Immigrants in the District of Columbia

October 16, 2017

The District of Columbia (D.C.) has a sizable community of immigrants, much of which emigrated from El Salvador. Over 14 percent of D.C.’s population was born in another country, and foreign-born residents make up a vital, educated share of the District’s labor force. More than half of immigrants in D.C. possess a college or higher degree, while 86 percent report speaking English well. Immigrants support the District’s economy in various ways—from starting new businesses in the region to making up over 44 percent of all Washingtonians working in the life, physical, and social sciences. As workers, business owners, taxpayers, and neighbors, immigrants are an integral part of D.C.’s diverse and thriving communities and make extensive contributions that benefit all.

More than one in seven D.C. residents is an immigrant, while another 1 in 10 residents is a native-born U.S. citizen with at least one immigrant parent.

  • In 2015, 95,117 immigrants (foreign-born individuals) comprised 14.1 percent of the District’s population.
  • D.C. was home to 48,047 women, 42,852 men, and 4,218 children who were immigrants.
  • The top countries of origin for immigrants were El Salvador (15.3 percent of immigrants), China (4.9 percent), Ethiopia (4.7 percent), Mexico (4 percent), and India (3.9 percent).
  • In 2016, 74,814 people in the District (11.1 percent of the population) were native-born Americans who had at least one immigrant parent.

More than two in five immigrants in the District of Columbia are naturalized U.S. citizens.

  • 41,645 immigrants (43.8 percent) had naturalized as of 2015.
  • The vast majority of immigrants (85.7 percent) reported speaking English “well” or “very well.”

Most immigrants in D.C. have pursued education at or above the college level.

  • Nearly three in five adult immigrants had a college degree or more education in 2015, while one-fifth had less than a high school diploma.

Education Level

Share (%) of All Immigrants

Share (%) of All Natives

College degree or more

57.3

56.6

Some college

11.5

16.5

High school diploma only

11.0

18.7

Less than a high-school diploma

20.2

8.1

More than 10,000 U.S. citizens in D.C. live with at least one family member who is undocumented.

  • 25,000 undocumented immigrants comprised 26 percent of the immigrant population and 3.9 percent of the total population in 2014.
  • 23,979 people in the District, including 8,912 born in the United States, lived with at least one undocumented family member between 2010 and 2014.
  • During the same period, 7 percent of children in D.C. were U.S. citizens living with at least one undocumented family member (7,572 children in total).

Less than 1,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients live in Washington, D.C.

  • 963 people in the District had applied for DACA as of 2017.
  • DACA recipients in D.C. paid an estimated $2.7 million in local taxes in 2016.

Immigrants are vital to D.C.’s labor force across industries, accounting for more than one in six workers.

  • 70,657 immigrant workers comprised 17.9 percent of the labor force in 2015.
  • Immigrant workers were most numerous in the following industries:

Industry

Number of Immigrant Workers

Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services

12,612

Public Administration

12,527

Accommodation and Food Services

9,735

Other Services (except Public Administration)

6,874

Health Care and Social Assistance

6,836

Analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 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)

Construction

28.3

Accommodation and Food Services

27.4

Finance and Insurance

25.3

Manufacturing

24.6

Real Estate Rental and Leasing

23.4

Analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey 1-year PUMS data by the American Immigration Council.

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

  • In 2015, immigrant workers were most numerous in the following occupation groups:

Occupation Category

Number of Immigrant Workers

Management

9,406

Building and Grounds Cleaning & Maintenance

8,222

Life, Physical, and Social Sciences

6,318

Food Preparation and Serving Related

5,559

Office and Administrative Support

5,519

Analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 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)

Life, Physical, and Social Sciences

44.2

Building and Grounds Cleaning & Maintenance

42.6

Production

36.0

Construction and Extraction

28.0

Food Preparation and Serving Related

22.6

Analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey 1-year PUMS data by the American Immigration Council.

  • Undocumented immigrants comprised 4.9 percent of the District’s workforce in 2014.

Immigrants in the District contribute hundreds of millions of dollars in yearly taxes.

  • Immigrant-led households in D.C. paid $712.5 million in federal taxes and $336.9 million in local taxes in 2014.
  • Undocumented immigrants in the District paid an estimated $31.8 millon in local taxes in 2014. Their contribution would rise to $38.7 million if they could receive legal status.

As consumers, immigrants add billions of dollars to the economy in Washington, D.C.

  • D.C. residents in immigrant-led households had $2.9 billion in spending power (after-tax income) in 2014.

Immigrant entrepreneurs account for half of all business owners in the Washington, D.C., metro area.

  • 5,543 immigrant business owners accounted for 20.4 percent of all self-employed D.C. residents in 2015 and generated $163 million in business income.
  • In 2015, immigrants accounted for 50.7 percent of business owners in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area (encompassing D.C. and parts of Virginia and Maryland).

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