Immigration Facts
Summary Demographic State Data (and Source)
Population (2012 CB est.) 1,855,525
Population (2000 CB est.) 1,711,263
Foreign-Born Population (2012 CB est.) 118,522
Foreign-Born Population (2000 CB est.) 74,638
Share Foreign-Born (2012) 6.4 %
Share Foreign-Born (2000) 4.2%
Naturalized U.S. Citizens (2012 CB est.): 42,684
Share Naturalized (2012) 36.0 %
Legal Immigrant Admission (DHS 2001 – 2012) 35,212
Refugee Admission (HHS 2000 – 2012) 9,577
Illegal Alien Population (2010 FAIR est.) 40,000
Costs of Illegal Aliens (2009 FAIR) $261,734,854
Projected 2050 Population (2006 FAIR) 2,252,000

State Population

According to the Census Bureau, the population of Nebraska in 2012 was 1,855,525 residents.

Between 2000 (population 1,711,263) and 2012, the state's average annual population change was 11,776 residents. That was an annual average change of 0.7 percent. The comparable national annual rate of change was 0.9 percent.

Between 1990 (population 1,578,385) and 2000, the state's annual average population change was 13,288 residents. The annual average rate of change was 0.8 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 Nebraska was about 118,522 persons in 2012. This estimate meant a foreign-born population share of 6.4 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 3,582 people, compared to the state's annual average population change of about 11,776  people. That is a 30.4  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 58.8 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 12.8 percent share of the state's current births is large enough to account for about 3,335 births a year. Combining the average increase in the foreign-born population and estimated immigrant births suggests that immigration may account for about 6,920 persons added to the state's population annually, i.e., nearly 59.0 percent of the state's overall population increase.

As of 2013 about 45.5 percent of Nebraska's foreign-born population had arrived in the state since 2000. This compares with the national average 40.9 percent. In 2000, 57.8 percent of the state's foreign-born population that had arrived since the previous Census.

Foreign-Born Characteristics

An indicator of the change in Nebraska'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 7.9 percent to 11.2 percent. In 2000, 46 percent of those persons in also said they spoke English less than very well. In the 2012 estimate, the share was 45.4 percent that spoke English less than very well. In 2012 Spanish speakers were 65.8 percent of those who spoke other than English at home, and 67.7 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 42,684 residents of Nebraska, or 36.0 percent of the foreign-born population in Nebraska, were naturalized U.S. citizens, compared to 23,918 residents, or 32.0 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 Nebraska's population resulting from net international migration has been about 6,340 people. It was 28.6 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 Nebraska were 636 percent above admissions just after adoption of the current immigration system in 1965. During the 1965 to 1969 period, annual admissions averaged about 570 persons. During the most recent five years, annual admissions averaged about 4,195 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 Nebraska between fiscal years 1965 and 2012 has been 86,956 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 Nebraska was 3,283 (1,011 pre-1982 residents and 2,272 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 Nebraska 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


Nebraska has received 9,577 refugees over the most recent ten fiscal years including 764 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

Nebraska Fiscal Costs
Due to Illegal Aliens
           ($M) (Pct.)
K-12 educ. $126.00 48.1%
LEP educ. $25.30 9.7%
Medicaid+ $24.80 9.5%
SCHIP $7.60 2.9%
Justice $26.40 10.1%
Welfare+ $18.40 7.0%
General $33.00 12.6%
Total $261.70  
Tax receipts $10.10  
Net Cost $251.60  
Source: "The State Cost Studies"

FAIR Estimate - FAIR estimates the illegal alien population of Nebraska as of 2010 was about 40,000 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 Nebraska 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 45,000 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 Nebraska 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 Nebraska, LEP public school enrollment in 2010 ( 20,632) was 225.6 percent of LEP enrollment a decade earlier. By contrast, overall K-12 enrollment in the state was 102.5 percent of enrollment a decade earlier.

Population Projection

FAIR projected Nebraska's population in 2050 likely would be between 2,190,000 million and 2,252,000 million with current levels of immigration. Alternatively, the population could be lower (1,913,000) 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 Nebraska as 5,142 in 2013.

