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New York needs pro-immigrant policies
to bolster its population and economy

New data analysis finds that New York State’s immigrant population has stopped growing, contributing to a plateau in the state’s total labor force and hindering its economic growth.

Pedestrians cross a street in Queens, New York on March 23, 2021. (Photo by Ed JONES / AFP) (Photo by ED JONES/AFP via Getty Images)

New York State has been a major destination for immigrants coming to the U.S. for decades. However, a new analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data finds that the state’s immigrant, or foreign-born, population largely stopped growing during the previous decade, with serious implications for its economy.1 In 2019, just before the pandemic, immigrants in New York State numbered approximately 4.35 million and made up about 22% of the state’s population—about the same share of the population as in 2010. Now that number is plateauing, and more immigrants are leaving the state than entering. To grow its population and its economy in the decades ahead, New York must make the state a more attractive destination for immigrants as well as offer more opportunities for immigrants already living there.

Note: Immigrants were born outside of the U.S. and its territories, and do not include U.S. citizens born abroad.
Source: analysis of decennial Census (1950-2000) and American Community Survey (2010, 2019) data.

With the state’s immigrant population now plateauing, or possibly decreasing, future population growth in the state is in jeopardy, and it could hurt New York’s economy, too.

The decline in immigrant population growth fuels larger, looming demographic trends for the State of New York. From 2010 to 2019, the state’s total population has also plateaued.2 Most of the population growth in the state since 1980 can be attributed to immigrants born outside of the U.S. With the state’s immigrant population now plateauing, or possibly decreasing, future population growth in the state is in jeopardy, and it could hurt New York’s economy, too.

New York’s population is also growing older; the median age of state residents increased from 41 in 2010 to 43 in 2019. This trend in New York reflects a greater demographic transition underway in the U.S., with a decline in the number of new immigrants coming to the U.S. coinciding with the aging of the current population. As with the U.S. overall, New York State must increase its immigrant population to grow its economy and remain economically competitive.

Counter to the statewide trends, some of New York’s cities and regions have already seen the population and economic benefits of growing immigrant communities. For example, the Capital Region has benefited from a growing Asian-American community, of which immigrants are a large part. Meanwhile, Buffalo’s population grew last decade for the first time in 70 years, likely due to inflows of new immigrants. These areas of the state have found ways to attract new immigrants and refugees in helping revive their local economies, something the rest of the state could follow to its benefit.

Three demographic events in New York State are simultaneously driving immigration trends.

First, fewer foreign-born individuals are entering the state each year from outside of the U.S. During 2019, an estimated 100,000 new residents not born in the U.S.moved to New York State from outside of the U.S., far less than a recent peak of 130,000 in 2016.

Note: Outgoing immigrants are foreign-born individuals moving from New York to other states Incoming immigrants are foreign-born individuals from other states entering New York.Source: analysis of American Community Survey data.

Second, about two times as many foreign-born individuals are leaving the state each year for other states as those entering New York from other states. In 2019, an estimated 90,000 immigrants, or foreign-born individuals, left New York to live in other U.S. states, while only 45,000 entered New York from other states. An analysis of additional U.S. Census Bureau data shows that between 40% and 50% of foreign-born individuals each year leaving New York State for other states cite housing issues—such as wanting to buy a home, the availability of cheaper housing, or the possibility of living in a better neighborhood—as their main reason for leaving3

Third, the immigrant population in New York is also aging and now sits at a median age of 50, four years older than in 2010.4 This means that a greater number of New York’s foreign-born individuals have reached or are approaching retirement, further impacting the size of the state’s labor force. In fact, the size of New York’s immigrant labor force seems to have decreased by about 100,000 workers between 2015 and 2019. As new immigrants are typically starting their careers, increasing the immigrant population would help both an aging immigrant and the overall labor force.

Note: Labor force includes those employed or looking for employment.
Source: analysis of American Community Survey data.

Moving forward, New York should develop policies and enact legislation that attract more immigrants, while enacting policies that make life easier for immigrants already living in the state.

The likely decreasing numbers of immigrants in New York’s labor force could also lead to a decline in the overall economy. In 2019, immigrant incomes made up more than a quarter of the total income contribution for the state’s GDP.5 Consequently, immigrants are unquestionably vital to New York’s economy.

Moving forward, New York should develop policies and enact legislation that attract more immigrants, while enacting policies that make life easier for immigrants already living in the state.

One action that can be taken by the New York Legislature is to pass the New York for All Act, which would prohibit state and municipal staff from sharing immigrants’ personal information without a judicial warrant. Additionally, the Empire State Licensing Act would permit all individuals, regardless of their immigration status, to apply for occupational and business licenses. Finally, state lawmakers should pass legislation that would expand language access to state services and help provide legal counsel funding for immigration proceedings. And the state should address better access to affordable housing for all immigrants, regardless of status (a key reason why many, including nonimmigrants, leave the state each year).

In past decades, the growth of the immigrant population in urban areas of New York has boosted New York’s economy. In the same way, new immigrants and refugees who have moved to rural and suburban parts of the state have invigorated local economies suffering population decline and economic hardship. Communities across New York can foster economic growth and expand opportunities by implementing policies that welcome more immigrants. State leaders should do everything in their power to make New York a major destination for immigrants once again.


  1. Figures are based on U.S. Census data for 1950 to 2000 and American Community Survey data for 2010 to 2019. Data were obtained from IPUMS USA. Immigrants were born outside of the U.S. and its territories and do not include U.S. citizens born abroad. ACS Data for 2020 is available, but due to data collection issues during the pandemic, it is not recommended for single-year estimates. Consequently, most of this data analysis is for 2019 and earlier.
  2. Additional analyses show trends presented in this report are similar for the immigrant population living in metro areas and in more rural parts of the state.
  3. analysis of Current Population Survey’s (CPS) Annual Social and Economic Supplements (ASEC) from 2010 to 2021.
  4. In 2019, the median age of immigrants in New York state at 50 years is higher than the U.S. overall at 48 years.
  5. Economic contributions of undocumented immigrants are the total spending power of personal income available from American Community Survey (ACS) data, after estimated federal, state, and local tax payments. Federal taxes are based on federal and payroll tax estimates for market income by household type and household size from the Congressional Budget Office’s 2017 “Distribution of Household Income” report. Estimates do not take into account differences in local taxation rates, but are based on estimated state average of taxation by income from the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy’s 2018 report, “Who Pays? A Distribution Analysis of the Tax Systems in All 50 States.” Negative personal income was considered zero income while the median level of income for New York’s immigrant population was used for ACS respondents who did not provide personal income.
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Eddie A. Taveras

New York State Immigration Director

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