Special Report

The Best Cities for Immigrants, According to Data

Despite the ongoing national debate about immigration policy, the United States remains one of the world’s biggest magnets for immigrants. Foreign nationals enter the country via numerous ways, but the general motives are the same: they come to the U.S. seeking better opportunities for themselves and their children. 

Immigrants who come to the U.S. have many cities to choose from where to lay their roots. Some choose to live in areas where previous immigrants from their home country have already established a community. But these may not always be the best options. 

To identify the 25 best U.S. cities for immigrants, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the report “Immigrants and Opportunity in America’s Cities” from The George W. Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative at The George W. Bush Institute

The report ranks the 100 most populous U.S. metro areas using an index of 12 different measures, including median income of households headed by foreign-born people, the share of foreign born residents with a bachelor’s degree, homeownership rates among foreign-born populations, and immigration rates. Most data used in the report are from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 American Community Survey. A full methodology and documentation of courses is available on pages 72 and 73 of the report. 

Metropolitan areas with the largest share of immigrants, like Miami, Los Angeles, or New York City, are not on this list thanks largely to their high cost of living and high cost of housing. (Not just large cities are meccas for immigrants. Here are small cities attracting the most immigrants.)

An exception to this is the San Francisco and San Jose metropolitan areas of Northern California, which have among the highest share of foreign-born residents. One reason for this is the tech industry, which depends on skilled immigrant workers. The San Jose metro area, which includes Sunnyvale and Santa Clara, is one of eight cities on this list where foreign-born residents tend to have higher median household incomes than the median for all residents.

Generally speaking, foreign-born residents tend to have lower incomes compared to the total metro area population, but there are some exceptions, including eight of the metro areas listed. For example, foreign-born people in Jackson, Mississippi, have an average median household income of $70,000 compared to $53,639 for the total metro area population. (Also see, the states where the most people are immigrants.)

Foreign-born residents in these 25 cities also are more likely to have at least a bachelor’s degree than the metro area’s population. There are some exceptions, and in five of 25 cities, the bachelor’s degree attainment rate of foreign-born adult residents is lower than the overall rate. Four of these 25 metropolitan areas have foreign-born populations greater than 20%: San Jose, San Francisco, Bridgeport, and Washington D.C. 

Here are the best cities for immigrants.

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