the American Catholic Church has become inextricably intertwined with the fate of these immigrants and their descendants." He cites statistics on the decline of the American church in the latter half of the twentieth century. Between 1958 and 2000 attendance at Mass fell from 74% of self-identified Catholics to 25%. By 2002 just 786 Catholic high schools remained from a national peak of 1,556 in 1965. During the same period the number of seminarians preparing for the priesthood fell from 49,000 to 4,700.

In 2002 an estimated twenty-five million Hispanics represented 39% of the Catholic population in the United States and, since 1960, they accounted for 71% of new Catholics in the nation. Rieff notes that new priests appointed in the archdiocese of Los Angeles are required to have adequate bilingual skills to say Mass and take confessions in Spanish or in another language of local immigrant populations. Tagalog and Vietnamese are in particular demand in the central Los Angeles area.

Rieff indicates that Mass has become less formal, reflecting the intimate, family-oriented style of the Latin American church. Monsignor David O'Connell of another Los Angeles Catholic church tells Rieff, "For many immigrants, the church is the mediating institution they trust the most, in which they feel they already have a foothold and are treated with respect." Priests, O'Connell explains, spend much of their time acting as go-betweens for the immigrant community, including illegal aliens, and local authorities.


In 1992 the New York City Department of City Planning prepared a detailed analysis of the city's immigration patterns during the 1980s. The information proved so valuable that the Planning Department continued to study the city's immigration patterns and publish periodic reports. The fourth such study, The Newest New Yorkers, 2000: Immigrant New York in the New Millennium (, was released in October 2004.

The report notes that after 1950 most U.S. cities in the Northeast and Midwest experienced population declines. The thriving postwar economy made houses affordable; subsequently, many families moved to new homes in the suburbs. New shopping and business centers followed, resulting in economic changes and job losses for established urban areas. Even though New York experienced similar suburban flight, a steady influx of immigrants replenished the city's population. In 2000 New York City's population totaled approximately 8 million, of which 2.9 million were foreign-born residents, the greatest number of immigrants in the city's history.

Foreign-Born in the New York City Workforce

Given that the foreign born accounted for 43% of all workers in New York City in 2000, according to The Newest New Yorkers, immigrants were a vital part of the city's labor force. They represented 64% of manufacturing workers and 58% of construction workers. More than one-third of foreign-born workers in manufacturing were employed in textile and apparel-producing industries. Immigrants represented more than half (54%) of all workers in accommodation, food, and other services23,800 were employed in private households. The city's hospitals, home healthcare businesses, nursing facilities, schools, colleges, and universities employed 311,300 foreign-born workers.

A number of entrepreneurial foreign-born residents established their own businesses. Many imported and sold goods from their home countries to other immigrants and tourists. Ethnic restaurants have long been an attraction of the city's neighborhoods, and each new wave of immigrants added different scents and flavors that attracted city dwellers and visitors alike.

New York City's Population

The Newest New Yorkers concludes that "the post-1965 flow of immigrants to New York mitigated catastrophic population losses in the 1970s, stabilized the city's population in the 1980s, helped the city reach a new population peak in 2000, and continues to play a crucial role in the city's population growth."


Venture Capital-Financed Immigrant Entrepreneurs

According to Stuart Anderson and Michaela Platzer in American Made: The Impact of Immigrant Entrepreneurs and Professionals on U.S. Competitiveness (November 15, 2006,, immigrant entrepreneurs and foreign-born professionals, scientists, and engineers have made significant contributions to the U.S. economy. Between 1990 and 2005 immigrants founded 25% of all venture-capital-financed businesses that went public. (See Table 7.4.) In 2005 these companies, founded by immigrants and publicly traded on the U.S. stock exchanges, employed an estimated 220,000 people in the United States and generated more than $130 billion in revenues.

Percentage of immigrant-founded, venture-backed public companies, by year established, selected years 19802005
Year foundedImmigrant-foundedNative-foundedTotalImmigrant-founded percent of all U.S. venture-backed public companies
Source: Stuart Anderson and Michaela Platzer, "Percentage of Immigrant-Founded Venture-Backed Public Companies by Year Established," in American Made: The Impact of Immigrant Entrepreneurs and Professionals on U.S. Competitiveness, National Venture Capital Association, November 15, 2006, (accessed December 7, 2006). Data from Thomson Financial.
Prior to 198081151237%

Venture capitalists finance start-up businesses that demonstrate strong potential for rapid and profitable growth. Venture capitalists expect to wait for return on their investment, unlike other lenders that require regular principal and interest payments. With part ownership in a business, the venture capitalist encourages putting profits back into growth of the business and expects a huge return on investment when the company goes public. Private companies choose to become public companies by selling company stock to the general public. The company enters the public arena with an initial public offering of stock.


