Dec 8, 2022 - Politics & Policy

First look: The U.S. cities where immigrants are moving and thriving

Top metro areas for immigrants moving within the U.S.
Data: The George W. Bush Institute; Map: Alice Feng/Axios; Note: This map has been corrected to show Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA in the right location.

Immigrants already in the U.S. who decide to move are disproportionately heading for Sun Belt metros, according to a new study by the Bush Institute.

Why it matters: In recent decades, immigrants in the U.S. have increasingly chosen to live in smaller cities and more suburban areas — spreading demographic and social change across the country.

  • Immigration into the U.S. is critical for population and economic growth — and will be more so as the U.S. population continues to age.
  • Metro areas "experiencing large inflows of foreign born people are benefiting tremendously by attracting these people," said Cullum Clark, director of the economic growth initiative at the George W. Bush Institute-SMU.

By the numbers: Immigrants who decide to move within the U.S. gravitate toward fast-growing, suburban counties in metro areas with relatively affordable housing and policies that help businesses grow, according to the report, which analyzed foreign born populations in the U.S. between 2010-2020.

  • Of the top 25 metro areas for this kind of secondary migration, 15 are in the Sun Belt.
  • Six are in Florida and three are in South Carolina, with two each in Texas, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.
  • Major city metro areas still have some of the highest rates of people immigrating from abroad. But places like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami have seen more immigrants moving out than in from other parts of the U.S. since 2010, according to the report.

What to watch: Top destinations for newly arrived immigrants like New York and Miami also rank poorly as places where immigrants thrive, according to the report, which measured immigrant well-being by looking at a composite of several factors — including housing costs, income and education.

  • Out of the 100 largest metro areas, those ranked highest for immigrant well-being included several expected tech hubs with high immigration rates such as San Jose, San Francisco and Seattle, according to the report.
  • But the best destinations for immigrants also included more surprising metros, including Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Detroit.
  • "If immigrants are doing well in a city, it's probably a high-opportunity place for newcomers in general. If they’re not, the city is on a troubling path," the report argues.
  • Meanwhile, seven of America's 10 largest metros — New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Miami, and Phoenix — rank in the middle of the pack or toward the bottom for places immigrants are prospering.

Between the lines: The study argues state and local governments should adopt policies that are more welcoming toward immigrants.

  • It also calls on Congress to pass federal legislation that would expand pathways for foreign workers.

The top 10 metro areas for immigrants' well-being:

  1. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California
  2. Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, Maryland
  3. San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley, California
  4. Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Washington
  5. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC/Maryland/Virginia
  6. St. Louis, Missouri/Illinois
  7. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  8. Raleigh-Cary, North Carolina
  9. Jackson, Mississippi
  10. Cincinnati, Ohio/Kentucky/Indiana
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