Immigration Facts
Summary Demographic State Data (and Source)
Population (2012 CB est.) 3,074,186
Population (2000 CB est.) 2,926,324
Foreign-Born Population (2012 CB est.) 137,858
Foreign-Born Population (2000 CB est.) 91,085
Share Foreign-Born (2012) 4.5 %
Share Foreign-Born (2000) 3%
Naturalized U.S. Citizens (2012 CB est.): 53,175
Share Naturalized (2012) 38.6 %
Legal Immigrant Admission (DHS 2001 – 2012) 41,658
Refugee Admission (HHS 2000 – 2012) 13,332
Illegal Alien Population (2010 FAIR est.) 65,000
Costs of Illegal Aliens (2009 FAIR) $349,687,464
Projected 2050 Population (2006 FAIR) 3,513,000

State Population

According to the Census Bureau, the population of Iowa in 2012 was 3,074,186 residents.

Between 2000 (population 2,926,324) and 2012, the state's average annual population change was 12,070 residents. That was an annual average change of 0.4 percent. The comparable national annual rate of change was 0.9 percent.

Between 1990 (population 2,776,755) and 2000, the state's annual average population change was 14,957 residents. The annual average rate of change was 0.5 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 Iowa was about 137,858 persons in 2012. This estimate meant a foreign-born population share of 4.5 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 3,818 people, compared to the state's annual average population change of about 12,070  people. That is a 31.8  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 51.4 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 9.0 percent share of the state's current births is large enough to account for about 3,465 births a year. Combining the average increase in the foreign-born population and estimated immigrant births suggests that immigration may account for about 7,280 persons added to the state's population annually, i.e., nearly 60.3 percent of the state's overall population increase.

As of 2012 about 58.6 percent of Iowa's foreign-born population had arrived in the state since 2000. This compares with the national average 40.9 percent. In 2000, 57.5 percent of the state's foreign-born population that had arrived since the previous Census.

Foreign-Born Characteristics

An indicator of the change in Iowa'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 15.8 percent to 7.2 percent. In 2000, 42.6 percent of those persons in also said they spoke English less than very well. In the 2012 estimate, the share was 40.2 percent that spoke English less than very well. In 2012 Spanish speakers were 54.0 percent of those who spoke other than English at home, and 55.5 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 53,175 residents of Iowa, or 38.6 percent of the foreign-born population in Iowa, were naturalized U.S. citizens, compared to 29,951 residents, or 32.9 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 Iowa's population resulting from net international migration has been about 8,145 people. It was 38.4 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 Iowa were 318 percent above admissions just after adoption of the current immigration system in 1965. During the 1965 to 1969 period, annual admissions averaged about 1,015 persons. During the most recent five years, annual admissions averaged about 4,241 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 Iowa between fiscal years 1965 and 2012 has been 118,616 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 Iowa was 2,315 (702 pre-1982 residents and 1,613 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 Iowa 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 then select the desired year, click Legal Permanent Residents, data and then select "supplemental table 1."

Chart of Immigrant Admission by Fiscal Year


Iowa has received 13,332 refugees over the most recent ten fiscal years including 431 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

Iowa Fiscal Costs
Due to Illegal Aliens
           ($M) (Pct.)
K-12 educ. $147.60 42.2%
LEP educ. $29.70 8.5%
Medicaid+ $28.00 8.0%
SCHIP $8.60 2.5%
Justice $23.30 6.7%
Welfare+ $40.30 11.5%
General $72.20 20.6%
Total $349.70  
Tax receipts $17.90  
Net Cost $331.80  
Source: "The State Cost Studies"

FAIR Estimate - FAIR estimates the illegal alien population of Iowa as of 2010 was about 65,000 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 Iowa 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 75,000 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 Iowa 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 Iowa, LEP public school enrollment in 2010 ( 20,934) was 206.9 percent of LEP enrollment a decade earlier. By contrast, overall K-12 enrollment in the state was 98.9 percent of enrollment a decade earlier.