Anderson and Platzer note that immigrant-founded companies go public more quickly6.8 years is the average time from founding to initial public offering date, compared with 9.3 years for companies with U.S.-born founders. Furthermore, in 2005 the majority of immigrant-founded public companies were in high-tech manufacturing (42%), information technology (24%), and life sciences (21%) industries. (See Table 7.5.) Together, the 144 immigrant-founded public companies identified by Anderson and Platzer employed more than 400,000 people worldwide.

India was the leading source country for immigrant entrepreneurs who founded these companies22% from India, 12% from Israel, and 11% from Taiwan. Other company founders came from Canada, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, China, Iran, and two dozen additional countries.

Immigrant-founded, venture-backed public companies, by industry, 2005
IndustryNumber of companiesEmploymentPercent of immigrant-founded firms by industry
*Life sciences includes research and production of medical equipment and pharmaceuticals and medical services delivery.
Note: Employment reflects 2005 worldwide total.
Source: Stuart Anderson and Michaela Platzer, "Immigrant-Founded Venture-Backed U.S. Public Companies by Industry," in American Made: The Impact of Immigrant Entrepreneurs and Professionals on U.S. Competitiveness, National Venture Capital Association, November 15, 2006, (accessed December 7, 2006). Data from Hoover's.
High-tech manufacturing60282,44242%
Information technology3448,79424%
Life sciences*3018,66021%
Professional, scientific, and technical services617,3174%
Other services514,9193%
Other manufacturing513,1773%
Finance and insurance28,8721%


Anderson and Platzer also examine venture-backed private companies. Information about public companies is found in public records, but private companies are not required to publish financial information; Anderson and Platzer note that private company data used in their report is limited to the 342 companies that responded to their survey. This was only a small percentage of the more than 5,400 venture-backed private firms in the United States as of January 1, 2006, as reported by Ernst & Young in Ernst & Young/Dow Jones VentureOne Annual Venture Insight Study (March 28, 2006,


Though small, the sample of private venture-backed companies responding to Anderson and Platzer provides some insight into immigrant entrepreneurs. Of responding businesses, 47% were started by immigrants. Forty-six percent of the immigrant founders came to the United States as students, and half of these students started their companies within twelve years of entering the United States. Sixty-nine percent of the founders became U.S. citizens. These start-up companies had an average of 123 employees. Forty percent reported annual revenues less than $1 million, and 4% had annual revenues exceeding $100 million.

Public or private, California was home to the majority (62%) of headquarters for immigrant-founded venture-backed businesses in 2005. (See Figure 7.3.) This is due in part to the concentration of high-tech firms in the Silicon Valley.

Immigrant WomenFastest Growing Group of Business Owners

According to Susan C. Pearce, in "Today's Immigrant Woman Entrepreneur" (Immigration Policy in Focus, January 2005,, immigrant women comprised one of the fastest growing groups of business owners in the United States. Immigrant women were more likely than nonimmigrant women to own their own business. Pearce cites the 2000 census, which reveals that 8.3% of all employed immigrant women were business owners, compared with 6.2% of employed native-born women. Between 1990 and 2000 the number of immigrant women business owners increased nearly 190%. According to Pearce, "Immigrant women entrepreneurs represent a potential source of continued new business growth that brings a broad range of international skills to the work force."


Allan E. Goodman, the president and chief executive officer of the Institute of International Education, addressed the cultural and economic benefits of welcoming foreign students to U.S. college campuses in a statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on October 6, 2004 (

Educational exchange programs are the best investment that America can make in reducing misunderstanding of our culture, our people and our policies. An educational experience in America pays dividends to our nation's public diplomacy over many years. Foreign students come into the classroom with a very different worldview from American students. Raised in a different culture with a different history, they enrich the classroom discussion and share their global perspectives with American classmates, many of whom may never have the opportunity to study or travel abroad. For the vast majority [of U.S. students] who will never study abroad, academic dialog with foreign students on U.S. campuses may well be their only training opportunity before entering careers which will almost certainly be global, whether in business, government, academia, or the not-for-profit sector.

