While the number of immigrants in the U.S. as well as their share of the population has generally been rising, the level of the foreign-born population is not unprecedented. As of 2019, the latest year available through U.S. Census data, 13.7 percent of the U.S. population was foreign-born. Data aggregated by the Migration Policy Institute shows that throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the foreign-born population of the U.S. had been higher in relative terms, approaching 15 percent on several occasions, before reaching a low of just 4.7 percent in 1970.
A call to admit more immigrants to the country made last week by U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Suzanne Clark meanwhile shows that U.S. businesses are desperate for workers as the Covid-19 pandemic caused record resignations and a temporary decline in new arrivals to the country.
Between mid-2020 and mid-2021, net migration to the United States (the number of immigrants arriving minus those leaving) only amounted to 247,000 people, down from the pre-pandemic figure of around 600,000 between 2018 and 2019. This sets into perspective Clark's appeal to double legal migration to the United States. Even when doubling the pre-pandemic figure and assuming the addition of 1.2 million migrants to the U.S. annually, that would have only raised the share of the U.S. foreign-born population by 0.2 percent that year.
In fact, an annual net migration of 1.2 million people is closer to that of the pre-Trump era. In the past decade, net migration reached its peak between 2015 and 2016 at 1,049,000 net arrivals, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The term foreign-born refers to people residing in the United States who aren't U.S. citizens or weren't U.S. citizens at birth. This includes temporary and permanent residents, naturalized citizens, asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants.