Immigration Facts
Summary Demographic State Data (and Source)
Population (2012 CB est.) 5,726,398
Population (2000 CB est.) 5,363,675
Foreign-Born Population (2012 CB est.) 272,009
Foreign-Born Population (2000 CB est.) 193,751
Share Foreign-Born (2012) 4.8 %
Share Foreign-Born (2000) 3.4%
Naturalized U.S. Citizens (2012 CB est.): 115,328
Share Naturalized (2012) 42.4 %
Legal Immigrant Admission (DHS 2001 – 2012) 68,463
Refugee Admission (HHS 2000 – 2012) 11,721
Illegal Alien Population (2010 FAIR est.) 95,000
Costs of Illegal Aliens (2009 FAIR) $697,034,228
Projected 2050 Population (2006 FAIR) 6,969,000

State Population

According to the Census Bureau, the population of Wisconsin in 2012 was 5,726,398 residents.

Between 2000 (population 5,363,675) and 2012, the state's average annual population change was 29,610 residents. That was an annual average change of 0.5 percent. The comparable national annual rate of change was 0.9 percent.

Between 1990 (population 4,891,769) and 2000, the state's annual average population change was 47,191 residents. The annual average rate of change was 0.9 percent compared to the national rate of change of 1.2 percent.

Foreign-Born Population

According to the Census Bureau the foreign-born population of Wisconsin was about 272,009 persons in 2012. This estimate meant a foreign-born population share of 4.8 percent. The chart above shows the long-term change in the state's foreign-born population based on Census Bureau data.

Foreign-Born Change

Between 2000 and 2012 the Census Bureau estimate indicates an average annual rate of change in the foreign-born population of about 6,388 people, compared to the state's annual average population change of about 29,610  people. That is a 21.6  percent share of the state's population change (not including the children born in the United States to illegal aliens). The foreign-born population grew by 40.4 percent between 2000 and 2012.

Immigration also contributes to population growth through the U.S.-born children of immigrants. Nationally the share of births to the foreign-born is about double their share of the population. A 9.6 percent share of the state's current births is large enough to account for about 6,630 births a year. Combining the average increase in the foreign-born population and estimated immigrant births suggests that immigration may account for about 13,020 persons added to the state's population annually, i.e., nearly 44.0 percent of the state's overall population increase.

As of 2012 about 46.9 percent of Wisconsin's foreign-born population had arrived in the state since 2000. This compares with the national average 40.9 percent. In 2000, 46.8 percent of the state's foreign-born population that had arrived since the previous Census.

Foreign-Born Characteristics

An indicator of the change in Wisconsin's immigrant population may be seen in data on the share of the population over five years of age that speaks a language other than English at home. Between 2000 and 2012, the share of non-English speakers changed from 7.3 percent to 8.8 percent. In 2000, 40.4 percent of those persons in also said they spoke English less than very well. In the 2012 estimate, the share was 37.0 percent that spoke English less than very well. In 2012 Spanish speakers were 53.0 percent of those who spoke other than English at home, and 58.5 percent of those who spoke English less than very well.

The chart above shows the regional composition of the state's foreign-born population and how it has changed from between 2000 and 2012.


Census Bureau data in 2012 indicate that 115,328 residents of Wisconsin, or 42.4 percent of the foreign-born population in Wisconsin, were naturalized U.S. citizens, compared to 76,223 residents, or 39.3 percent, in 2000.

Nationally, 40.3 percent of the foreign-born population was naturalized in 2000, and 45.8 percent in 2012.

Net International Migration (NIM)

Data from the Current Population Survey (CPS), the Census Bureau estimated that between 2000 and 2012, the change in Wisconsin's population resulting from net international migration has been about 13,295 people. It was 27.1 percent of total change (not including the children born to the immigrants after their arrival in the United States). 1   The remainder was due to net domestic migration and natural change (births minus deaths).


  1. A negative percentage results when there was an overall population decrease. A percentage greater than 100 percent results when domestic migration is negative, i.e, a net loss from interstate migration.

Immigrant Admissions

Recent "green card" recipients who intend to reside in Wisconsin were 170 percent above admissions just after adoption of the current immigration system in 1965. During the 1965 to 1969 period, annual admissions averaged about 2,407 persons. During the most recent five years, annual admissions averaged about 6,503 persons. Immigrant admissions data are from the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics.

The chart above shows recent immigrant admissions and the cumulative amount of immigrant admissions since FY'65. The cumulative total of immigrant admissions to Wisconsin between fiscal years 1965 and 2012 has been 204,558 persons.