Foreign Student Enrollment

Enrollments by international students at U.S. colleges and universities increased steadily between the 195960 academic year, when 48,486 foreign students attended U.S. academic institutions, and 2002, when 586,323 foreign students were enrolled. By 2006 the number had declined by 21,557 students, although total enrollments in U.S. colleges and universities had increased by about 1.7 million U.S. students. In the press release "New Enrollment of Foreign Students in the U.S. Climbs in 2005/06" (November 13, 2006,, Goodman reports an 8% increase in new international students enrolling for the first time in the fall semester of 2005. He notes, "America's colleges and universities have begun to see positive results from their proactive efforts to recruit international students and make them feel welcome on campus. With several thousand campuses able to host international students (ten times as many as any of the other leading host countries), the U.S. has a huge untapped capacity to meet the growing worldwide demand for higher education."

According to the Institute of International Education in Open Doors 2006 (November 13, 2006,, the top school of choice for international students in 200506 was the University of Southern California, with 6,881 foreign students enrolled. Columbia, Purdue, and New York universities and the University of Texas at Austin each enrolled more than 5,000 foreign students. Schools in California (75,385 students) and New York (64,283) attracted nearly 25% of the total 564,766 foreign students counted in the survey. Whereas some states saw significant increases in international students, such as Indiana (6.4%) and North Carolina (5.3%), other states saw foreign student enrollments decline, such as in Virginia (6.4%) and Maryland (4.1%). (See Table 7.6.) India was the leading country of origin for international students in both the 200405 and 200506 academic years, even though the number of students from India dropped nearly 5% in 200506.

States with the most international students, 200405 and 200506 academic years
RankState200405200506% Change
Source: "States with the Most International Students, 2004/05 & 2005/06," in Open Doors 2006 Fast Facts, Institute of International Education (IIE), 2006, (accessed January 27, 2007)
 2New York61,94464,2833.8
12New Jersey12,57112,7791.7
18North Carolina9,0299,5075.3

The top fields of study for international students in 200506 were business and management (17.9%) and engineering (15.7%). (See Table 7.7.) Enrollment in optional practical traininginternships related to the major field of studywas a new trend for international students, increasing 46.1% from the 200405 academic year to 200506. In his statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Goodman noted that foreign students have become an important source of graduate-level teaching and research assistants in U.S. universities, particularly in science and engineering fields, because not enough U.S. students apply to fill the available positions.

Fields of study for international students, 200405 and 200506 academic years
Field of study200405 int'l students200506 int'l students200506 % of total% change
*"Other" mainly includes liberal/general studies, communications & journalism, multi/interdisciplinary studies, and law.
Source: "Fields of Study of International Students, 2004/05 & 2005/06," in Open Doors 2006 Fast Facts, Institute of International Education (IIE), 2006, (accessed January 27, 2007)
Business & management100,079100,88117.90.8
Physical & life sciences49,49950,1688.91.4
Social sciences46,08546,1328.20.1
Mathematics & computer sciences50,74745,5188.110.3
Optional practical training28,43241,5357.446.1
Fine & applied arts28,06329,5095.25.2
Health professions26,30127,1244.83.1
Intensive English language16,13317,2393.16.9

Foreign Students Contribute to the U.S. Economy

"Educational exchange [is] one of the leading American service export industries, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce," Goodman told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Open Doors 2006 survey notes that for the 200506 academic year, the 564,766 foreign students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities contributed nearly $13.5 billion to the U.S. economy. A majority of international students (63.4%) reported that they and/or their families provided primary funding for their 200506 educational expenses. (See Table 7.8.) U.S. colleges and universities were the other major source of funds for 25.9% of foreign students through scholarships, grants, loans, and assistantships.

In calculating foreign student contributions to the U.S. economy, any U.S. financial aid was subtracted from the total tuition and living expenses paid by the students. Expenses for students' dependents were added. Just 11.3% of international students were married, and most of these students (85%) brought their families with them to the United States. (See Table 7.9.) An estimated 63,786 spouses and 38,224 children accompanied these enrolled foreign students. Living expenses paid by students for these family members were estimated at $432 million annually. California and New York, the states with the greatest number of foreign students, received the greatest economic benefits from international students$2.1 billion and $1.8 billion, respectively.