The chart above illustrates the change in the number of foreign students attending school in Nebraska 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)

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


Some local economists and demographers have expressed concern that those moving into the state are not as skilled or educated as those moving out. Indeed, many of Nebraska's fastest growing counties are those where low-skilled, low-wage meatpacking jobs are plentiful (such as Dawson and Dakota counties, which increased by 22 and 21 percent, respectively,1 and many of those jobs are being filled by immigrants new to the state.2


Water: Nebraska has seen steady increases in demand for water, as its population has grown. Between 2000 and 2006, the state's foreign-born population increased by one-third.3 This contrasts with a two percent increase in the native-born population and that included the children born to immigrants. When the U.S.-born children of these immigrants are included, immigrants account for nearly three-fourths (74%) of the state's recent population increase.4 By 2050, the state's population is projected to rise from about 1.8 million to 2.3 million.5 With per-capita water demand of 192.8 gallons each day, this expected growth will result in an additional need of 93.3 million gallons of water each day16 Ultimately, the resulting increases in water consumption could pose serious issues for the state's prosperity.7

According to the High Plains Center for Sustainability, Nebraska is exploiting the High Plains/Ogallala Aquifer like a coal mine. "Once gone, we can never expect it to be replenished," the group said in a recent statement.8 Indeed, across the state, groundwater levels have been consistently declining since 2000. In some parts of the state, water levels have dropped 30 feet in that brief timeframe, and up to 50 feet since large-scale, groundwater development began.9

The Ogallala is critical to farming in the center of the nation. However, it is replenished slowly because of the relatively dry area. At least 12 billion cubic meters are being drawn from it every year. It's drying up. At the current rate, the aquifer may be dry in less than 25 years.10 Limited water resources are being exacerbated by growing human consumption When the aquifer finally runs dry, the High Plains Region will be little more than desert.

This increased demand may impose a hefty toll on the agricultural industry of Nebraska as well. In the North Platte area of Nebraska, the North Platte River supplies Lake McConaughy, which has been used as a water source for agricultural irrigation. However, recent wells have diverted groundwater flows, which would have drained into the North Platte River and ultimately Lake McConaughy, leaving both of these water bodies depleted. "Return flows are critical to Lake McConaughy," says Don Kraus, general manager of the Central Irrigation District. ‘The lake was built with the understanding that its water supply would depend on return flows from upstream irrigation projects. In addition to drought conditions, the lake now also has to contend with wells that intercept return flows to the river'.11

An interstate, lawsuit-laced feud over water from the Republic River has erupted between Nebraska and neighboring Kansas. Kansas claims that between the years 2005 and 2006, Nebraska exceeded its contracted allocation of water from the river by 27 billion gallons.12 This is clear evidence that the availability of water is becoming a concern in the area. Its supply is not limitless.

Traffic: As population growth put more traffic on the roads, the average commute for Nebraska residents increased 14 percent during the 1990s, from 16 minutes to 179 minutes in 2005. 13,14  23% of Nebraska's major urban roads are congested. 29% of Nebraska's major roads are in poor or mediocre condition and vehicle travel on Nebraska's highways increased 36% from 1990 to 2003. Driving on roads in need of repair costs Nebraska motorists $307 million a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs $234 per motorist and congestion in the Omaha area costs commuters $409 per person per year in excess fuel and lost time. 15

In Omaha, the problem is particularly severe. Omaha's traffic increased by 40 percent in the 1990's, 16 and in the Omaha, NE-Iowa area travelers experienced an annual delay of 23 hours. 17 6 percent of commuters in Nebraska have a commute that is 45 minutes or more. 18

Omaha officials project that Douglas and Sarpy Counties will have populations totaling nearly 900,000 by 2050, a 54 percent increase, with nearly 250,000 additional commuters entering Omaha each day on roads that would require expensive upgrading to handle the influx.19

Crowded housing: In 2005 over 11,000Nebraska households were defined as crowded or severely crowded by housing authorities. 20   Studies show that a rise in crowded housing often correlates with an increase in the number of foreign-born.21,22

Disappearing open space: Each year Nebraska loses 11,000 acres of open space due to development.23 Seventy-eight of Nebraska's 93 counties have prime agricultural land that is among the most vulnerable to loss from development nationwide, says the American Farmland Trust. Seventy percent of the state's native vegetation has been lost or severely degraded, and about one-third of both the 631 wildlife species and 1,600 plant species in the state are populations are rare, declining, or at risk.24

A study of urban sprawl between 1970 and 1990 that calculated the impact of population increase and per capita land use found that 41.8 square miles of additional land were consumed by urban sprawl in the Omaha metropolitan area, which spills into Iowa, and 41.6 percent of that sprawl was attributable to population increase.25

Poverty: In 2005 18.1percent of immigrants living in Nebraska had incomes below the poverty level, a 31.3 increase since 2000. Among foreign-born non-citizens, the poverty rate climbs to 20.3 percent.26

