10 States Where the Number of Immigrants Is Growing Fastest

Immigrants at a migrant assistance center

Immigrants arrive to take part in an English as a Second Language class at a migrants-assistance center in Stamford, Connecticut | John Moore/Getty Images

The United States is a nation of immigrants, but new arrivals to the country are more likely to flock to some states than others. The majority of the nation’s 42 million foreign-born residents live in California, Texas, New York, Florida, and New Jersey. But as the immigrant population grows — 1.4 million new immigrants arrived in the U.S. in 2014, an 11% increase over 2013 — states, such as North Dakota, Wyoming, and West Virginia, also are seeing the number of foreign-born residents rise, often by double-digit percentages.

Not everyone is happy about the growing immigrant population. Although close to ¾ of adults Gallup surveyed in 2016 believe immigration is generally good for the country, 38% also believe fewer immigrants should be allowed into the U.S. Many are worried about the effect immigrants have on employment. Forty-five percent of people Pew Research surveyed said immigration hurts American workers, while 42% said it helps.

Fears of job-stealing immigrants might be misplaced. Immigrants don’t take jobs away from native-born workers or depress wages for most groups, a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found. Although immigration can be costly to local governments in the short-term, immigrants tend to pay back that investment, as their children grow up to contribute “more in taxes than either their parents or the rest of the native-born population,” according to the report.

Like it or not, immigrants are changing the face of the U.S. While the following 10 states have relatively few immigrants compared to New York or Texas, they’ve experienced the greatest percentage change in their immigrant population* between 2010 and 2015, according to the Migration Policy Institute. The No. 1 state saw their immigration population surge 72%.

*This includes naturalized citizens, lawful permanent residents, people in the country on work or student visas, refugees and asylees, and those in country without legal status.

10. Tennessee

skyline of downtown Nashville, Tennessee

Downtown Nashville, Tennessee | iStock.com/Sean Pavone

Change in immigrant population since 2010: +14.7%

Current immigrant population: 332,000

Tennessee’s foreign-born population increased 14.7% from 2010 to 2015, going from 289,000 to 332,000. Immigrants now make up 5% of the state’s total population. That’s a significant increase from 1990, when the state’s 59,000 immigrants made up just 1.2% of the population.

Immigration is a divisive issue in Tennessee, as it is in many other parts of the country. Following the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, the number of Tennesseans who said immigration should be the country’s top priority nearly doubled from 7% to 13%, according to Vanderbilt Poll-Tennessee. Those who identified with the tea party were much more likely to say dealing with immigration should be the number-one priority for the U.S.

9. District of Columbia

The skyline of Washington, DC

The skyline of Washington, D.C., including the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Capitol and National Mall | Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Change in immigrant population since 2010: +16.4%

Current immigrant population: 95,000

The District of Columbia’s 95,000 immigrants make up 14.1% of the area’s total population. In 2011, 41% of all immigrants in D.C. were naturalized citizens, more than half of whom had a bachelor’s degree or higher.

One-third of all business owners in the greater D.C. metro area were foreign born as of 2013, according to the American Immigration Council. Immigrants make up 17% of the workforce in the District of Columbia.

8. Mississippi

Welcome to Mississippi road sign

Welcome to Mississippi | iStock.com/Meinzahn

Change in immigrant population since 2010: +17.6%

Current immigrant population: 72,000

Mississippi’s foreign-born population grew nearly 18% in the past few years. Immigrants now make up 2.4% of the state’s total population. More than a third are from Mexico, according to the MPI, while Vietnam, India, and China are also common countries of origin.

An estimated 25,000 undocumented immigrants live in Tennessee, according to Pew Hispanic. Since the start of 2017, lawmakers in Mississippi have introduced bills barring cities from declaring themselves sanctuary cities for undocumented residents and requiring companies to only hire U.S. citizens or legal immigrants, Mississippi Public Broadcasting reported.

7. Alaska

Byers Lake, Alaska is the closest view to Denali

Denali in Alaska | iStock.com/mbarrettimages

Change in immigrant population since 2010: +18.7%

Current immigrant population: 59,000

Alaska’s immigrant population was 59,000 in 2015, roughly a 19% increase from 2010, when 49,000 immigrants lived in the state. As of 2013, just under 30% were from the Philippines, which has a long history of sending immigrants to the state. Many others come from Mexico, Korea, and Canada.

In Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska, immigrants make up a significant minority of the workforce in several industries. Nineteen percent of people working in the recreation and accommodation industry are foreign-born, according to the Partnership for New American Economy, along with 14% of health care workers and 14% of retail employees.