Primary source of funding for international students, 200506 academic year
Primary source of funds200506 int'l students200506 % of total
Source: "Primary Source of Funding of International Students, 2005/06," in Open Doors 2006 Fast Facts, Institute of International Education (IIE), 2006, (accessed January 27, 2007)
Personal & family358,31863.4
U.S. college or university146,21125.9
Home government/university14,4762.6
U.S. government2,5010.4
U.S. private sponsor8,3671.5
Foreign private sponsor8,6611.5
International organization1,3260.2
Current employment21,7453.9
Other sources3,1610.6

Foreign Student Visas Tracked by SEVIS

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency uses the Student and Exchange Visitors Program (SEVIS) to monitor foreign students who have been issued visas to attend U.S. schools. SEVIS (March 31, 2006, reports that in 2006 a total of 611,581 foreign students were in the United States. Even though most discussion of foreign students focuses on colleges and universities, SEVIS notes 3.8% of foreign students attended primary and secondary schools. Another 9.9% chose language schools, and 4.6% attended vocational schools.

Economic impact of international students in U.S., 200506 academic year
Source: Adapted from "Economic Impact of International Students," in Open Doors 2006, Institute of International Education (IIE), 2006, (accessed January 27, 2007)
    Total number of foreign students:564,766
Part 1: Net contribution to U.S. economy by foreign students (200506)
Contribution from tuition and fees to U.S. economy:$9,444,000,000
Contribution from living expenses:$10,079,000,000
Total contribution by foreign students:$19,522,000,000
Less U.S. support of 33.1%$6,463,000,000
Plus dependents' living expenses:+$432,000,000
Net contribution to U.S. economy by foreign students and their families:$13,491,000,000
Part 2: Contribution to U.S. economy by foreign students' dependents (200506)
Spouses' contributionChildren's contribution
Percent of married students:11.3%Number of couples in the U.S.:63,786
Percent of spouses in the U.S.:85.0%Number of children per couple:0.6
Number of spouses in the U.S.:63,786Number of children in the U.S.:38,224
Additional expenses for a spouse: (% of student living expenses)25.0%Additional expenses for a child: (% of student living expenses)20.0%
Spouses' contribution:$292,000,000Children's contribution:$140,000,000
Net contribution to U.S. economy by foreign students' dependents:$432,000,000

The numbers of students reported by SEVIS differ from those reported in the Open Doors survey for several reasons. SEVIS tallies visas issued to people reporting active student status on March 31, 2006; numbers in Open Doors are based on survey data reported by about one thousand participating colleges and universities for the 200506 academic year. SEVIS reports foreign students at all grade levels; Open Doors focuses only on college-and university-level foreign students. Even though SEVIS reports people in two student visa categories (F-Academic and M-Vocational), colleges and universities include students holding J-Exchange Visitor visas and other visa categories. For example, a person with a work visa might enroll for part-time education. This person would be counted by Open Doors but not by SEVIS. SEVIS reports that in 2006, 40.9% of international students were in graduate-level programs. Schools reporting to Open Doors counted 46% of international students in graduate-level programs. (See Table 7.10.) These different per-cents are due to the reporting times and the 5.4% of graduate students on J visas in the Open Doors survey.

Sources of Foreign Students

According to SEVIS, the majority (58%) of 2006 foreign students came from Asia. (See Figure 7.4.) Students from North America (7%) and South America (9%), including Central America and the Caribbean, accounted for just 16% of all foreign students. South Korean students brought the greatest number of dependents34,380. (See Table 7.11.) Students from Pakistan, Russia, Israel, and Egypt also brought high numbers of dependents per student.

TABLE 7.10
International college students in U.S. by academic level and visa type, 200506 academic year
Source: Adapted from "Personal & Academic Characteristics of International Students by Academic Level, 2005/06," in Open Doors 2006, Institute of International Education (IIE), 2006, (accessed January 27, 2007)
    Total international students236,342259,71768,707564,766
Percent of all students41.8%46.0%12.2%
Percent of level by type of visa:
F: Academic85.5%88.0%85.0%86.6%
J: Exchange visitor3.2%5.4%10.8%5.1%
M: Vocational0.0%0.0%0.2%0.0%


Burden or Blessing?

In A Portrait of "Generation Next" (January 9, 2007,, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press finds the American public evenly divided on the impact of immigration: 41% of total respondents see immigrants as a blessing for their hard work and talents, and another 41% consider immigrants a burden because they take jobs, housing, and health care benefits from citizens.

