U.S. Immigrants: Origins, Destinations, Occupations & Earnings

John Grumbine
Aug 8, 2018 · 6 min read

Did you know that if you came from the Philippines, you will probably be a registered nurse, but if you came from Singapore, you are much more likely to be an accountant? Or that most people in the U.S. who were born elsewhere came from Mexico, with India being a distant second?

We are going to be looking at immigrants who are currently living in the U.S. These are people who were born in another country, then moved to the U.S., but were not born to U.S. citizens abroad.

Where did they come from?

Mostly, they came from Mexico.

In the chart below, we can see the number of living immigrants from the top 30 countries that have contributed living immigrants to the U.S.

‘Living immigrants’ are specified, because other countries (like England, Germany, and Ireland) have certainly contributed many immigrants to the U.S. in earlier centuries. While many of their descendants are living here, most immigrants themselves are not.

The two following charts are derived from this tabulation, which was tabulated from the 2014 PUMS file of the American Community Survey, from the U.S. Census Bureau. Click the tabulation link if you want to see tabulated numbers of immigrants, or see how other than the top 30 countries fared. There are 159 countries in the full list, with Bermuda being last, contributing about 5,500 living immigrants to the U.S.

The nearly 12 million immigrants from Mexico overwhelm the above chart, and make it appear that the other countries are pretty similar to each other. Removing Mexico, and redrawing the chart allows the other countries to be better compared with each other, as we see in the following chart. It was taken from the same tabulation as the above chart.

What are their favorite (and least favorite) states?

Now that we know where the immigrants are coming from, we might wonder where they are going. The following chart ranks the 19 favorite states (plus Washington D.C.) for immigrants to live in. It was created from this tabulation. The population of California is more then 1/4 immigrants, with New York not being far behind.

The immigrants tend to flock to the above 19 states (plus D.C.). There are 31 states remaining. In the following chart, we can see the 20 states that have the lowest percentage of immigrants.

Here’s a thought to consider when looking at charts. Look at the shape of the two above charts. They look somewhat similar, as if Oklahoma and California have similar immigration. But pay attention to the scale at the bottom of each chart: California has about 27% immigrants, where Oklahoma only has about 5.7% immigrants.

What occupations do immigrants have, and how much do they earn?

It turns out that occupations and incomes among immigrants are closely associated with where they were born — cultural influences on occupations are huge. If you are from Korea, you will most likely be a retail supervisor. Germany and Japan predominantly export managers. If you came from China, chances favor your being a college professor. India? Software developer.

In the following charts, we’re going to see the most popular 15 occupations, with their associated incomes for each of the top 10 countries (Mexico, India, Philippines, China, El Salvador, Vietnam, Cuba, Korea, Dominican Republic, and Guatemala). If you are interested in another country, or an occupation that is not one of the top 15, just look at the tabulation.

If you are dissatisfied with the predominant 15 occupations and earnings for your country, scroll down to the chart at the bottom. Here I’ve charted the top 15 occupations for Mexico, not ranked on person count but ranked on highest earnings for occupations that have 3,000+ people. For example, physicians who were born in Mexico average $188,000 per year. (I’ve removed any occupation that had less than 3,000 people, in order to reduce any effects that misrepresentations have on the data.) The point is that although we humans tend to pigeonhole ourselves based on culture, regardless of what country you are from, you make your own choices. The physicians, CEOs, lawyers, and software developers from Mexico certainly didn’t follow the crowd. You don’t have to either.

The following charts are for the same immigrants that we have been looking at, except that these are are limited to those 18–65 years old. The younger and older groups have been removed, because we are looking at their predominant occupations.

In these occupation/earnings charts, there are two scales, and two bars of data, so that for each country, we can see the number of people and the average earnings for each occupation. The data is sorted based on the number of people, which is seen in the blue bar (corresponds to the bottom scale). The orange bar shows the average earnings (top scale). For example, there are about 50,000 (blue bar, bottom scale) immigrants born in Guatemala who are “Grounds Maintenance Workers”, and they earn an average of about $19,000 (orange bar, top scale) per year.

Most Common 15 Occupations of Immigrants to the U.S. from Guatemala, Sorted by Person Count (blue bar), with Average Earnings (orange bar)
Most Common 15 Occupations of Immigrants to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic, Sorted by Person Count (blue bar), with Average Earnings (orange bar)
Most Common 15 Occupations of Immigrants to the U.S. from Korea, Sorted by Person Count (blue bar), with Average Earnings (orange bar)
Most Common 15 Occupations of Immigrants to the U.S. from Cuba, Sorted by Person Count (blue bar), with Average Earnings (orange bar)
Most Common 15 Occupations of Immigrants to the U.S. from Vietnam, Sorted by Person Count (blue bar), with Average Earnings (orange bar)
Most Common 15 Occupations of Immigrants to the U.S. from El Salvador, Sorted by Person Count (blue bar), with Average Earnings (orange bar)
Most Common 15 Occupations of Immigrants to the U.S. from China, Sorted by Person Count (blue bar), with Average Earnings (orange bar)
Most Common 15 Occupations of Immigrants to the U.S. from the Philippines, Sorted by Person Count (blue bar), with Average Earnings (orange bar)
Most Common 15 Occupations of Immigrants to the U.S. from India, Sorted by Person Count (blue bar), with Average Earnings (orange bar)
Most Common 15 Occupations of Immigrants to the U.S. from Mexico, Sorted by Person Count (blue bar), with Average Earnings (orange bar)

Now that we’ve looked at charts of the most common occupations, let’s look at a chart of the highest paid occupations for people born in Mexico, with the caveat that there has to be at least 3,000 people in the occupation for it to make the chart. Below we can see there are about 3,000 physicians and surgeons born in Mexico who average nearly $200,000 per year. There are also CEOs, lawyers, software developers, business analysts, etc., all with substantial earnings.

Highest Earning 15 Occupations of Immigrants to the U.S. from Mexico, Sorted by Average Earnings (orange bar), with People Count (blue bar)

All the data in this article was derived from the 2014 American Community Survey Public Use Microdata Sample from the U.S. Census Bureau. For more information on how the tabulations and charts were created, please click here.

John Grumbine

Written by

I work with U.S. Census Data, which enables me to study and write about many facets of U.S. Population and Housing. 2018 Top Writer on Quora.com.

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