June 7th, 2012
05:16 PM ET

How much do you know about U.S. immigrants?

Fareed Zakaria looks at how the immigration systems work – and don't work – in Japan, Europe, Canada and the U.S. in the TV special: "Global Lessons: The GPS Roadmap for Making Immigration Work" on CNN at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday, June 10. Watch on CNN International on Saturday, June 16, at 4 a.m. and 9 p.m. ET

By John Cookson, CNN

While the U.S. has historically and famously been a nation of immigrants, few know the details of how the U.S. brings in foreigners now.

How many become citizens each year? Where do they live in the U.S.? Which country or origin leads for new American citizens?

Here is what you need to know.

How many foreigners become American citizens each year?
In the last decade, an average of 700,000 people a year became naturalized citizens of the United States. That’s roughly one each year for every 500 U.S residents, or one every 79 seconds.

In the 1990s, the annual average was 500,000, and in the 1980s it was 200,000. These may sound like large numbers, yet as share of the total population, this is a change from 0.1% of the population becoming naturalized citizens each year in the 1980s to 0.2% now.

Where are they from originally?
In recent years, the most new American citizens were from Mexico, followed by India, the Philippines and China. Since 1976, Asia has been the leading region of origin (before that it was Europe).

Where do they live in the U.S.?
Nearly half of new citizens now live in just three states: California, Florida and New York. In recent years, 15% have lived in the greater New York City metropolitan area, 10% in greater Los Angeles and 8% in and around Miami.

What other foreign-born people live in the U.S.?
Naturalized citizens are only a fraction of the overall foreign-born U.S. population, which is 13% of the total population. In this feature, the U.S. is no longer exceptional. Both Australia and Canada have higher foreign-born populations than the U.S., as a percentage of their total residents, and France, Germany and the UK are just below the U.S.

About 1 million people become legal permanent residents, or "green card" holders, each year in the U.S. Many others hold temporary work visas, given to a range of professionals from scientists and students to farm laborers and fashion models. There are also an estimated 11.5 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., around 60% of which are from Mexico.

Do all foreigners with visas become citizens?
No. About 8 million green card holders are eligible to naturalize right now, having lived in the country continuously for at least 5 years, yet have not become citizens. Bureaucratic red tape and taxing inefficiencies have persuaded many with permanent resident visas not to seek full citizenship. For example, a 2003 survey supported by the National Institutes of Health found that a sixth of new legal immigrants - those who succeed in getting visas - surveyed said they became depressed during the process. Avoiding a similar situation in going from visa to naturalization can be a powerful deterrent to becoming a U.S. citizen.

soundoff (88 Responses)
  1. Bobby Dias

    Will receive only a pack of lies from Fareed about anything- he causes trouble so that he will make money on it on CNN.

    July 1, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Reply
  2. gay travels

    Great website. A lot of helpful info here. I'm sending it to a few friends ans additionally sharing in delicious. And obviously, thank you to your effort!

    August 4, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Reply
  3. mike2012

    Have you {all the so called AMERICANS " MOLLY FLANDERS' followers] forgotten WHERE CAME YOU FROM?

    THEN ASK ALL THE NATIVE AMERICANS you stole their lands and exterminated or forced to live in reservations .

    September 3, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Reply
  4. Frederic

    Nice concise summary. Thanks for posing! Do you have any stats on number of Americans migrating out of the US each year? I heard anout 100,000 but don't know if it's correct and can't find reliable stats. I realize the US doesn't keep track emigration out, so it's a matter off adding American immigration figures in all other countries? Also it would be interesting to know how many Americans live abroad each year?

    September 22, 2012 at 10:00 am | Reply
  5. SteveS

    The immigration system what you have said about is full of sh**!,were the hell did you get this info?Right now the US is being takin over by Brits,just look around news ,movies,talk show hosts,and everywhere on the steets and at work!,...I have been gone from the good ol U.S.A for 16 yeras and have notice this for the last 10 years!The British are coming the british are coming and they are gona take over!.Oh by the way I came to the US in 1965 as a baby and my Farther and Mom are German I was born in germany my farther became a US citizin 1965 while he was in the US Air Force and I got kicked out in 1997 thanks to Bill Clinton and Congress made my life a living hell left my wife and kids and brothers!!!!!I lov the U.S.A and the people but hate the Gov!.

    June 2, 2014 at 12:21 am | Reply
  6. Lera Hewett

    my wife was looking for a form earlier today and was told about a great service that hosts a searchable forms database . If others require it as well , here's http://goo.gl/NU0dNW

    August 10, 2016 at 2:05 am | Reply
  7. Ram

    Not sure what is the common sense thinking here.People can enter into this country illegally which is a crime.They will enjoy my tax money & they don't pay tax ...Ultimately they get citizenship.

    Height of illogical & idiotic in the world's most logical country.

    June 30, 2018 at 3:04 pm | Reply
  8. Ram

    Let the illegals enter this country with proper visa.Work..Work ..Work..pay tax ..no freebie...Get the green card like anyone else & get naturalized

    June 30, 2018 at 3:07 pm | Reply
1 2

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.