Special Report

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

Spencer Platt / Getty Images News via Getty Images

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.

Source: Andrew Thomas / Wikimedia Commons

1990
> No. of immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 1,535,872 — #2 most since 1990
> Refugee arrivals: 122,066 — #1 most since 1990
> Individuals granted asylum: 8,472 — #28 most since 1990

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Source: U.S. Air Force / Wikimedia Commons

1991
> No. of immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 1,826,595 — #1 most since 1990
> Refugee arrivals: 113,389 — #4 most since 1990
> Individuals granted asylum: 5,035 — #30 most since 1990

Source: Gary B. Edstrom / Wikimedia Commons

1992
> No. of immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 973,445 — #20 most since 1990
> Refugee arrivals: 115,548 — #2 most since 1990
> Individuals granted asylum: 6,307 — #29 most since 1990

Source: Official White House photograph / Wikimedia Commons

1993
> No. of immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 903,916 — #23 most since 1990
> Refugee arrivals: 114,181 — #3 most since 1990
> Individuals granted asylum: 9,543 — #27 most since 1990

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Source: Andrea Booher / FEMA / Wikimedia Commons

1994
> No. of immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 803,993 — #25 most since 1990
> Refugee arrivals: 111,680 — #5 most since 1990
> Individuals granted asylum: 13,828 — #26 most since 1990

Source: NASA / Wikimedia Commons

1995
> No. of immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 720,177 — #27 most since 1990
> Refugee arrivals: 98,973 — #6 most since 1990
> Individuals granted asylum: 20,703 — #22 most since 1990

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

1996
> No. of immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 915,560 — #22 most since 1990
> Refugee arrivals: 75,421 — #10 most since 1990
> Individuals granted asylum: 23,532 — #17 most since 1990

Source: Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images

1997
> No. of immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 797,847 — #26 most since 1990
> Refugee arrivals: 69,653 — #17 most since 1990
> Individuals granted asylum: 22,939 — #20 most since 1990

Source: Flickr user Kevin Jarrett / Wikimedia Commons

1998
> No. of immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 653,206 — #29 most since 1990
> Refugee arrivals: 76,712 — #9 most since 1990
> Individuals granted asylum: 20,507 — #23 most since 1990

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Source: Grj23 / Wikimedia Commons

1999
> No. of immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 644,787 — #30 most since 1990
> Refugee arrivals: 85,285 — #7 most since 1990
> Individuals granted asylum: 26,571 — #9 most since 1990

Source: Rob Boudon / Wikimedia Commons

2000
> No. of immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 841,002 — #24 most since 1990
> Refugee arrivals: 72,165 — #13 most since 1990
> Individuals granted asylum: 32,514 — #5 most since 1990

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Source: SFC Thomas R. Roberts / Wikimedia Commons

2001
> No. of immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 1,058,902 — #12 most since 1990
> Refugee arrivals: 68,920 — #18 most since 1990
> Individuals granted asylum: 39,148 — #2 most since 1990

Source: Sergeant Joseph R. Chenelly, United States Marine Corps / Wikimedia Commons

2002
> No. of immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 1,059,356 — #11 most since 1990
> Refugee arrivals: 26,785 — #29 most since 1990
> Individuals granted asylum: 36,937 — #4 most since 1990

Source: National Archive Catalog / Wikimedia Commons

2003
> No. of immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 703,542 — #28 most since 1990
> Refugee arrivals: 28,286 — #28 most since 1990
> Individuals granted asylum: 28,743 — #6 most since 1990

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Source: Tech. Sgt. Jerry Morrison Jr., U.S. Air Force / Wikimedia Commons

2004
> No. of immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 957,883 — #21 most since 1990
> Refugee arrivals: 52,840 — #24 most since 1990
> Individuals granted asylum: 27,376 — #8 most since 1990