TABLE 7.11
Top 20 countries of citizenship for foreign students in the U.S., 2006
RankCountryActive student rankDependents
*Not in top 20 countries of citizenship of active students.
Source: "Top 20 Countries of Citizenship by Number of Student Dependents," in SEVIS by the Numbers, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, March 31, 2006, (accessed December 14, 2006)
 1South Korea134,380
 8Saudi Arabia182,201

In comparing attitudes toward immigration over a five-year period, researchers in the Pew study America's Immigration Quandary find that the public remains divided on views of the overall effect of immigration. In September 2000, 50% of respondents said, "Immigrants today strengthen the U.S. with their hard work and talents." (See Table 7.12.) In March 2006, 52% of respondents said, "Immigrants today are a burden because they take jobs [and] housing." Perhaps the key change in five years is that fewer people were undecided. In 2000, 12% of respondents could not choose between immigrants as a burden or blessing (responded "don't know"). By 2006, only 7% were undecided.


According to Portrait of "Generation Next," views on immigration differ by age groups. Even though the report was designed as a profile of the eighteen- to twenty-five-year-old group, responses to survey questions were compared by four age groups: Generation Next (born between 1981 and 1988), Generation X (196680), baby boomers (194664), and seniors (born before 1946).

TABLE 7.12
Public opinion about immigration concerns, 2000, 2005, and 2006
Sept 2000Dec 2005Mar 2006
Source: "Increasing Immigration Worries," in America's Immigration Quandary, The Pew Research Center for the People & The Press, The Pew Hispanic Center, March 30, 2006, (accessed January 19, 2007)
Immigrants todaya%%%
Are a burden because they take jobs, housing384452
Strengthen the US with their hard work & talents504541
Don't know12117
TABLE 7.13
Public opinion on immigrants, 2004 and 2007
a2006 gen next survey.
bPew 2004 typology survey.
Source: "Gen Next and Immigration," in A Portrait of "Generation Next," The Pew Research Center for the People & The Press, January 9, 2007, (accessed January 19, 2007)
Immigrants todaya
Strengthen the country with their hard work and talents52394430
Are a burden because they take jobs, housing, health care38334350
Neither/both equally6241015
Don't know4435
Growing number of immigrantsb
Strengthens American society67574738
Threatens our customs and values30354445
Neither/both equally1334
Don't know25613

Among Generation Next, 52% counted immigrants as a blessing, compared with just 30% of seniors (over age sixty-one). (See Table 7.13.) When considering the impact of the surging numbers of new immigrants, 67% of Generation Next thought immigrants strengthened American society, whereas 45% of seniors regarded immigrants as a threat to American customs and values.


In America's Immigration Quandary, Pew researchers find no consensus on the level of immigration problems or solutions. The study of Americans' attitudes toward immigration was based on a nationwide random survey of two thousand adults plus surveys of eight hundred people conducted in each of five metropolitan statistical areas: Phoenix, Arizona; Las Vegas, Nevada; Chicago; Raleigh-Durham, South Carolina; and Washington, D.C. The five metropolitan areas surveyed were chosen for their different histories of immigration combined with significant recent growth in foreign-born population. Chicago has a long history of immigration. Phoenix is a principal gateway for illegal immigrants from the southwestern border. Las Vegas has experienced significant growth and an influx of Hispanic population. Raleigh-Durham is a site of new Hispanic concentrations in areas of the South that previously had not experienced major immigration growth. Washington, D.C., is an economically thriving area with a majority African-American population.


Survey respondents were asked to identify the most important problems facing their local communities. Immigration topped the list only in Phoenix. (See Table 7.14.) However, it ranked among the top four issuesalong with traffic congestion, employment availability, and crimein all five metropolitan areas and in nationwide responses. When asked about problems facing the nation, immigration fell in line behind health care, terrorism, crime, and corrupt politicians. According to the Pew report, immigration was of greatest concern to senior citizens, those with a high school education or less, and white evangelical Protestants.

The public was divided in a variety of ways when asked to choose whether immigrants were a burden because they take jobs, housing, and health care, or strengthen the country with their hard work and talents. Figure 7.5 reveals that even though 52% of all respondents said immigrants were a burden, 64% of Hispanics, 53% of eighteen- to twenty-nine-year-olds, 56% of college graduates, 48% of people with excellent to good finances, and 50% of people living in the West saw immigrants as strengthening the nation.

