An unparalleled wave of immigration over the last two decades has transformed towns and counties across the United States.

Understanding this shift in demographic patterns is key for real estate agents and brokers who want to understand where new immigrant gateways are being constructed, as minorities and immigrants represent the biggest source of new home buyers in the U.S. real estate market.

A report on immigration trends by the Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy reviewed metropolitan areas during the 20th century using U.S. Census data. The findings revealed that unprecedented immigration in the 1980s and 1990s transformed many established immigrant cities, or gateways, and created new ones. Immigrants comprised 11 percent of the U.S. population in 2000. During the 1990s alone, the foreign-born population grew 57 percent, bringing the Census 2000 count of immigrants to 31 million. By 2000 nearly one-third of U.S. immigrants resided outside established settlement states.

Thirteen states primarily in the West and Southeast, including many that had not previously been major destinations for immigrants, saw foreign-born growth rates more than double the national average.

The study found that historical settlement patterns, combined with recent influxes of immigrants, produced six major types of U.S. immigrant gateways: former gateways, continuous gateways, post-World War II gateways, emerging gateways, re-emerging gateways and pre-emerging gateways.

The study also found that in metropolitan areas, more immigrants lived in suburbs than lived in cities, especially in such emerging areas as Seattle and the Twin Cities. The impact, particularly at the metropolitan level, has been great, as many cities and suburbs have had to adjust to new populations that put demands on schools, health care and housing.

The report also found that today’s immigrant population differs markedly from those from previous migration cycles. Not only has the number of immigrations grown, but also the source countries have shifted. In the first three-quarters of the century, a majority of immigrants were from Europe. In the last quarter, recent arrivals to the newest immigrant gateways tended to come from Asia or Mexico. The study also found the latest wave of foreign-born individuals was poorer than the native-born population and had low English proficiency and lower rates of U.S. citizenship.

By contrast, continuous and post-World War II gateways have longer-residing immigrant populations, immigrant poverty rates similar to those of the native population, and relatively higher rates of naturalization. However, English proficiency remains low.

The report found the changing geography had altered the American immigration map and effectively reshuffled the nation’s major immigrant destinations.

“Traditional gateways became former gateways; new gateways emerged; and even newer ones may still develop,” said Audrey Singer, the report’s author. “Affecting this geography, moreover, has been the fact that Sun Belt and Southern cities–whose development postdated their Midwestern and Northeastern counterparts–lack long-term development of densely populated central cities and are overall more suburban in form. That has ensured that immigrant growth in these metro areas has frequently occurred where most of the overall growth is taking place: outside the central cities in the suburbs.”

While established gateways like San Francisco are in many ways well-equipped to deal with rising immigrant populations, the situation is quite different in emerging gateways like Atlanta, Denver and Las Vegas.

The report suggested that local leaders attempt to better understand local immigration dynamics, increase workforce support, and bring cultural and language sensitivity to services, including housing-related transactions.


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