Special Report

The Number of Legal Immigrants to the US Every Year Since 1990

Most Americans are familiar with “The New Colossus” — the famous Emma Lazarus poem mounted at the base of the Statue of Liberty that begs: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” But throughout its history, the U.S. has gone through fits and starts when it comes to raising its lamp to immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.

The share of people granted permanent U.S. residence peaked over a century ago, during the Progressive Era of 1900-1915, when waves of mostly southern and Eastern Europeans arrived at Ellis Island. By 1919, almost 14% of the U.S. population was made up of immigrants who had been granted legal permanent residency since 1900.

The number and share of  immigrants who had obtained legal residency declined in the next few decades — before and during World War II. After the end of the war, more and more immigrants had obtained legal status annually, until they peaked in 1991. Since then, figures have been more steady, meaning fewer people relative to the population have obtained legal residency. Here are America’s melting pot cities.

While the number of people granted legal residence in the U.S. has risen steadily, the U.S. has curbed its acceptance of refugees. In the ’80s and ’90s, the average annual number of refugees accepted into the U.S. was 97,846. Between 2000 and 2019 (the latest available data) that figure had fallen to 58,706. 

The number of people granted U.S. asylum has fluctuated since records began in 1990 but generally rose, from 8,472 in 1990 to 46,508 in 2019. (These are America’s cultural capitals.)

Here are the number of persons granted lawful permanent U.S. residency every year since 1990 

To find how many foreign nationals were granted lawful permanent residence (green card) each year from 1990 to 2019, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed Homeland Security data. The data also includes the number of refugee arrivals and number of individuals granted asylum each year.