Most people overestimated the size of the foreign-born population and the relative sizes of the legal and illegal immigrant populations. When asked whether most immigrants were in the United States legally or illegally, 44% said there were more illegals and another 8% thought the numbers were nearly equal. (See Table 7.15.) Respondents in Phoenix estimated 60% of the immigrant population to be illegal. According to Jeffrey S. Passel in Size and Characteristics of the Unauthorized Migrant Population in the U.S. (March 7, 2006,, in 2005, 30% of the foreign-born population was unauthorized.


The majority (65%) of respondents in the Pew survey said immigrants took jobs Americans did not want, compared with 24% who said immigrants took jobs away from Americans. (See Table 7.16.) About 16% of the people surveyed believed they or a family member had either lost a job or not obtained a job because the employer hired an immigrant instead.

TABLE 7.14
Public opinion on how immigration ranks as a local and national problem, 2006
[Percent rating each a "very big problem" for their community]
Source: "How Immigration Ranks as a Local Problem," and "Rating National Problems," in America's Immigration Quandary, The Pew Research Center for the People & The Press, Pew Hispanic Center, March 30, 2006, (accessed January 19, 2007)
NationwidePhoenixLas Vegas
33 Jobs availability55 Immigration53 Traffic congestion
26 Traffic congestion49 Traffic congestion36 Immigration
21 Immigration42 Pollution34 Education
20 Crime27 Crime33 Crime
20 Public education25 Education23 Pollution
15 Pollution21 Jobs availability16 Jobs availability
Raleigh-DurhamWashington DCChicago
29 Traffic congestion60 Traffic congestion27 Jobs availability
26 Immigration21 Immigration27 Traffic congestion
22 Jobs availability20 Crime20 Crime
18 Crime18 Education19 Immigration
17 Education16 Jobs availability19 Education
11 Pollution15 Pollution18 Pollution
[Percent rating each a "very big problem" for the country based on national survey]
Health care system55
Corrupt politicians46
Environmental pollution39
Availability of jobs37


According to a majority (62%) of national respondents, immigrants did not have much impact on the quality of local government services. (See Table 7.17.) However, a significant share of respondents in Phoenix (41%), Raleigh-Durham (36%), and Las Vegas (34%) thought local services were worse because of immigrants. More than half of all respondents, except those in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, believed that immigrants did not pay their fare share of taxes. Additionally, 67% of respondents said illegal immigrants should not be eligible for local or state social services. However, a majority (71%) did favor educating children of illegal immigrants in public schools.

Use of social services by U.S.-born children of immigrants is a major cost concern. According to the U.S. Constitution, anyone born in the United States is automatically a U.S. citizen regardless of the parents' immigration status. A substantial minority (42%) of respondents in the 2006 Pew survey wanted to change the Constitution to require parents to be legal U.S. residents for a newborn child to be a citizen.


In 2006, 53% of Americans surveyed thought illegal immigrants should be required to go home, according to Pew researchers in America's Immigration Quandary, whereas 40% favored allowing them to stay. Half (49%) of national respondents saw penalizing employers who hire illegal immigrants as the best way to reduce illegal immigration. (See Table 7.18.) Just 9% thought building border fences was a solution. Responses varied slightly by where people lived as seen in the separate surveys of the five metropolitan areas. Among survey respondents in Chicago, 43% favored penalizing employers, and 36% viewed increased border patrol as the best deterrent to illegal immigration.

TABLE 7.15
Public opinion on whether most immigrants are here legally or illegally, 2006
LegallyIllegallyThink no. is equalDon't know
Source: "Are Most Immigrants Here Legally or Illegally?" in America's Immigration Quandary, The Pew Research Center for the People & The Press, Pew Hispanic Center, March 30, 2006, (accessed January 19, 2007)
National394489 = 100
Phoenix266086 = 100
Las Vegas2754712 = 100
Chicago3942910 = 100
Raleigh-Durham345169 = 100
Washington DC4340611 = 100
TABLE 7.16
Public opinion about immigrants taking jobs Americans don't want or taking jobs away from Americans, 2006
Source: "Immigrants' Impact on Jobs," in America's Immigration Quandary, The Pew Research Center for the People & The Press, Pew Hispanic Center, March 30, 2006, (accessed January 19, 2007)
Immigrants take jobs %
That Americans don't want65
Away from American citizens24
Both/don't know11
Self or family member lost job to immigrant worker?
Don't know3
TABLE 7.17
Public opinion about immigrants' impact on local government services and taxes, 2006
NationalPhoenixLas VegasChicagoRaleigh DurhamWashington DC
Source: "Immigrants, Local Services and Taxes," in America's Immigration Quandary, The Pew Research Center for the People & The Press, Pew Hispanic Center, March 30, 2006, (accessed January 19, 2007)
Effect of immigrants on local services%%%%%%
No difference/none624352655255
Don't know566659
Do most recent immigrants pay their fair share of taxes?
Don't know1110118913

