|Salvadoran Immigrants in the United States
Migration Policy Institute
As civil wars engulfed several Central American countries in the 1980s, hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans fled their country and came to the United States.Between 1980 and 1990, the Salvadoran immigrant population in the United States increased nearly fivefold from 94,000 to 465,000. The number of Salvadoran immigrants in the United States continued to grow in the 1990s and 2000s as a result of family reunification and new arrivals fleeing a series of natural disasters that hit El Salvador, including earthquakes and hurricanes.
By 2008, there were about 1.1 million Salvadoran immigrants in the United States. Salvadorans are the country’s sixth largest immigrant group after Mexican, Filipino, Indian, Chinese, and Vietnamese foreign born.
The immigrant population from this tiny Central American country is now nearly as large as the immigrant population from much larger China. (As reference, China’s total population is 200 times larger and its territory is about 500 times larger than El Salvador’s.)
More than half of all Salvadoran immigrants resided in just two states, California and Texas, although they are also concentrated in New York, Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia (for more information on immigrants by state, see the ACS/Census Data tool on the MPI Data Hub).
Foreign-born men and women from El Salvador have higher rates of participation in the civilian labor force than immigrant men overall. They are also heavily concentrated in construction and services.
This spotlight focuses on Salvadoran immigrants residing in the United States, examining the population’s size, geographic distribution, and socioeconomic characteristics using data from the US Census Bureau’s 2008 American Community Survey (ACS) and 2000 Decennial Census, and the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics (OIS) for 2008.
Size and Distribution
Demographic and Socioeconomic Overview
Legal and Unauthorized Salvadoran Immigrant Population
Size and DistributionThere were 1.1 million foreign born from El Salvador residing in the United States in 2008.
Up until 1990, the foreign born from El Salvador ranked behind most foreign-born groups in terms of size (see Table 1). For instance, in 1980, the number of Salvadoran born in the United States (94,447) was about half the size of the immigrant population from Jamaica (196,811) and comparable to the foreign-born population from the Netherlands (103,136).
By 2008, the Salvadoran-born population was more than double the size of the Jamaican-born population (636,589) and 13 times larger than the Dutch immigrant population (85,635). Between 2000 and 2008, Salvadorans surpassed Cubans as the second largest immigrant group from Latin America (after the Mexican born) (see the pie charts showing the top 10 countries of birth of immigrants residing in the United States over time here).
The Salvadoran born in 2008 were similar in size compared to the Vietnamese born (1.1 million) and the Korean born (1.0 million) but smaller than the immigrant population born in mainland China (excluding Hong Kong) (1.4 million)
About one of every five Salvadorans resides in the United States.
More than half of the Salvadoran born resided in California and Texas.
The next four states with large Salvadoran-born populations accounted for an additional one-fourth of Salvadorans residing in the United States: New York (91,966, or 8.4 percent), Maryland (71,729, or 6.6 percent), Virginia (67,820, or 6.2 percent), and Florida (46,141, or 4.2 percent).
Salvadoran immigrants made up 15 percent of all immigrants in the District of Columbia in 2008.
Between 2000 and 2008, 10 states saw the size of their Salvadoran immigrant population grow by more than 10,000 people.
Nearly two-thirds of Salvadoran immigrants resided in six metropolitan areas.
Salvadoran immigrants were particularly concentrated in Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV, where they accounted for 12.3 percent of all foreign born in that metro area, and in Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX (8.0 percent); Richmond, VA (7.0 percent); and Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA (6.3 percent).
Demographic and Socioeconomic Overview
Over one-quarter of all Salvadoran foreign born in the United States arrived in 2000 or later.
Four of every five Salvadoran immigrants in 2008 were adults of working age.
Of the total foreign-born population in the United States in 2008, 7.4 percent were minors, 69.0 percent were of working age, and 23.6 percent were seniors.
Salvadoran immigrant men outnumbered women in 2008.
The majority of Salvadoran immigrants were not US citizens in 2008.
Seven of every 10 Salvadoran immigrants in 2008 were limited English proficient.
(Note: The term limited English proficient refers to any person age 5 and older who reported speaking English “not at all,” “not well,” or “well” on their survey questionnaire. Individuals who reported speaking only English or speaking English “very well” are considered proficient in English).
More than half of Salvadoran foreign-born adults did not have a high school education.
On the other end of the education continuum, about 7.6 percent of Salvadoran immigrants had a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to 27.1 percent among the 31.9 million foreign-born adults.
Salvadoran immigrant men and women were more likely to participate in the civilian labor force than foreign-born men and women overall.
Nearly 40 percent of employed Salvadoran-born men worked in construction, extraction, and transportation.
By contrast, among the 13.6 million foreign-born males age 16 and older employed in the civilian labor force in 2008, 25.9 percent reported working in construction, extraction, and transportation, and 17.4 percent reported working in services.
About 45 percent of employed Salvadoran-born women worked in services.
By contrast, among the 9.5 million foreign-born females age 16 and older employed in the civilian labor force in 2008, 25.7 percent reported working in service occupations and 14.7 percent reported working in administrative support occupations.
Back to the topLegal and Unauthorized Salvadoran Immigrant Population
There were about 340,000 Salvadoran lawful permanent residents (LPRs) in 2008.
Over three-quarters of Salvadoran-born lawful permanent residents in 2008 were eligible to naturalize.
Most Salvadoran LPRs entered through family sponsorship or as the immediate relatives of US citizens.
About 229,000 nationals of El Salvador were eligible to reregister for Temporary Protected Status in 2008.
The most recent extension was announced in September 2008, when an estimated 229,000 Salvadorans qualified, according to USCIS. TPS for Salvadoran nationals is currently set to expire on September 9, 2010.
For more information on TPS and other forms of temporary humanitarian relief, see:
Back to the topIn 2008, 5 percent of all unauthorized immigrants in the United States were from El Salvador.
The number of unauthorized immigrants from El Salvador increased 35 percent between 2000 and 2008.
For information about ACS methodology, sampling error, and nonsampling error, click here.
Dirección General de Estadística y Censos. 2008. VI Censo de Población y V de Vivienda, 2007. San Salvador. Available online.
Hoefer, Michael, Nancy Rytina, and Bryan C. Baker. 2009. Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: January 2008. February 2009. US Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics. Available online.
Monger, Randall and Nancy Rytina. 2009. U.S. Legal Permanent Residents: 2008. US Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics. Available online.
Rytina, Nancy. 2009. Estimates of the Legal Permanent Resident Population in 2008. October 2009. US Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics. Available online.
US Census Bureau. 2008 American Community Survey. Accessed from Steven Ruggles, Matthew Sobek, Trent Alexander, et al., Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 3.0. Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota Population Center, 2004.
US Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics. 2008 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics. Various tables. Available online.
Wassem, Ruth Ellen and Karma Ester. 2006. Temporary Protected Status: Current Immigration Policy and Issues. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service. Available online.
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