Schools: Between 1990 and 2000, Nebraska's elementary and high school enrollment increased 10 percent. In 2001, Omaha public school enrollment jumped by the equivalent of an entire new elementary school. Census figures indicate that northwest and southeast Omaha are experiencing a boom of preschool-age children who, over the next five years, will begin filling classrooms.27 Nebraska's K-12 student enrollment is projected to increase by over 10,000 students.28,29 Already, schools are struggling with overcrowding: In some northwest Omaha schools, some classes are held in the cafeteria for lack of space.30

Solid Waste: Nebraska generates 1.39 tons of solid waste per capita.31

Illegal Immigration in Nebraska: Arrests of illegal immigrants in Nebraska jumped nearly 25 percent in 2001, and the number of people deported went up almost 30 percent. Immigrations and Customs in Nebraska has been so swamped it has not been able to respond to some state police calls, resulting in vans of illegal immigrants being allowed to continue on toward their destinations.32


  1. Cindy Gonzalez, Paul Goodsell, and Joe Kolman, "Metro Areas Lead Growth Omaha Reaches 390, 000," Omaha World-Herald, March 15, 2001.
  2. Cindy Gonzalez, op. cit.
  3. U.S.Census Bureau 2006
  4. Jack Martin. Issue Brief: Estimation of Foreign Born Birthrate. FAIR. 2008.
  5. Jack Martin and Stanley Fogel. "Projecting the U.S.Population to 2050." FAIR. March 2006.
  6. U.S.Geological Survey 2000
  7. High Plains Centerfor Sustainability, "Our Water, Our Future," The Chadron Record, May 12, 2008
  8. Mark Burbach, " Nebraska Groundwater Declines as much as 30 Feet Over Last Six Years," Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, October 2, 2006
  9. Heidi Stevenson. "How Corporations Drain Our Aquifers for Profit (Part 2)." Natural News. June 11, 2008.
  10. "Central District Wants NRD to Act on Groundwater Wells," Nebraska Farmer, May 19, 2008.
  11. Associated Press, " Kansas Threatens to Sue Nebraska Over Use of a River," New York Times, December 27, 2007.
  12. "Table DP-1-4, Profile of General Demographic Characteristics: 2000," Census 2000, U.S. Census Bureau.
  13. Selected Social Characteristics: 2005 Data Set - 2005 American Community Survey, American Fact Finder, U.S. Census Bureau.
  14. Report Card for America's Infrastructure 2005," American Society of Civil Engineers.
  15. Jeffrey Robb, "Report May Not Surprise Omaha Drivers: Traffic Getting Worse," Omaha World-Herald, May 11, 2001.
  16. "The 2005 Urban Mobility Report", Texas Transportation Institute
  17. "U.S. Population 2007 Data Sheet," Population Reference Bureau.
  18. Jeffrey Robb, "The Fruits of Suburbs' Expansion," Omaha World-Herald, March 29, 2001.
  19. Selected Housing Characteristics: 2005 Data Set - 2005 American Community Survey, American Fact Finder, U.S. Census Bureau.
  20. Haya El Nasser, "U.S. Neighborhoods Grow More Crowded," USA Today, July 7, 2002.
  21. Randy Capps, "Hardship Among Children of Immigrants: Findings from the 1999 National Survey of America's Families," Urban Institute, 2001.
  22. "State Rankings by Acreage and Rate of Non-federal Land Developed," Natural Resources Conservation Service, United States Department of Agriculture.
  23. American Planning Association, op. cit.
  24. Beck, Roy and Leon Kolankiewicz, "Weighing Sprawl Factors in Large U.S. Cities," Numbers USA, March 2001.
  25. "Nebraska State Factsheet," Migration Information Source, Migration Policy Institute.
  26. Angie Brunkow, "Enrollment Projections Fuel School Buildings Plans," Omaha World-Herald, December 15, 2001.
  27. "Public Elementary and Secondary School Student Enrollment, High School Completions, and Staff From the Common Core of Data: School Year 2005-06', National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, June 2007.
  28. Projections of Education Statistics to 2015, National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education.
  29. Angie Brunkow, "Northwest Omaha Housing Boom Leaves Schools With Growing Pains," Omaha World-Herald, May 23, 2002.
  30. Report Card for America's Infrastructure 2005," American Society of Civil Engineers.
  31. Mark Thiessen, "Arrests of Illegal Immigrants Up Almost 25 Percent," Associated Press, October 24, 2002.
  32. Dayton Daily News, op. cit.


Other Resources  

State Local Reform Organizations

State Representatives Voting Record


Updated February 2012