Population Projection

FAIR projected Iowa's population in 2050 likely would be between 3,437,000 million and 3,513,000 million with current levels of immigration. Alternatively, the population could be lower (3,081,000) 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 Iowa as 11,540 in 2013.

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

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

Immigration Impact


Wages and Working Conditions: Iowa meatpacking and processing plants that subsist on immigrant labor have created abusive workplaces and depressed wages.1Meatpacking had the highest injury and illness rate of any industry in America during the 1980s — well ahead of poultry processing and more than three times great than the overall manufacturing average.

Disappearing open space: Through population growth and consequent development, Iowa is losing its rural character and open farmland; according to the Iowa Agricultural Statistical Survey, Iowa farms are disappearing at a rate of about 1,000 a year.2 The amount of developed land in Iowa increased by 258,200 acres from 1982 to 2007, growing at a pace of 12,670 acres per year over the last ten years of that period.3

Iowa has already lost 72 percent of its original forest coverage,and due to loss of habitat, over 50 animal and 60 plant species are endangered in the state.4 Of Iowa's original prairie land, which many endangered species need to survive, 90 percent is gone, and the largest piece that remains is only 240 acres.5Other habitats for endangered species are suffering a similar fate: 95 percent of Iowa's original wetlands and gone, along with 99 percent of its prairie marshes.6

A study of urban sprawl between 1970 and 1990 that calculated the impact of population increase and per capita land use found that 50.6 square miles of additional land were consumed by urban sprawl in the Des Moinesmetropolitan area, and 36.2 percent of that sprawl was attributable to population increase. In the Omaha, Nebraska area, which crosses into Iowa, sprawl consumed an additional 41.8 square miles and population increase accounted for 41.6 percent of the increase.7

Traffic: Iowa’s highways experienced a 32 percent increase in vehicle traffic between 1990 and 2008. In 2010, 38 percent of the state’s major urban highways were considered congested by The Road Information Project (TRIP).8 As population growth put more traffic on the roads, the average commute for Iowa residents increased 14 percent during the 1990s, from 16.2 minutes to 18.5 minutes in 2000.9

About 7 percent of Iowa commuters had a commute of 45 minutes or longer in 2008.10 In the Omaha urban area, which includes part of Nebraska and Iowa, the typical commuter sat in 26 hours of congested-related traffic in 2007, resulting in total time and fuel losses valued at $184 million.

In Des Moines, growing concern over traffic congestion has forced local government and business to form a Traffic Management Association, whose goal is to reduce the rush hour jams that are hampering the city's economy.11

Sprawl: Concern is rising in Iowa about multiplying costs of urban sprawl — loss of farmland and natural areas, urban-center deterioration, tax-base erosion, duplication of infrastructure, and higher taxes for construction and upkeep. In 2000, an Iowa State University poll, found that more than 70 percent of respondents see conversion of farmland and natural areas as a serious problem.12Some of Iowa's larger cities have doubled in physical size since 1975.

Increased residential development due to population growth and sprawl threatens the state's fiscal solvency. Altoona, Wauke, and Indianola found that they pay $1.12 to service residential developments for every dollar those developments generate in taxes.13

Crowded housing: An estimated 16,395 of Iowa’s housing units were classified as crowded in 2008, defined as units with more than one occupant per room. This amounted to 1.4 percent of the state’s housing units. In addition, 3,525 units were severely crowded, with at least 1.5 occupants per room.14 Following the national trend, crowded housing rates were driven upward by immigration. 26 percent of children in immigrant families live in crowded housing, compared to just 5 percent of children with native-born parents.15

Iowa's housing shortage is magnified in its small towns, which are experiencing influxes of immigrants seeking work at local agricultural processing plants; in such towns, immigrants living eight or ten to an apartment is not uncommon. The GAO has confirmed that in communities with meatpacking plants, immigrant workers frequently double up in order to afford housing.16