6. Minnesota

Minneapolis downtown skyline

Minneapolis downtown skyline | iStock.com/RudyBalasko

Change in immigrant population since 2010: +20.8%

Current immigrant population: 457,000

Minnesota has nearly half a million foreign-born residents who make up 8.3% of the total population. The number of immigrants in the state has increased nearly 21% since 2010. Mexico, Laos, India, and Vietnam are the top countries of origin. Roughly 6% of business owners in Minnesota are foreign born, according to Project for a New American Economy.

Minnesota is home to largest Somali population in the United States and the second-largest Hmong population. Undocumented immigrants, who make up 23% of the state’s immigrant population, are eligible for in-state tuition at Minnesota’s public colleges and state financial aid, provided they meet certain requirements.

5. Delaware

Capitol building in Dover, Delaware

Capitol building in Dover, Delaware | iStock.com/prosiaczeq

Change in immigrant population since 2010: +21.8%

Current immigrant population: 88,000

Delaware’s immigrant population jumped from 72,000 in 2010 to 88,000 in 2015, an increase of roughly 22%. People born in other countries make up 9.3% of the state’s total population. Mexico, India, China, and Guatemala are the most common countries of origin.

Delaware is one of 12 states that grant driver’s licenses to people regardless of their immigration status. About 45% of immigrants in Delaware are naturalized citizens, just under the 47% of immigrants nationwide who have become U.S. citizens.

4. South Dakota

sign saying ' South Dakota'

South Dakota road sign | iStock.com/wellesenterprises

Change in immigrant population since 2010: +25.2%

Current immigrant population: 28,000

South Dakota doesn’t have a lot of immigrants. Only two states — Montana and Wyoming — have fewer than the state’s 28,000 foreign-born residents. But the immigrant community is growing, and it now makes up 3.2% of South Dakota’s population. Mexico, Guatemala, and China are the most common countries of origin.

Of the 28,000 immigrants living in the state, about 5,000 are undocumented, according to Pew Hispanic, and they make up less than 1% of the state’s total population. Yet South Dakota is the only state where the majority of people don’t support a path to citizenship for those in the U.S. without legal status. Only 46% support legalizing undocumented immigrants, compared to 62% of people nationwide, a survey by PRRI found.

3. West Virginia

downtown area of Morgantown WV and campus of West Virginia University

Downtown Morgantown, West Virginia | iStock.com/BackyardProduction

Change in immigrant population since 2010: +31.1%

Current immigrant population: 30,000

West Virginia’s immigrant population grew 31% between 2010 and 2015, as the state added 7,000 foreign-born residents. Despite the increase, immigrants still make up just 1.6% of the total population of West Virginia, the smallest share of any U.S. state.

Many West Virginians are skeptical about the cultural impact of immigrants. Only 35% say immigrants strengthen American society, the lowest share of any state, according to PRRI. Nationwide, people are evenly split on the question of whether welcoming people from other countries is good for U.S. society.

2. Wyoming

cowboy with lasso silhouette at small-town rodeo

Cowboy | iStock.com/alptraum

Change in immigrant population since 2010: +38.9%

Current immigrant population: 22,000

The number of immigrants in Wyoming increased from 16,000 in 2010 to 22,000 in 2015, a 38.9% increase. As of 2013, close to half of immigrants in the state were from Mexico, with smaller numbers coming from Canada, the Philippines, China, and the United Kingdom.

People living in Wyoming are more likely than those in any other state to have a negative view of immigrants. Forty-eight percent say immigrants pose a threat to American culture, and just 38% say people from other countries make U.S. society stronger, PRRI found.

1. North Dakota

strett in Fargo, North Dakota

A street in Fargo, North Dakota | iStock.com/Ben Harding

Change in immigrant population since 2010: +72.2%

Current immigrant population: 29,000

North Dakota has fewer immigrants than all but four other states. Yet its immigrant population increased more dramatically than anywhere else in the country between 2010 and 2015, rising by 12,000, from 17,000 to 29,000, a 72% increase. Immigrants make up 3.8% of the state’s population overall. Canada, Mexico, and India are the top countries of origin for North Dakota’s immigrants.

In 2014, immigrants added $542.8 million to the GDP of Fargo, the state’s largest city, according to estimates from the Partnership for a New American Economy. And they helped preserve or create 490 local manufacturing jobs. Fifty-nine percent of North Dakotans supports a path to citizenship for at least some illegal immigrants.

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