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Filipino Immigrants in the United States

— theme: Labour migration policy
— country: Philippines
— type: Reports

Migration from the Philippines to the United States began in the late 19th century and has been driven in large part by longstanding political, military, and educational ties between the two countries, including a decades-long period of U.S. colonization. There have been several waves of immigration, but the pace escalated towards the end of the 20th century. In 2018, just over 2 million Filipinos lived in the United States, accounting for 4.5 percent of the country’s 44.7 million immigrants. This was a quadrupling since 1980, when there were 501,000 Filipino immigrants in the United States. The Philippines was the second-largest origin country for immigrants in 1990 and throughout the first decade of the 21st century but was overtaken by India and China in 2010. Today, Filipino immigrants represent the fourth-largest origin group after the foreign born from Mexico, India, and China.

Author/Editor
Luis Hassan Gallardo and Jeanne Batalova
Publishing Year
2020

The first wave of Filipino immigrants arrived in the United States following the U.S. annexation of the Philippines in 1899. Many Filipinos came to work in agriculture, primarily on fruit and vegetable farms along the West Coast and sugarcane plantations in Hawaii, though some came to the United States to obtain education. The 1934 Tydings-McDuffie Act put the Philippines on track to independence, which it achieved eight years later, but also imposed a limit of 50 Filipino immigrants per year. This new law, combined with the Great Depression, brought immigration from the Philippines to a trickle. However, World War II reopened migration channels both for family and work-related purposes. First, American soldiers stationed in the Philippines came home with their Filipino wives after the war. Second, some Filipinos came to the United States as military recruits. Finally, some Filipinos who came to study and obtain professional experience in the health-care field remained in the United States after completing their training. In more recent years, the combination of the removal of national-origin quotas in U.S. immigration law in 1965, on the one hand, and Filipino policies that encouraged labor emigration, on the other, contributed to even higher levels of migration from the Philippines to the United States. The Filipino immigrant population increased fivefold from 105,000 to 501,000 between 1960 and 1980. From there, it nearly tripled to almost 1.4 million by 2000.

The United States is home to by far the largest number of Filipinos abroad. Other top destinations include Saudi Arabia (629,000), Canada (627,000), the United Arab Emirates (556,000), Australia (281,000), and Japan (256,000), according to mid-2019 United Nations Population Division estimates.

Click here to view an interactive map showing where migrants from the Philippines and other countries have settled worldwide.

Today, most Filipinos in the United States who obtain lawful permanent residence (LPR status, also known as getting a green card) do so through family reunification channels, either as immediate relatives of U.S. citizens or through other family-sponsored channels. Many also get green cards through employment preferences. Meanwhile, Filipinos are more likely than other immigrants to have strong English skills and have much higher college education rates than the overall foreign- and U.S.-born populations. They are also more likely to be naturalized U.S. citizens than other immigrant groups, have higher incomes and lower poverty rates, and are less likely to be uninsured.

Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau (the most recent 2018 American Community Survey [ACS] as well as pooled 2014-18 ACS data) and the Department of Homeland Security’s Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, this Spotlight provides information on the Filipino immigrant population in the United States, focusing on its size, geographic distribution, and socioeconomic characteristics.

Click on the bullet points below for more information:

Distribution by State and Key Cities

In the 2014-18 period, immigrants from the Philippines were highly concentrated in California (43 percent), followed distantly by Hawaii (6 percent). The next four most populous states—Texas, Illinois, New York, and Nevada—were home to 18 percent of the Filipino population collectively. The top four counties by Filipino concentration were Los Angeles and San Diego counties in California, Honolulu County in Hawaii, and Clark County in Nevada. Together these counties accounted for 25 percent of Filipinos in the United States.

As of 2014-18, the U.S. cities with the largest number of Filipinos were the greater Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York metropolitan areas. These three metro areas accounted for about 31 percent of Filipinos in the United States.

English Proficiency

Filipino immigrants are much more likely to be proficient in English than the overall foreign-born population. In 2018, about 29 percent of Filipinos ages 5 and over reported limited English proficiency, compared to 47 percent of all immigrants. Approximately 16 percent of Filipinos spoke only English at home, versus 17 percent of the foreign born.

Note: Limited English Proficient (LEP) refers to those who indicated on the ACS questionnaire that they spoke English less than “very well.”