Source: Jocelyn Augustino / Wikimedia Commons

2005
> No. of immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 1,122,257 — #7 most since 1990
> Refugee arrivals: 53,738 — #22 most since 1990
> Individuals granted asylum: 25,304 — #14 most since 1990

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Source: Kjetil Ree / Wikimedia Commons

2006
> No. of immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 1,266,129 — #3 most since 1990
> Refugee arrivals: 41,094 — #26 most since 1990
> Individuals granted asylum: 26,352 — #10 most since 1990

Source: Ben Stanfield / Wikimedia Commons

2007
> No. of immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 1,052,415 — #13 most since 1990
> Refugee arrivals: 48,218 — #25 most since 1990
> Individuals granted asylum: 25,318 — #13 most since 1990

Source: CODEPINK Women For Peace / Wikimedia Commons

2008
> No. of immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 1,107,126 — #8 most since 1990
> Refugee arrivals: 60,107 — #19 most since 1990
> Individuals granted asylum: 23,022 — #19 most since 1990

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Source: Master Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo, U.S. Air Force / Wikimedia Commons

2009
> No. of immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 1,130,818 — #5 most since 1990
> Refugee arrivals: 74,602 — #11 most since 1990
> Individuals granted asylum: 22,303 — #21 most since 1990

Source: U.S. Coast Guard / Wikimedia Commons

2010
> No. of immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 1,042,625 — #15 most since 1990
> Refugee arrivals: 73,293 — #12 most since 1990
> Individuals granted asylum: 19,777 — #25 most since 1990

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Source: David Shankbone / Wikimedia Commons

2011
> No. of immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 1,062,040 — #10 most since 1990
> Refugee arrivals: 56,384 — #21 most since 1990
> Individuals granted asylum: 23,608 — #16 most since 1990

Source: New Jersey National Guard / Wikimedia Commons

2012
> No. of immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 1,031,631 — #17 most since 1990
> Refugee arrivals: 58,179 — #20 most since 1990
> Individuals granted asylum: 27,920 — #7 most since 1990

Source: White House / Sonya Hebert / Wikimedia Commons

2013
> No. of immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 990,553 — #19 most since 1990
> Refugee arrivals: 69,909 — #16 most since 1990
> Individuals granted asylum: 24,842 — #15 most since 1990

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Source: TechCrunch / Wikimedia Commons

2014
> No. of immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 1,016,518 — #18 most since 1990
> Refugee arrivals: 69,975 — #14 most since 1990
> Individuals granted asylum: 23,077 — #18 most since 1990

Source: Difference engine / Wikimedia Commons

2015
> No. of immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 1,051,031 — #14 most since 1990
> Refugee arrivals: 69,920 — #15 most since 1990
> Individuals granted asylum: 25,814 — #12 most since 1990

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Source: Krassotkin, Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons

2016
> No. of immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 1,183,505 — #4 most since 1990
> Refugee arrivals: 84,988 — #8 most since 1990
> Individuals granted asylum: 20,152 — #24 most since 1990

Source: Wikimedia Commons

2017
> No. of immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 1,127,167 — #6 most since 1990
> Refugee arrivals: 53,691 — #23 most since 1990
> Individuals granted asylum: 26,199 — #11 most since 1990

Source: Photo by Clive Brunskill / Getty Images
PARIS, FRANCE – MAY 31: Serena Williams of The United States celebrates during the ladies singles second round match against Ashleigh Barty of Ausralia during day five of the 2018 French Open at Roland Garros on May 31, 2018 in Paris, France. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

2018
> No. of immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 1,096,611 — #9 most since 1990
> Refugee arrivals: 22,405 — #30 most since 1990
> Individuals granted asylum: 37,567 — #3 most since 1990

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Source: United States House of Representatives or Office of the Speaker of the House, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

2019
> No. of immigrants obtaining legal resident status: 1,031,765 — #16 most since 1990
> Refugee arrivals: 29,916 — #27 most since 1990
> Individuals granted asylum: 46,508 — #1 most since 1990

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