The data for fiscal years 1989-91 were artificially raised by the inclusion of former illegal aliens who were amnestied in 1986. According to INS data (1991) the number of amnesty applicants from Wisconsin was 4,119 (2,638 pre-1982 residents and 1,481 agricultural workers). These data were published by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and reported in "Report on the Legalized Alien Population," March 1992.

Admissions by Nationality: FY'96 - FY'05

The table below furnishes INS data by nationality on the immigrants who were admitted for residence in Wisconsin between 1996 and 2005.

The INS data are for nationals of the countries with the largest number of immigrants admitted or adjusted to legal residence each year since 1996. The absence of data means that the total number of admissions to the United States by nationals of that country was not enough to merit detailed reporting in that year.

The Department of Homeland Security website has detailed data on immigrant admissions since FY'03 by year and by source country and intended state of residence. (See http://www.dhs.gov/files/statistics/publications/yearbook.shtm) then select the desired year, click Legal Permanent Residents, data and then select "supplemental table 1."

Chart of Immigrant Admission by Fiscal Year


Wisconsin has received 11,721 refugees over the most recent ten fiscal years including 785 refugees in fiscal year 2012. The chart above shows the annual admissions over the last ten years and the cumulative total of those admissions using data complied by the Office of Refugee Resettlement in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The U.S. government program that distributes new refugees among the states is the only immigration program that provides state governments the opportunity to participate in deciding how many newcomers will come to that state each year.

Illegal Aliens

Wisconsin Fiscal Costs
Due to Illegal Aliens
           ($M) (Pct.)
K-12 educ. $288.90 41.4%
LEP educ. $58.10 8.3%
Medicaid+ $48.20 6.9%
SCHIP $13.50 1.9%
Justice $68.10 9.8%
Welfare+ $78.50 11.3%
General $140.50 20.2%
Total $697.00  
Tax receipts $23.70  
Net Cost $673.30  
Source: "The State Cost Studies"

FAIR Estimate - FAIR estimates the illegal alien population of Wisconsin as of 2010 was about 95,000 persons. This is part of an overall estimate of the U.S. illegal alien population of about 11,900,000 persons.

DHS Estimate - The current estimate by DHS of the illegal alien population in Wisconsin was n/a in 2012. The DHS estimate is available for only the 10 states with the largest illegal alien populations. The DHS estimate of the national illegal alien population in 2012 was 11,430,000.

Other Estimates - The Pew Hispanic Center estimates the illegal alien population of the state at 100,000 as of 2010.

Fiscal Cost of Illegal Aliens

FAIR's most recent estimate of the cost outlays due to illegal immigration and tax receipts from illegal aliens in Wisconsin are as shown on the right:

Limited English Proficiency Students

Data are not available nationally on immigrant students (either legally or illegally resident in the United States) who are enrolled in primary and secondary schools (K-12). However, a large majority of these students enrolled in Limited English Proficiency/English Language Learning (LEP/ELL) instruction programs may be assumed to be children of either legal or illegal immigrants with a predominance of children of illegal aliens.

In Wisconsin, LEP public school enrollment in 2010 ( 51,837) was 190.7 percent of LEP enrollment a decade earlier. By contrast, overall K-12 enrollment in the state was 99.4 percent of enrollment a decade earlier.

Population Projection

FAIR projected Wisconsin's population in 2050 likely would be between 6,852,000 million and 6,969,000 million with current levels of immigration. Alternatively, the population could be lower (6,260,000) if immigration were reduced to a level where it balanced the number of U.S. residents leaving to reside outside of the United states, i.e., zero-net immigration. See "Projecting the U.S. Population to 2050: Four Immigration Scenarios," FAIR 2006.

Foreign Students

Data compiled by the Institute of International Education (IIE) record the number of foreign students attending post-secondary school in Wisconsin as 10,375 in 2013.

The chart above illustrates the change in the number of foreign students attending school in Wisconsin since 1997.

For information on foreign student issues see: Foreign Students in the United States.

Immigration Impact

Sanctuary Policies

City or County


Amicus Brief (March 23, 2012)

  • Madison joined an amicus curiae brief that urged the Supreme Court to strike down provisions of Arizona’s SB 1070.


Resolution No. 031413 (March 2, 2004)

  • “…the City of Milwaukee opposes any unfunded federal mandates instructing local police to attempt to enforce the complex civil immigration laws of the U.S. to the detriment of their primary law enforcement duties, as articulated by the Boston Police Commissioner: ‘turning all police officers into immigration agents will discourage immigrants from coming forward to report crimes and suspicious activity, making our streets less safe as a result….’”

