Recent Immigration to Philadelphia: Regional Change in a Re-Emerging Gateway

An analysis of the growth and characteristics of the foreign-born in the Philadelphia metropolitan area between 1970 and 2006 finds:

  • Among its peers, metropolitan Philadelphia has the largest and fastest growing immigrant population, which now stands at over 500,000, comprising 9 percent of the population. Between 2000 and 2006, greater Philadelphia’s immigrant population grew by 113,000, nearly as many as had arrived in the decade of the 1990s.
  • Metropolitan Philadelphia has a diverse mix of immigrants and refugees from Asia (39 percent), Latin America and the Caribbean (28 percent), Europe (23 percent) and Africa (8 percent). The 10 largest source countries are India, Mexico, China, Vietnam, Korea, Italy, Ukraine, Philippines, Jamaica, and Germany.
  • Immigrant growth in suburban Philadelphia has outpaced the city’s growth, but numerically, the city has the largest population of all local jurisdictions. Outside the city, Montgomery County had the earliest post- World War II suburban settlement of the foreign born and has the largest number of immigrants among jurisdictions, while Chester County saw the fastest growth during the 1970-2006 time period.
  • Nearly 60 percent of the foreign-born living in metropolitan Philadelphia arrived in the United States after 1990. Although their naturalization rates and educational levels reflect their recentness of arrival, on the whole, greater Philadelphia’s immigrants are doing well on these measures as compared with some other U.S. metropolitan immigrant populations.
  • Nearly 75 percent of greater Philadelphia’s labor force growth since 2000 is attributable to immigrants. Immigrants’ contributions to the labor force are considerably higher in this period than in the 1990s, when just 36 percent of the growth was due to immigrants.

A long history of immigration to Philadelphia stalled in the mid-20th century and the region became nearly entirely native born. In the past 15 years, however, immigration is emerging again as a prominent feature of life in the region. The varied immigrant groups—high-skilled professionals, refugees, and laborers from a diverse set of origin countries — bring both opportunities and challenges for policy makers, service providers, and communities throughout greater Philadelphia.

Additional Resources:
Philadelphia Immigration Event Presentation, Philadelphia Free Library, November 13, 2008 »