Local residents relax in a square in Chinatown in New York, Aug, 6, 2012. 
Photo by Charles Platiau/Reuters

Asians expected to become largest immigrant group in US

Updated

Ethnic minorities are on track to be the majority of the U.S. population by 2055, with Asians projected to rise to the top as the largest immigrant group in the country, according to a report released Monday by the Pew Research Center.

The analysis paints a statistical portrait of the 59 million foreign-born people who have come to the U.S. over the last 50 years, showing that new arrivals are far more diverse and have planted firm roots in the country.

The current near-record share of immigrants living in the U.S. rivals levels from the turn of the 20th Century when waves of migrants from European countries drove the nation’s immigrant population to its peak. Immigrants now account for 13.9% of the population, or 45 million people, coming just shy of the record 14.8% seen in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

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The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 was the primary driver behind the modern immigration influx. Prior to the landmark civil rights bill, immigration quotas had largely been limited to countries in Western Europe. But the reforms abolished those existing quotas and opened legal immigration to people from across the globe in a system that focused on family reunification and prioritized high-skilled workers.

The result led to a dramatic shift in the country’s racial and ethnic makeup. Half of the new immigrants in the last half-century have Latin American origins, with a quarter from Asia. People with European or Canadian origins accounted for 84% of the U.S. immigrant population in 1960. Today those groups account for just a small share of the foreign-born population. Mexicans now lead the population levels with 28% of immigrants, followed by Asians at 25.8% and other Latin Americans at 24%.

The number of immigrants from Central and South America skyrocketed starting in the early 90s, fueled by a massive migration wave from Mexico. But the wave has since slowed significantly, leveling off after the economic crash in 2008.

Individuals with roots across Asia now make up the largest group of new immigrants. The trend started taking hold in 2011, when the number of new arrivals from Asia for the first time outpaced Latin American immigration. The growth is likely to continue in coming decades, leading Asian immigrants to claim the largest share of the immigrant population by 2055.

The American public appears to have mixed views on the ways immigrants have impacted the American way of life. According to Pew, 45% of adults say immigrants are making the U.S. better, while 37% believe they’re making things worse. The negative views are divided out by those who feel immigrants have a negative influence on the economy and crime. But when it comes to food, music or the arts, Americans feel immigrant contributions are for the better.

Asians expected to become largest immigrant group in US

Updated