What Brings Immigrants To The United States?

Image credit: Karen Roach/Shutterstock.com
Image credit: Karen Roach/Shutterstock.com
  • People immigrate to the US for a better life, more work opportunities, to get an education and to reunite with family.
  • In 2017, about 1 million new immigrants came to live in the US, the majority coming from India, Mexico, China, and Cuba.
  • The US has the most active economy in the world, and for this reason, it is a hot destination for those seeking work.

People come to begin a new life in the US for a wide variety of reasons. In 2017, over 44 million people in the US were born someplace else.

The vast majority (77%) of immigrants living in the US are legal immigrants, and just under half (45%) are now naturalized US citizens.

From about 1990 until 2007 a large wave of unauthorized or illegal immigrants came to live on US soil, tripling in number, but this level has now come down again. 

Where are people coming from? In 2017, the top countries immigrants came to the US from included India, Mexico, China, and Cuba, among others, totalling about 1 million new immigrants.

Why are people leaving their homes and traveling so far to start anew?

Here are some of the top reasons people immigrate to the US. 

For Work

Some people native to the US may feel that finding solid work that pays well is hard to come by. Compared with the rest of the world, however, the US has good work opportunities. The US is home to the most active economy in the world, as the planet’s biggest superpower. 

Some people may fear that immigrants take jobs away from Americans already living in the US. Economists argue that this could be the case in the short-term but in the long run, the economy adjusts to new immigration. While regrettably not everybody is open to having new immigrants in the labor force, research shows that the majority of the general public in the US does support high-skilled immigration. 

To Escape Persecution And Violence

Many people  currently live in places that are more violent than the US. The highest number of immigrants coming to the US originate from Mexico, which is part of Latin America, one of the most violent regions on Earth. In 2019, almost 35,000 people were murdered there, breaking down to about 95 people each day. Part of this high number can be attributed to the violence associated with the illegal drug trade in this country.

Many people coming from Mexico to the US not only come to chase a better financial future, but also to escape the violence.

People come to the US from other places as well, to escape violence. The highest number of refugees seeking asylum in the US in 2019 came from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Millions of people were displaced in the DRC between 2016 and 2019 due to fighting and political turmoil. 

Authorities dealing with illegal immigrants. Image credit: Fishman64/Shutterstock.com

Better Living Conditions

The US may not be revered for its social systems like the Nordic countries are, but being poor in the US is a better situation for many than being poor abroad. Many developing countries do not have a social safety net such as welfare, government-backed medical services, or systems like food stamps to help the hungry. 

Of course, people who immigrate to the US do not do so exclusively for the food stamps. The fact that there are social welfare systems that exist however, makes the US a more attractive place to try to restart your life. It can be difficult to up and leave your home country, but if you know there are systems in place to help you get settled when you arrive, and that you will not starve while doing so, you may be more likely to take the risk of starting over there. 

The US also has better overall living conditions than many countries worldwide. While the country is not perfect, urban and populated areas have running water, access to electricity, shelter, roads and community services. This is a big plus for many migrants. 

Tapachula, Suchiate, or Ciudad Hidalgo in Mexico: Central American Refugees are boarding a Truck on their way north to the US border. Image credit: Saeschie Wagner/Shutterstock.com

Educational Opportunities

People also immigrate to the US to obtain an education, or to increase the educational opportunities for their children. The country is home to some of the best-known institutions of higher education in the world.

According to reports online, there were over 1 million international students studying in the US in 2020. The majority came from China, India, or South Korea. 

Of course, being an international student in the US is not easy. You must keep a full course load, you can only work part-time on campus, and you have to prove you have the money to support your tuition and living costs. Not an easy feat, but still, many do it.  

 International students are often so-called “temporary immigrants” and will return to their home countries with their foreign degrees upon graduating. A US diploma can increase their chances of being hired for lucrative jobs abroad. Some stay and seek more permanent status in the US, however. 

To Be With Family

MADISON, WI, USA - February 18, 2016 - Thousands of people protest new anti-immigration legislation in Wisconsin. Image credit: AAraujo/Shutterstock.com

Immigrants also choose to move to the US to reunite with their family members. Sometimes people meet over the internet or abroad, and decide to get married. If one of the spouses is an American citizen, the other can immigrate in time.

Other people leave their homeland and come to the US seeking a better future. They leave their children, extended family, and sometimes even their spouse, behind. They may come to the US seeking asylum, or they have been given the chance to have a green card, or permanent resident status. Once these immigrants become citizens, they may then sponsor other family members to join them. 

Americans love to debate the perceived benefits and drawbacks to allowing immigrants into their country. The truth is, the US as we know it was built by immigrants: everyone living in the US but the Native Americans can trace their roots back to someone who immigrated in the past few centuries.

According to the Bush Center, immigrants help raise the pace of economic growth, and strengthen the country. When new immigrants enter the workforce, they also increase the GDP. This eventually raises the incomes of all working people. Immigrants add cultural richness and new points of view to society that help to make America what it is. In this way, immigration is to be celebrated. 


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