By on 7.6.22 in NC in Focus

Dr. Michael Cline is the state demographer for North Carolina at the Office of State Budget and Management and has given us permission to re-post his content here. Each year, he publishes population estimates and projections for North Carolina and its counties.

Miguel came to North Carolina from Columbia when he was a little boy, not yet old enough for school. While many of his family members still live in Columbia, North Carolina is the only home he can recall. As a teenager, he became a naturalized citizen, along with his parents.

Julia came to North Carolina from Germany to attend graduate school. While completing an internship she fell in love with a fellow engineer. They are now expecting their first child and Julia has decided to begin the process to become a U.S. citizen.

According to the Census Bureau’s most recent 5-Year American Community Survey data, there are 832,602 people in North Carolina who, like Miguel and Julia, were born outside the U.S. but now call North Carolina home. Foreign-born residents make up 8% of the state’s population.

The stories and origins of this portion of the state’s population are more varied than you might expect. The data in the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) can provide a glimpse into the into the richness of our state’s cultural diversity among the foreign-born population.

Many Foreign-Born Residents are Naturalized Citizens

Two out of every five foreign-born people living in North Carolina are naturalized citizens. This means, like Miguel, they went through the process of becoming a U.S. citizens.

2 out of 5 foreign-born people in NC are Naturalized Citizens
Source: US Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2016-2020

As you might expect, the longer a person has been in the country, the more likely they are to be naturalized. While just over 12% of foreign-born people who arrived in 2010 or later have been naturalized, more than three-quarters of those who arrived before 1990 are.

Foreign-Born Residents Come from Across the Globe

The top two countries of origin for foreign-born people in North Carolina are Mexico and India respectively. And, like the rest of the U.S., the top region of the world North Carolina’s foreign-born population hails from is Latin America.

Top countries of origin for North Carolina's foreign-born population
Source: US Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2016-2020

However, the breadth of countries of origin is more impressive. There are more than 150 countries represented in North Carolina’s population, most representing 2% or less of our foreign-born population total. For example, 8% of the foreign-born population was born somewhere in Africa. At an estimated 7,300 immigrants, Nigeria contributes the largest share of African immigrants. Yet less than 1% of the foreign-born population is originally from Nigeria.

Changing Trends in Country of Origin

By comparing the 2016-2020 ACS to the 2011-2015 ACS, one can also see changing trends over the prior decade.

Mexico remains the top country of origin, but the number of people living in North Carolina and born in Mexico has declined by 12% (from 251,000 to 221,000).

While the largest number of foreign-born residents are from Latin America, the region represents a decreasing share of the foreign-born population. Meanwhile, the number of people originally from nations in Africa and Asia has increased by 44% and 24% respectively.

The nations of origin with the largest percentage increases in North Carolina’s foreign-born population may not be obvious.

Source: US Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2016-2020 compared to 2011-2015

While North Carolina has seen a notable increase in residents born in these countries, in most cases the population from these countries of origin remains tiny. Except for the United Kingdom, each of these nations contributes less than 1% to the foreign-born population in North Carolina.

How Does North Carolina Compare to National Trends

Many of the trends we observe in North Carolina in the foreign-born population are not unique. Nationwide the foreign-born population from Asian and African nations is adding diversity to the foreign-born population as in number of people originally from Mexico and several other Latin American countries declines.

North Carolina falls in the middle of the pack among states for the percentages of our population that was born in another country. California, New Jersey, New York, and Florida are states with the most foreign-born population, with more than 20% of their state populations coming from people born in other countries. West Virginia, Montana, Mississippi, and Wyoming are the states with the smallest foreign-born populations. Nationwide, the foreign-born population is 13.7% of the national total.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau data, more than half of foreign-born people in the U.S. are naturalized, while North Carolina’s rate is 40%.  For both North Carolina and the nation, that percentage has increased compared to the prior 5-year ACS data.

Use LINC to Learn More about North Carolina’s Foreign-Born Population

Explore the data on North Carolina’s foreign-born population on LINC (Log Into North Carolina). This data platform provides easy access to data about our state, including visualizations like the one below. You can even use LINC to look at countries of origin by county.

Screenshot from LINC on foreign-born population in NC
Visit for more data and visualizations like this

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