International migrants were attracted to large urban counties last year

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International migrants were attracted to some of the largest urban counties in the U.S. last year, an influx that helped some of those areas recover from the loss of local residents and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Census Bureau figures show.

More than 1.1 million people moved to the U.S. last year, driving population gains at a time when immigration has become a hot-button election issue during the race for the White House and Congress. Newcomers from abroad accounted for more than two-thirds of U.S. population growth last year, according to the bureau’s population estimates.

Population estimates published last month show which counties attracted international migrants last year but don’t distinguish between those in the country legally or illegally. More than half of the foreign-born population in the U.S. live in just four states: California, Texas, Florida and New York. But the numbers alone only tell part of the story.

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Florida’s Miami-Dade County saw the arrival of more than 54,000 people last year, the most of any county in the U.S., according to the estimates.

Florida as a whole received more than 178,000 international migrants last year, 15% of the U.S. total. More than 7 in 10 went to the Sunshine State’s five most populous and urban counties: Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach in South Florida; Hillsborough, which is home to Tampa, on the Gulf Coast; and Orange, in central Florida, where Orlando is located.

A good number of the international migrants in Florida have cases pending in immigration court, according to figures tracked by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. Miami and Orlando had two of the largest dockets last year for cases of migrants placed in removal proceedings, with the courts in Florida seeing concentrations of Cubans and Venezuelans.

The increases in Florida also reflect some pent-up international migration that was postponed at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Stefan Rayer, director of the Population Program at the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

“Some international migrants who arrived in 2022–2023 probably had planned to move earlier but weren’t able to because of pandemic-related travel restrictions,” Rayer said in an email.

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Detailed figures about where people came from in 2023 haven’t been published yet by the Census Bureau. But according to public use microdata from the 2022 American Community Survey, the greatest share of international migrants to Florida came from Canada, Venezuela, Cuba, Brazil and Colombia, respectively.

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