The number of immigrants entering the United States in 2016 dropped to its lowest level in more than two decades, federal data released this week showed.
It’s the latest sign of the yawning gap between the countries in which immigrants move to the United States and those from which they return. While the population of immigrants in the U.S. has stayed remarkably stable since 1990, that figure has in part reflected the end of a “looming demographic disaster,” as Vox’s Dara Lind wrote last week. Because it has been a few years since the U.S. has seen the birth rate fall below its fertility rate, last year’s birth rate was the lowest in the country’s history, according to demographers.
The change has caused some economists to warn of a “demographic crisis” that could overwhelm the U.S. budget.
The United States has had more than 5 million immigrants, legal and illegal, since 2000. Legal immigrants make up nearly 45 percent of the total immigrant population and they make up about 3 percent of the U.S. adult population. Currently, about 20.2 million immigrants in the United States are of immigrant heritage, according to a study by Princeton University.
Officials of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, which released the 2018 Federal Immigration Migration Report, said the lack of physical growth in the U.S. is due in part to a decrease in the number of unaccompanied minors coming across the border and the number of those having fraudulent documents entering the country. At the same time, they noted that some immigrants — including those from Ethiopia, Guatemala, Haiti, and Honduras — continue to “increase significantly.”
While overall immigration numbers have decreased, the number of people being admitted into the country to work in agriculture has increased by 60 percent from 2009 to 2016, according to Michael Greenstone, a finance professor at the University of Chicago.
At the same time, the number of lawful permanent residents has risen significantly, according to data from the Office of Immigration Statistics.
Mr. Greenstone warned that the end of the baby boom generation would likely result in increases in the U.S. labor force and a decrease in the labor force in their native countries, causing the U.S. and global economy to be overly dependent on migrants. This may increase pressure on the social safety net. He also said there could be a decline in immigrants who send remittances, with a “secondary effect” of creating job insecurity for them.