Age, Education, and Employment

In 2018, Filipinos were older than the overall foreign- and U.S.-born populations. The Filipino median age was 51 years, compared to 45 years for all immigrants and 36 years for the native born. This is largely due to the disproportionately high number of Filipino seniors: 24 percent of Filipinos were 65 or older, versus 16 percent of both the overall foreign- and native-born populations. Meanwhile, Filipinos were more likely than the native born but somewhat less likely than the overall foreign born to be of working age (18 to 64; see Figure 4).

Filipinos ages 25 and older have much higher education rates compared to both the native- and overall foreign-born populations. Almost half of Filipino immigrants (49 percent) reported having at least a bachelor’s degree in 2018, compared to 33 percent of the U.S. born and 32 percent of all immigrant adults.

Filipinos participate in the labor force at a similar rate as all immigrants: About 66 percent of Filipino immigrants and all immigrants ages 16 and over were in the civilian labor force, compared to 62 percent of the native born. Filipinos were much more likely to be employed in management, business, science, and arts occupations than all immigrants (see Figure 5). Filipino immigrants represented 28 percent of all immigrants working as registered nurses in 2018.

Income and Poverty

Filipinos overall have significantly higher incomes compared to the total foreign- and native-born populations. In 2018, households headed by a Filipino immigrant had a median income of $93,000, compared to $60,000 and $62,000 for all immigrant and U.S.-born households, respectively.

In 2018, Filipino immigrants were less likely to be in poverty (6 percent) than immigrants overall (15 percent) or U.S.-born persons (13 percent).

Immigration Pathways and Naturalization

Filipinos are much more likely to be naturalized U.S. citizens than immigrants overall. In 2018, 71 percent of Filipinos were naturalized citizens, compared to 51 percent of the total foreign-born population.

Compared to all immigrants, Filipinos are slightly more likely to have arrived before 2000. The largest share of Filipinos, approximately 56 percent, arrived prior to 2000, followed by 24 percent coming between 2000 and 2009, and 20 percent in 2010 or later (see Figure 6).

In fiscal year (FY) 2018, the Philippines was the sixth-largest country of origin for new permanent residents. Approximately 47,300 of the 1.1 million new LPRs were from the Philippines. Most Filipinos who obtain green cards do so through family reunification channels. In FY 2018, 81 percent of the 47,300 Filipinos who received a green card did so as either immediate relatives of U.S. citizens or other family members, a much higher share compared to 63 percent of all new LPRs (see Figure 7).

Although the vast majority of Filipino immigrants in the United States are legally present, approximately 313,000 were unauthorized in the 2012-16 period, according to Migration Policy Institute (MPI) estimates, comprising approximately 3 percent of the 11.3 million unauthorized population.

MPI also estimated that approximately 26,000 Filipino unauthorized immigrants were immediately eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program when it was introduced in 2012. However, as of March 2020, only 3,270 Filipinos were among the 643,600 active participants, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data.

Health Coverage

Filipinos have high health insurance coverage rates compared to all immigrants. In 2018, just 6 percent of immigrants from the Philippines were uninsured, a rate similar to the U.S.-born population, compared to 20 percent of all foreign born. Filipino immigrants were also more likely to be covered by private health insurance than the overall foreign- and U.S.-born populations (see Figure 8).

Diaspora

The Filipino diaspora in the United States was comprised of more than 4.3 million individuals who were either born in the Philippines or reported Filipino ancestry or race, according to tabulations from the U.S. Census Bureau 2018 ACS.

Remittances

In 2019, Filipinos living abroad sent more than $35 billion in remittances to the Philippines via formal channels, according to the World Bank’s estimate. Remittances more than doubled in the past decade and represented about 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019.

Sources

Gibson, Campbell J. and Kay Jung. 2006. Historical Census Statistics on the Foreign-born Population of the United States: 1850-2000. Working Paper no. 81, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC, February 2006. Available online.

United Nations Population Division. N.d. International Migrant Stock by Destination and Origin. Accessed June 1, 2020. Available online.

U.S. Census Bureau. 2020. 2018 American Community Survey. Access from Steven Ruggles, Katie Genadek, Ronald Goeken, Josiah Grover, and Matthew Sobek. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 7.0 [dataset]. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2020. Available online.

---. N.d. 2018 American Community Survey. Accessed June 1, 2020. Available online.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. 2020. Approximate Active DACA Recipients: Country of Birth as of March 31, 2020. Available online.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Immigration Statistics. 2020. 2018 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics. Washington, DC: DHS Office of Immigration Statistics. Available online.

World Bank Prospects Group. 2020. Annual Remittances Data, April 2020 update. Available online.

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