International Migration Driving Metro Area Population Gains

The Census Bureau’s international migration estimates include not only foreign immigrants, but natives and members of the military coming back home. View new population estimates for each area.
by | March 28, 2014
Cars enter the United States at a Canadian border crossing in Blaine, Wash.
Cars enter the United States at a Canadian border crossing in Blaine, Wash. AP/Elaine Thompson

Census estimates released Thursday show much of the nation’s metro areas continue to experience steady population growth, totaling about 2.3 million over the 12-month period ending last July.

Regions benefiting from an energy boom or influx of retirees continue to record the steepest population gains.

But other metro areas without these advantages also added notable tallies of residents. In many such metros, international migration is a key driver of population growth.

Between 2010 and 2013, metro areas welcomed a net total of 2.6 million residents from international migration. Over the same three-year period, net domestic migration increased by just 382,000 as those who did move mostly relocated to other metro areas.

The Census Bureau’s international migration estimates include not only foreign immigrants, but natives moving back home and movement of members of the military.

The country’s largest immigration hubs welcomed significant numbers of residents from abroad. Since 2010, the New York City-Newark metro area gained nearly 400,000 residents from other countries, followed by the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, Fla., area (+164,000) and the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim (+156,000) area.

Examining growth rates, rather than raw totals, for international migration highlights a select group of metro areas experiencing particularly sharp increases.

The following table shows metro areas registering the highest international migration rates over the three-year period ending last July:

Metro Area International Migration / 1,000 Residents Net International Migration Total  Change (including natural change)
Jacksonville, NC 32.0 5,924 7,448
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL 28.1 163,622 263,534
Manhattan, KS 27.3 2,674 5,366
Ithaca, NY 26.1 2,703 2,029
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 23.0 44,232 82,714
Champaign-Urbana, IL 21.0 4,927 3,271
Hinesville, GA 21.0 1,692 2,842
Ames, IA 20.3 1,875 2,864
Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL 20.2 45,870 133,440
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA 20.0 399,685 383,084
Trenton, NJ 19.5 7,228 2,903
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 19.5 115,919 313,583
Watertown-Fort Drum, NY 19.4 2,320 3,275
Urban Honolulu, HI 19.4 19,032 30,222
Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, FL 18.5 6,281 18,122
College Station-Bryan, TX 18.0 4,265 8,159
Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT 17.8 16,709 23,075
Lafayette-West Lafayette, IN 17.1 3,570 7,238
Killeen-Temple, TX 16.8 7,099 17,957
Ann Arbor, MI 16.7 5,901 9,449
Source: 2010-2013 Census Bureau population estimates, current as of July.

The large increase for Jacksonville, N.C., is likely explained by the area’s large military presence and troops returning home. Ithica, N.Y., Campaign, Ill., and some others on the list are college towns, further pushing up the totals.

Even cities that suffered continuing population losses still recorded healthy net international migration gains.

Take the Cleveland-Elyria, Ohio, metro area, for example. Census estimates suggest the area lost an estimated 12,500 total residents -- more than any other area since 2010. While its domestic migration dropped about 32,000, the area still added nearly 12,000 residents from abroad.

The same is true of Detroit, where a net total of 69,000 residents relocated outside of the metro area since 2010. Despite the hit, the region managed to add more than 32,000 people via international migration.

It’s no surprise, then, that immigration has emerged as a key strategy in the state’s efforts to turn around the Motor City. Gov. Rick Snyder announced plans earlier this year to request the federal government to grant 50,000 visas for immigrants to live and work in Detroit.

In some cities, international migration far outpaces population gains from natural change (births and deaths) and domestic migration. Here’s a table showing select metro areas that experienced little to no change in total population, but welcomed sizable tallies of residents from abroad:

Metro Area 2010-2013 International Migration Change Domestic Migration Change Total Change (including natural change) Total Pop. % Change
Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI 74,142 -172,378 76,184 0.8
Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI 32,514 -69,075 -1,330 0.0
Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT 16,251 -18,917 2,827 0.2
Providence-Warwick, RI-MA 14,339 -18,024 3,439 0.2
St. Louis, MO-IL 12,502 -30,308 13,362 0.5
Cleveland-Elyria, OH 11,641 -31,857 -12,520 -0.6
New Haven-Milford, CT 10,717 -15,698 -187 0.0
Springfield, MA 9,501 -7,532 5,345 0.9
Pittsburgh, PA 8,732 7,894 4,582 0.2
Rochester, NY 8,141 -12,215 3,609 0.3
Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY 7,898 -8,547 -1,426 -0.1
Trenton, NJ 7,228 -9,312 2,903 0.8
Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ 7,147 -4,680 5,874 0.7
Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI 7,042 -15,867 13,751 0.9
Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY 6,979 -4,532 7,187 0.8
Lansing-East Lansing, MI 5,171 -7,843 3,289 0.7
Syracuse, NY 4,783 -11,133 -646 -0.1
Atlantic City-Hammonton, NJ 4,080 -5,675 1,313 0.5
Norwich-New London, CT 4,008 -5,472 95 0.0
Dayton, OH 3,741 -5,659 3,256 0.4
Source: 2010-2013 Census Bureau population estimates, current as of July.

Metro Area Population Data: 2010-2013

Select a metro area below for data showing what's behind changes in its population:

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