Affordable housing: As population increases, the affordable housing supply often drops. According to the Iowa Commission on Latino Affairs, large immigrant families have led to a lack of affordable housing in destination communities like Marshalltown.17 In Dubuque, the need for affordable housing is so pressing that the city council is giving financial off-sets to developers willing to create some.18 Iowa’s housing wage (the amount a full-time worker must earn per hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent) is $11.88, but the national minimum wage is $7.25. In 2008, a minimum wage earner would have had to work 66 hour weeks in order to afford a typical 2-bedroom apartment19

A GAO report found that the immigration of workers for meatpacking plants affected the affordability of housing in their communities. For example, in some communities, average rent rose 30 percent for an apartment and 29 percent for a two-bedroom trailer between 1990 and 1997.20

Poverty: Iowa’s immigrants are more likely to be poor than their native-born counterparts. In 2007, 15.7 percent of foreign-born households were below the poverty line, compared to 10.8 percent of native households. An additional 12.7 percent of the foreign-born and 7.6 percent of native households were not in poverty but had incomes less than 1.5 times the poverty level.21 22.7 percent of children in immigrant families were poor in 2006, compared to 13.4 percent of native children.22

Wages in Iowa are now among the lowest in the nation.23 Because of the availability of cheap labor through mass immigration, the Iowa meatpacking industry, formerly a middle-class employer, slashed wages and is now the most dangerous form of employment in the state, with a turnover rate of 80 percent a year at some plants.24

Health Care: The poverty of many immigrant patients weighs heavily on Iowa hospitals. At Buena Vista county hospital, which began to pay for translators on its staff in 1997, uncompensated health care constitutes 25 percent of the total services. Buena Vista County social services are provided to "...diverse ethnic population, making communication difficult and time-consuming."25 The illegal immigrant population is likely to account for a significant share of uncompensated care because it is ineligible for Medicare or Medicaid coverage. At Buena Vista's Storm Lake, workers at the IBP meatpacking plant don't get health insurance until they've worked at the plant for six months; as a result, the county's medical services are under "tremendous pressure," according to City Supervisor Jim Gustafson. Buena Vista had a 63 percent increase in Medicaid claims between 1990 and 1996.26

Education: The number of Limited English Proficient students in Iowa, a side effect of immigration and an indicator of lack of assimilation, rose 135 percent between 1994 and 2002, and over fifteen percent in 2005-2006 alone.27

In immigrant-heavy Dubuque, many of the elementary schools are housing 10 to 30 percent more students than they are designed for.28In Waukee, population increase is forcing the construction of a new elementary school and middle school.29

In Waterloo, the elementary school requires two full-time translators.30 In Marshalltown, the children of immigrants brought by meatpacking plants account for 25 percent of the student body.31

Water: By 2050 the state's population is expected to rise from 3.0 million in 2006 to over 3.5 million.32 Iowa has a daily, per-capita water demand of 130.9 gallons, meaning that if current use trends held, the state’s water demand would increase by over 65 million gallons.33

Solid Waste: Iowa generates 1.16 tons of solid waste per capita each year.34


Iowa's meatpacking industry is dependent on foreign workers, many of whom are illegal aliens; without them it would have to raise wages and improve working conditions.35Meatpackers like IBP do direct recruiting in Mexico with radio ads, paying a private bus company to transport workersto its plants.36

In 1998 and 1999, Storm Lake's county, Buena Vista, asked IBP, owner of the local meatpacker plant and employer of most of the town's immigrants, to help pay to operate the jail, to build a new jail and to provide health care benefits to its production workers. IBP refused.37