Resolution, File No. 12-135 (June 4, 2012)

  • “Immigration detainer requests from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement shall be honored only if the subject of the request: a) Has been convicted of at least one felony or two non-traffic misdemeanor offenses…b) Has been convicted or charged with any domestic violence offense or any violation of a protective order…c) Has been convicted or charged with intoxicated use of a vehicle…d) Is a defendant in a pending criminal case, has an outstanding criminal warrant, or is an identified gang member…e) Is a possible match on the US terrorist watch list….”


Disappearing open space: The amount of developed land in Wisconsin increased by 750,700 acres from 1982 to 2007, growing at a pace of 32,470 acres per year over the last ten years of that period.1 This population-driven development of forest and farmland has meant a dramatic change of lifestyle for many local farmers and outdoorsmen, who rely on the woodlots and farm fields for both leisure and income.2

The prairies and forests that much of the wildlife in Wisconsin depends on are threatened by Wisconsin's growth. 118 plants, 26 birds, and 21 fish species in Wisconsin are listed as threatened or endangered.3

Crowded housing: An estimated 33,430 of Wisconsin's housing units were classified as crowded in 2008, defined as units with more than one occupant per room. This amounted to 1.5 percent of the state's housing units. In addition, 6,980 units were severely crowded, with at least 1.5 occupants per room.4 Nationwide, children in immigrant families were three times as likely to live in crowded conditions as children in native families (27 percent to 9 percent). In the state, 19 percent of children in immigrant families live in crowded housing, compared to just 7 percent of children with native-born parents.5

Sprawl: Metro Milwaukee's population is the eighth most dense in the nation—and residents aren't happy about it. In Germantown (a fast-growing Milwaukee suburb), 75 percent of residents say they want "little to no population growth."6 Echoing the same sentiments, the City Council in Verona voted to limit the number of new houses built each year in order to slow down its past three years of unprecedented growth.7

These communities must also deal with the cost of unprecedented growth, as they must bear the financial burden of new infrastructure and services to accommodate the new developments. For instance, in Franklin, where population increased 35 percent during the 1990s, the town paid over $13 million for expanded infrastructure to keep up with its rapid population growth.8

Traffic: Wisconsin highway traffic increased by 29 percent between 1990 and 2008. Rising traffic volumes are a major reason that 44 percent of the state's major urban highways were considered congested by The Road Information Project in 2010.9 As population growth put more traffic on the roads, the average commute for Wisconsin residents increased from 18 minutes in 1990 to 21 minutes in 2005.10

The typical Milwaukee commuter spent about 18 hours in traffic due to congestion in 2007, burning through an extra 13 gallons of gas due to the delays. The total time and fuel cost to commuters was estimated at $307 million.11 About 9 percent of Wisconsin commuters had a commute of 45 minutes or longer in 2008.12

Milwaukee commuters are spending more than twice as much time stuck in traffic annually as they did at the start of the last decade—up from twelve hours in 1990 to 32 hours in 2000.13 A study by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission's found that if current trends continue, commuters in various parts of Milwaukee can expect continuous traffic congestion from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from noon to 7 p.m. every weekday by 2020.14 To alleviate such congestion, their study recommends an additional 127 miles of new lanes as area freeways are rebuilt, at a cost of $6.2 billion.15 But highway expansion projects could put many farmers out of jobs, as such project will require converting farmland to highways.16

Unfortunately, road maintenance has been unable to fully keep up with road demand in Wisconsin, where 31 percent of major roads are in poor or mediocre condition. In addition, 14 percent of its bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Drivers pay the cost of overdue road maintenance. The typical Wisconsin driver pays $281 per year in additional repair and operating costs due to road conditions, or $1.1 billion statewide.17

Air pollution: As population increases, pollution usually rises along with it. Air pollution is a lingering problem for Wisconsin. In 2010, the American Lung Association gave Milwaukee County an "F" for risk of high ozone exposure.18 The U.S. Public Interest Research Group labeled Wisconsin the eighth smoggiest state in the nation.19

Water: Population growth is endangering Wisconsin's water quality and supply. A study of water use in Wisconsin found that ground water levels are dropping by as much as seven feet per year in the southeast region — rates of withdrawal that water experts say cannot be maintained.20 The drop in water levels not only means a decline in the available water supply for the surrounding communities but also an increase in the levels of pollution and radioactivity due to the lower levels of saturated sandstone as well as higher costs for pumping the water up from greater depths.21

The Department of Natural Resources says that 44 of Wisconsin's river miles and 61 percent of the lakes cannot support a full range of fish, aquatic insects and plants.22

