The Unauthorized Immigrant Population in the U.S. Reaches 10.5 Million in 2021

A Look at the Latest Estimates and Trends

The unauthorized immigrant population in the United States has reached 10.5 million in 2021, according to new estimates from the Pew Research Center. While this represents a modest increase over 2019, it is nearly identical to the numbers recorded in 2017. These estimates shed light on the ongoing changes in the size and characteristics of the unauthorized immigrant population, providing valuable insights into the trends and factors shaping this complex issue. In this article, we will explore the key findings of the Pew Research Center’s latest report, including the countries of origin, regional variations, and their impact on the U.S. labor force.

Methodology for Estimating the Unauthorized Immigrant Population

The Pew Research Center’s estimates of the unauthorized immigrant population are based on a “residual method” that combines data from various sources, including U.S. censuses, government surveys, birth records, school enrollment figures, tax data, and Mexican censuses and surveys. The method involves estimating the total number of immigrants in the country, subtracting the number of lawful immigrants, and making an upward adjustment to account for undercounts. These estimates are consistent with official U.S. data sources and align with other organizations’ estimates.

Who are Unauthorized Immigrants?

Unauthorized immigrants include individuals who are not in the following groups: immigrants admitted for lawful residence, refugees, individuals granted asylum, former unauthorized immigrants granted legal residence, and immigrants who have become naturalized U.S. citizens. The Pew Research Center’s estimate also includes over 2 million immigrants who have temporary permission to be in the United States, such as those with Temporary Protected Status (TPS), Deferred Enforced Departure (DED), or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status.

Key Findings: Changes in the Unauthorized Immigrant Population (2017-2021)

– The number of unauthorized immigrants from Mexico dropped by 900,000 from 2017 to 2021, reaching 4.1 million. This decline can be attributed to factors such as a broader decline in migration from Mexico, Mexican immigrants returning to Mexico, and expanded opportunities for lawful immigration.
– Unauthorized immigrants from regions other than Mexico saw an increase of 900,000, with notable increases from Central America and South and East Asia.
– Only Florida and Washington saw increases in their unauthorized immigrant populations, while California and Nevada saw decreases. In other states, the populations remained unchanged.
– Approximately 4.6% of U.S. workers in 2021 were unauthorized immigrants, a figure that has remained virtually identical since 2017.

Trends in the U.S. Immigrant Population

The U.S. foreign-born population accounted for 14.1% of the nation’s population in 2021, slightly higher than in previous years but below the record high of 14.8% in 1890. The unauthorized immigrant population, which represents about 3% of the total U.S. population, has decreased by 1.75 million (14%) between 2007 and 2021. In contrast, the lawful immigrant population has grown by more than 8 million (29%), and naturalized U.S. citizens now account for 49% of all immigrants in the country.

Countries of Origin for Unauthorized Immigrants

Mexico remains the most common country of origin for unauthorized immigrants in the U.S., although the population has decreased to 4.1 million in 2021. The number of unauthorized immigrants from countries other than Mexico has grown rapidly, reaching 6.4 million in 2021. Central American countries, particularly El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, account for a significant portion of the unauthorized immigrant population. Other countries, such as India, Brazil, Canada, and Venezuela, have also seen increases in their unauthorized immigrant populations.

Unauthorized Immigrants in U.S. States

While the unauthorized immigrant population remained steady in most U.S. states from 2017 to 2021, Florida and Washington saw significant increases. California and Nevada, on the other hand, experienced decreases. The six states with the largest unauthorized immigrant populations in 2021 were California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois. However, the concentration of unauthorized immigrants has become less geographically centered, with these six states now accounting for 56% of the total population, down from 80% in 1990.

Unauthorized Immigrants in the U.S. Labor Force

Unauthorized immigrants make up approximately 5% of the U.S. workforce, compared to 3% of the total population. The number of unauthorized immigrants in the labor force has remained relatively stable since 2015, with about 7.8 million individuals in 2021. Demographics play a role in this, as the unauthorized immigrant population includes fewer children and elderly adults who are not part of the labor force.


The latest estimates from the Pew Research Center provide valuable insights into the size, trends, and characteristics of the unauthorized immigrant population in the United States. While the overall number has seen a modest increase, the composition and regional variations have undergone significant changes. Understanding these dynamics is crucial for policymakers and researchers as they navigate the complexities of immigration policy and its impact on various aspects of society. As the debate around immigration continues, these findings serve as a foundation for informed discussions and evidence-based decision-making.






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