  1. Mike Wilson, "Fired Migrant Workers Tell of Poor Packing Plant Conditions," Associated Press, August 24, 2001. "Lawsuit Accuses IBP of Recruiting Illegal Immigrants," Associated Press, March 19, 2002.
  2. Rick Smith, "Once Mostly Rural, Iowa Turning Urban," Associated Press, May 28, 2002.
  3. USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, "Summary Report: 2007 National Resources Inventory."
  4. Iowa Association of Naturalists, Iowa Woodlands, Iowa's Biological Community Series, January 2002.
  5. Iowa Association of Naturalists, Iowa Habitat Loss and Disappearing Wildlife, Iowa Environmental Series, September 1998.
  6. Iowa Association of Naturalists, Iowa Wetlands, Iowa's Biological Community Series, January 2002.
  7. Beck, Roy and Leon Kolankiewicz, "Weighing Sprawl Factors in Large U.S. Cities," NumbersUSA, March 2001.
  8. The Road Information Project (TRIP), "Key Facts about Iowa’s Surface Transportation System and Federal Funding," May 2010.
  9. "Table DP-1-4, Profile of General Demographic Characteristics: 2000," Census 2000, U.S. Census Bureau. "Table DP-1-4, Profile of General Demographic Characteristics: 1990," 1990 Census, U.S. Census Bureau.
  10. American Community Survey, 2008 Estimates, Custom Data Table.
  11. Mike Glover, "Groups Call for Transit Spending, Sprawl Controls," Associated Press, November 13, 2001.
  12. Jay Howe, "Urban Sprawl: We Ignore Smart Growth at Our Peril," Des Moines Register, February 8, 2001.
  13. 1000 Friends of Iowa, Ten Top Things Adversely Affected by Urban Sprawl, 2000.
  14. American Community Survey, Three-Year Estimates 2006-2008. Data retrieved using ACS Custom Table tool.
  15. Kids Count Data Center, which used 2008 American Community Survey Data.
  16. "Changes in Nebraska's and Iowa's Counties With Large Meatpacking Plant Workforces," GAO, February 1998, GAO/RCED-98-62.
  17. Carol Ann Riha, "Bigger Hispanic Households Spotlight Need for Housing," Associated Press, July 12, 2001.
  18. Erin Coyle, "Housing Costs Deter Development," Dubuque Telegraph Herald, May 28, 2002.
  19. National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2008. Estimate for 2002 from "Rental Housing for America’s Poor Families: Farther Out of Reach than Ever," National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2002.
  20. "Changes in Nebraska's and Iowa's Counties With Large Meatpacking Plant Workforces," GAO, February 1998, GAO/RCED-98-62.
  21. Migration Information Source State Data (Migration Policy Institute)
  22. Urban Institute, Children of Immigrants Data Tool.
  23. "New Study Finds Sluggish Wage, Population Growth," Associated Press, June 12, 2001.
  24. Christopher Conte, "Strangers on the Prairie," Governing Magazine, January 2002.
  25. "Family Well-Being and Welfare Reform in Iowa: A Profile of Storm Lake," Iowa State University, October 1999.
  26. John Taylor, "Meatpacker Rejects Nebraska Request to Ameliorate Ills of Its Workers," Omaha World-Herald, September 20, 1999.
  27. Iowa State Department of Education, The Annual State of Education Report, 2002 and 2006.
  28. "School Board Hears Long List of Overcrowding Woes," Dubuque Telegraph Herald, October 15, 2002. "No School Realignment Next Year,""Dubuque Telegraph Herald, March 3, 2003.
  29. Michael Corey, "Waukee Plans More Classrooms," Des Moines Register, October 25, 2001
  30. Karla Scoon Reid, "Iowa Grapples with Growing Diversity," Education Week, October 9, 2000.
  31. Christopher Conte, op.cit.
  32. Jack Martin and Stanley Fogel. "Projecting the U.S. Population to 2050." FAIR. March 2006.
  33. U.S. Geological Survey 2000
  34. Report Card for America's Infrastructure 2005," American Society of Civil Engineers.
  35. David Barboza, "Meatpackers' Profits Hinge on Pool of Immigrant Labor," New York Times, December 21, 2001.
  36. Laurie P. Cohen, "Free Ride: With Help from INS, U.S. Meatpacker Taps Mexican Work Force," Wall Street Journal, October 15, 1998.
  37. John Taylor, op.cit.


Other Resources  

State Local Reform Organizations

State Representatives Voting Record


Updated January 2012