Poverty: Wisconsin's immigrants are more likely to be poor than their native-born counterparts. In 2007, 16.5 percent of foreign-born households were below the poverty line, compared to 10.5 percent of native households. An additional 14.1 percent of the foreign-born and 7.4 percent of native households were not in poverty but had incomes less than 1.5 times the poverty level.23 26.7 percent of children in immigrant families were poor in 2006, compared to 12.1 percent of native children.24

Education: Between 1990 and 2009, public school enrollment in Wisconsin increased by an estimated 63,379 students, or 7.9 percent.25 Enrollment is projected to grow by an additional 30,920 students between 2009 and 2018.26

School overcrowding is becoming a major problem for several areas in Wisconsin. By 2012, Sun Prairie Area School District predicts that it will need two more elementary schools, a third middle school, and a second high school. Its population has risen over 30 percent since 1987 and is projected to increase by another 13 percent by 2005-06.27 Many other school districts that have long faced the problem of overcrowding are planning to build new schools to combat the problem as well.28

Solid Waste: Wisconsin generates 1.03 tons of solid waste per capita each year.29 If this rate does not change, population growth projected between 2008 and 2050 will add nearly 2 million tons of solid waste to the state's annual output.


  1. USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, "Summary Report: 2007 National Resources Inventory."
  2. Don Behm and Jeff Cole, "Hunters, Home Owners a Tough Mix," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, December 24, 2001.
  3. Lee Bergquist, "Inching Toward a Cleaner State," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, April 21, 2002.
  4. American Community Survey, Three-Year Estimates 2006-2008. Data retrieved using ACS Custom Table tool.
  5. Kids Count Data Center, Kids Count Data Center, 2008 American Community Survey Data.
  6. Peter Maller, "Property Owners Want Less Population Growth, Surveys Say," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, January 30
  7. Kathryn Kingsbury, "Verona Limits New Homes to 125 a Year," Capital Times, February 15, 2002.
  8. Annysa Johnson, "Constant Migration Begins to Tax Once-Rural Areas," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 11, 2001.
  9. The Road Information Project (TRIP), "Key Facts about Wisconsin's Surface Transportation System and Federal Funding," May 2010.
  10. Table DP-1-4, Profile of General Demographic Characteristics: 1990 and 2000, Census 2000, U.S. Census Bureau. Selected Economic Characteristics: 2005 Data Set - 2005 American Community Survey, American Fact Finder, U.S. Census Bureau.
  11. Texas Transportation Institute, "Urban Mobility Report 2009."
  12. American Community Survey, 2008 Estimates, Custom Data Table.
  13. "Exhibit A-4. Hours Change in Annual Delay per peak Road Traveler, 1982-2000," 2002 Urban Mobility Study, Texas Transportation Institute, 2002.
  14. Larry Sandler, "Dire Freeway Prediction" Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 10, 2001.
  15. Larry Sandler, "Milwaukee Residents Daunted By Traffic, Though Many Other Cities Face Worse," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 20, 2002.
  16. Jacqueline Seibel, "Highway 164 Project Will Add Traffic, Critics Say," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 8, 2001.
  17. The Road Information Project (TRIP), "Key Facts about Wisconsin's Surface Transportation System and Federal Funding," May 2010.
  18. American Lung Association, "State of the Air 2010."
  19. Rebecca Stanfield, "Danger in the Air: The 2001 Ozone Season," U.S.PIRG Education Fund, August 2002.
  20. Bill Novak, "Will State Run Out of Water?" Capital Times, October 22, 2002.
  21. Don Behm, "Radioactivity; Radioactivity, Salt Taint Groundwater as Inland Areas Dig Ever Deeper," Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, December 10, 2002.
  22. Lee Bergquist, op.cit.
  23. Migration Information Source State Data (Migration Policy Institute)
  24. Urban Institute, Children of Immigrants Data Tool.
  25. "Table 4. Actual and projected numbers for enrollment in grades PK12 in public elementary and secondary schools, by region and state: Fall 2000 through fall 2018," National Center for Education Statistics, Department of Education.
  26. "Table 34. Enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools, by state or jurisdiction: Selected years, fall 1990 through fall 2009," Digest of Education Statistics, Department of Education.
  27. Marv Balousek, "Plan Under Review to Build 4 Schools," Wisconsin State Journal, April 28, 2002.
  28. Judy Frankel, "School Plan Vote Set for Feb. 18," Capital Times, December 18, 2002. Jessica Peterson, "Middleton School Board Seeks Overcrowding Fix," Capital Times, February 26, 2002.
  29. Report Card for America's Infrastructure 2005," American Society of Civil Engineers.