March 16, 2017

Net US Immigration Rate Well within Historical Norm

  • Daniel Griswold

    Director of the Program on the American Economy and Globalization

The United States currently grants lawful permanent resident status to an average of 1 million immigrants per year. This is a large number by historical standards, but it is not unprecedented. One million or more immigrants were admitted to the United States annually in the early 20th century during the Great Migration from Europe—a time when the US population was less than one-third of what it is today.

The chart shows the net annual immigration rate to the United States per 1,000 population by decade since the federal government began keeping official records in 1820. Expressed as a share of the population, the current rate of immigration to the United States is actually well within the norm of our historical experience.

The Great Migration was brought to an end by a combination of factors: the disruption of World War I; quotas on immigration imposed by Congress in the 1920s, especially on immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe; and the Great Depression and then World War II. In 1965, Congress repealed the strict national quotas in favor of a system that emphasizes family reunification.