Immigrants in California

August 6, 2020

California has long been home to the largest number of immigrants in the United States, as European explorers arrived at its seaports as far back as the 17th century. Immigrants now account for over one-quarter of the state’s population and comprise a third of the entire labor force. As neighbors, business owners, taxpayers, and workers, immigrants are an integral part of California’s diverse and thriving communities and make extensive contributions that benefit all.

More than a quarter of California residents are immigrants, while nearly one in four residents is a native-born U.S. citizen with at least one immigrant parent.

  • In 2018, 10.6 million immigrants (foreign-born individuals) comprised 27 percent of the population.
  • California was home to 5.3 million women, 4.9 million men, and 421,025 children who were immigrants.
  • The top countries of origin for immigrants were Mexico (38 percent of immigrants), the Philippines (8 percent), China (7 percent), India (5 percent), and Vietnam (5 percent).
  • In 2018, 9.6 million people in California (24 percent of the state’s population) were native-born Americans who had at least one immigrant parent.

More than half of all immigrants in California are naturalized U.S. citizens.

  • 5.6 million immigrants (52 percent) had naturalized as of 2018, and 2.2 million immigrants were eligible to become naturalized U.S. citizens in 2017.
  • More than two-thirds (69 percent) of immigrants reported speaking English “well” or “very well.”

Immigrants in California are concentrated at either end of the educational spectrum.

  • More than a quarter (29 percent) of adult immigrants had a college degree or more education in 2018, while nearly a third (32 percent) had less than a high school diploma.
     

Education Level

Share (%) of All Immigrants

Share (%) of All Natives

College degree or more

29

37

Some college

19

34

High school diploma only

20

21

Less than a high school diploma

32

7

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2018 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates.

California is home to over 183,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.

  • Approximately 183,460 active DACA recipients lived in California as of March 2020, while DACA has been granted to about 238,432 people in total since 2012.
  • As of 2019, 47 percent of DACA-eligible immigrants in California had applied for DACA.
  • An additional 114,000 residents of the state would satisfy all but the educational requirements for DACA, and another 12,000 would become eligible as they grew older.

One in three workers in California is an immigrant, together making up a vital part of the state’s labor force in a range of industries.

  • 6.6 million immigrant workers comprised 33 percent of the labor force in 2018. 
  • Immigrant workers were most numerous in the following industries:

Industry

Number of Immigrant Workers

Manufacturing

887,849

Health Care and Social Assistance

882,041

Retail Trade

653,716

Accommodation and Food Services

630,990

Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services

566,778

Source: Analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey 1-year PUMS data by the American Immigration Council.

  • The largest shares of immigrant workers were in the following industries:

Industry

Immigrant Share (%)
(of all industry workers)

Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing, and Hunting

63

Manufacturing

45

Administrative & Support; Waste Management; and Remediation Services

41

Other Services (except Public Administration)

40

Wholesale Trade

39

Source: Analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey 1-year PUMS data by the American Immigration Council.

 

Immigrants are an integral part of the California workforce in a range of occupations.

  • In 2018, immigrant workers were most numerous in the following occupation groups:

Occupation Category

Number of Immigrant Workers

Transportation and Material Moving

650,160

Management Occupations

604,093

Office and Administrative Support

599,733

Sales and Related

591,817

Building and Grounds Cleaning & Maintenance

572,823

Source: Analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey 1-year PUMS data by the American Immigration Council.

  • The largest shares of immigrant workers were in the following occupation groups:

Occupation Category

Immigrant Share (%) (of all workers in occupation)

Farming, Fishing, and Forestry

74

Building and Grounds Cleaning & Maintenance

59

Production

51

Construction and Extraction

43

Computer and Mathematical

42

Source: Analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey 1-year PUMS data by the American Immigration Council.

  • Undocumented immigrants comprised 9 percent of California’s workforce in 2016.

Immigrants in California have contributed tens of billions of dollars in taxes.

As consumers, immigrants add hundreds of billions of dollars to California’s economy.

  • California residents in immigrant-led households had $290.9 billion in spending power (after-tax income) in 2018.

Immigrant entrepreneurs in California generate tens of billions of dollars in business revenue.

  • 936,795 immigrant business owners accounted for 38 percent of all self-employed California residents in 2018 and generated $24.5 billion in business income.
  • In the following California metropolitan areas in 2018, at least one-third of business owners was an immigrant. Immigrants accounted for:
    • 46 percent of business owners in the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim metro area,
    • 38 percent in Riverside-San Bernadino,
    • 45 percent in Sacramento-Arden Arcade-Roseville,
    • 35 percent in San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos,
    • 41 percent in San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, and
    •  53 percent in San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara.

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