The 2006 Pew report identifies proposals for a temporary guest worker program as the immigration issue that most divides the nation. Opinion was almost evenly divided among those who favored allowing some illegal immigrants to remain in the United States under a guest worker program (32%), those who said illegal immigrants already in the country should be allowed to stay permanently (32%), and those who said illegal immigrants should be sent home (27%).

Two-thirds (66%) said they would support creation of a government database of everyone eligible to workboth citizens and legal immigrantsand requiring all employers to verify eligibility before hiring someone for any kind of work. Three-quarters (76%) would support a national identity card for everyone who worked. Support for these two measures was strong across all demographic groups, including recent immigrants and Hispanics.

Competing with the World for Workers

In The State of American Business 2007 (2007,, Thomas J. Donahue of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports that 30% of U.S. high school students do not graduate, and 40% of students enrolling in college have to take remedial courses. He estimates the nation's economy generated nearly 3 million new jobs in 2006 and about 6.3 million since the end of 2003. He projects 2007 job gains to average about 130,000 per month. Using engineers as an example of the types of skilled workers needed by U.S. companies, Donahue estimates the United States is producing 140,000 graduates per year in engineering, compared with 350,000 in Asia. Donahue warns that unless such workforce issues as education and immigration restrictions are addressed promptly, companies will be left with only one choice: taking their business outside the United States. To stay competitive in a global economy, Donahue states that U.S. companies need a ready supply of skilled workers and higher educational standards.

TABLE 7.18
Public opinion on the best way to reduce illegal immigration from Mexico, 2006
NationalPhoenixLas VegasChicagoRaleigh DurhamWashington DC
Source: "Best Way to Reduce Illegal Immigration from Mexico," in America's Immigration Quandary, The Pew Research Center for the People & The Press, Pew Hispanic Center, March 30, 2006, (accessed January 19, 2007)
Penalize employers494546435250
Increase border patrol333231363130
Build more fences91010977
Don't know91313121013


In "The Public's View of Immigration: A Comprehensive Survey and Analysis" (November 2006,, the Center for Immigration Studies indicates that in October 2006 eight out of ten people believed amnesty would only encourage more illegals to cross U.S. borders. Sixty-eight percent of respondents believed the number of immigrants in the United States is too high, regardless of legal status. The majority (73%) said the government has done too little enforcement, and seven out of ten believed that increased enforcement is preferable to legalizing current illegal residents. Forty-five percent strongly held the opinion that employers are bypassing Americans to fill low-wage jobs with immigrants who will work for even lower wages. By a margin of more than two to one (62% to 29%), respondents rejected news media coverage about immigrants as mostly "human-interest fluff that largely ignores or omits information about the downside of a steady stream of people entering this country illegally." Immigration's additional burden on taxpayers for items such as health care and schools was the greatest concern of survey respondents. (See Table 7.19.)

TABLE 7.19
Public opinion on issues related to immigration that are of the biggest concern, October 2006
Source: Adapted from The Public's View of Immigration: A Comprehensive Survey and Analysis, Center for Immigration Studies, November 2006, (accessed December 20, 2006)
27%Burden on taxpayers, such as health care and schools
14%Immigrants' failure to assimilate or become part of American culture
13%Compromised national security
10%Loss of American jobs to immigrants
7%Increased crime and drug activity
5%Overcrowding of U.S. cities and towns
11%All of the above
7%None of the above

The Pew report Portrait of "Generation Next" notes that in exit polls from the November 2006 midterm elections, voters were asked whether illegal immigrants in the United States should be given a chance to apply for legal status or be deported. A clear majority (70%) of eighteen- to twenty-five-year-olds favored an option for legalization, whereas less than 60% of voters over age thirty said illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay.

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The Impact of Immigration on the United States in the Twenty-First Century

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The Impact of Immigration on the United States in the Twenty-First Century