North Carolina


Immigration Facts
Summary Demographic State Data (and Source)
Population (2012 CB est.) 9,572,073
Population (2000 CB est.) 8,049,313
Foreign-Born Population (2012 CB est.) 846,807
Foreign-Born Population (2000 CB est.) 430,000
Share Foreign-Born (2012) 8.8 %
Share Foreign-Born (2000) 4.6%
Naturalized U.S. Citizens (2012 CB est.): 239,280
Share Naturalized (2012) 28.3 %
Legal Immigrant Admission (DHS 2001 – 2012) 148,046
Refugee Admission (HHS 2000 – 2012) 28,362
Illegal Alien Population (2010 FAIR est.) 410,000
Costs of Illegal Aliens (2009 FAIR) $2,063,064,501
Projected 2050 Population (2006 FAIR) 14,535,000

State Population

According to the Census Bureau, the population of North Carolina in 2012 was 9,572,073 residents.

Between 2000 (population 8,049,313) and 2012, the state's average annual population change was 139,001 residents. That was an annual average change of 1.6 percent. The comparable national annual rate of change was 0.9 percent.

Between 1990 (population 6,628,637) and 2000, the state's annual average population change was 142,068 residents. The annual average rate of change was 2 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 North Carolina was about 846,807 persons in 2012. This estimate meant a foreign-born population share of 8.8 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 34,025 people, compared to the state's annual average population change of about 139,001  people. That is a 24.5  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 96.9 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 17.6 percent share of the state's current births is large enough to account for about 21,495 births a year. Combining the average increase in the foreign-born population and estimated immigrant births suggests that immigration may account for about 55,520 persons added to the state's population annually, i.e., nearly 39.9 percent of the state's overall population increase.

As of 2013 about 46.1 percent of North Carolina's foreign-born population had arrived in the state since 2000. This compares with the national average 40.9 percent. In 2000, 62.4 percent of the state's foreign-born population that had arrived since the previous Census.

Foreign-Born Characteristics

An indicator of the change in North Carolina'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 8.0 percent to 11.1 percent. In 2000, 49.4 percent of those persons in also said they spoke English less than very well. In the 2012 estimate, the share was 44.2 percent that spoke English less than very well. In 2012 Spanish speakers were 66.7 percent of those who spoke other than English at home, and 74.9 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 239,280 residents of North Carolina, or 28.3 percent of the foreign-born population in North Carolina, were naturalized U.S. citizens, compared to 112,822 residents, or 26.2 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 North Carolina's population resulting from net international migration has been about 45,615 people. It was 19.0 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 North Carolina were 1021 percent above admissions just after adoption of the current immigration system in 1965. During the 1965 to 1969 period, annual admissions averaged about 1,515 persons. During the most recent five years, annual admissions averaged about 16,981 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 North Carolina between fiscal years 1965 and 2012 has been 329,289 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 North Carolina was 16,879 (2,691 pre-1982 residents and 14,188 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 North Carolina 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


North Carolina has received 28,362 refugees over the most recent ten fiscal years including 2,110 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

North Carolina Fiscal Costs
Due to Illegal Aliens
           ($M) (Pct.)
K-12 educ. $1,032.40 50.0%
LEP educ. $207.60 10.1%
Medicaid+ $190.50 9.2%
SCHIP $59.50 2.9%
Justice $155.40 7.5%
Welfare+ $149.70 7.3%
General $267.90 13.0%
Total $2,063.10  
Tax receipts $103.50  
Net Cost $1,959.60  
Source: "The State Cost Studies"

FAIR Estimate - FAIR estimates the illegal alien population of North Carolina as of 2010 was about 410,000 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 North Carolina was 360,000 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 325,000 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 North Carolina 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 North Carolina, LEP public school enrollment in 2010 ( 119,973) was 287.9 percent of LEP enrollment a decade earlier. By contrast, overall K-12 enrollment in the state was 116.3 percent of enrollment a decade earlier.

Population Projection

FAIR projected North Carolina's population in 2050 likely would be between 14,219,000 million and 14,535,000 million with current levels of immigration. Alternatively, the population could be lower (12,569,000) 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 North Carolina as 15,027 in 2013.

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

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

Resolution No. 123/2005-06 (May 16, 2006)

  • “It shall be the policy of the Carrboro Police Department not to arrest or take into custody persons when the sole basis for arresting or taking such persons into custody is that they have or may have committed a civil immigration violation.”

Chapel Hill

Memorandum RE: CHPD Immigration Policy (January 26, 2007)

  • “1. We will not detain a person merely for the purposes of verifying his immigration status nor will we question a person about his immigration status during a routine detention for another matter (i.e. a traffic stop or a minor criminal offense). 2. If we have an individual in custody for a felony or for an act which resulted in injury to another (i.e. an aggravated assault, domestic violence involving injury or threatening intimidation, a traffic accident fatality) we will inquire and attempt to confirm that person’s residency status and will hold the individual for federal immigration officials if they request same.”
  • “North Carolina General Statute 128-1.1 authorizes local law enforcement agencies to enter into agreements with federal agencies for the purposes of enforcing federal statutes and regulations. Some North Carolina agencies have entered into such agreements for the purposes of being local agents for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. We have not and will not enter into such agreements.”

Amicus Brief (March 23, 2012)

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


Resolution No. 9046 (October 20, 2003)

  • “Unless otherwise required as part of a City officer or employee’s duties, by law, or by court order, no Durham City officer or employee, during the course and scope of their employment, shall inquire into the immigration status of any person, or engage in activities designed to ascertain the immigration status of any person.”


Water:North Carolina has a per-capita water usage of 117.4 gallons each day.1 This means that by 2050 human use of water will increase by 666 million gallons each day.1

A state that has been plagued by drought in recent years, North Carolina is not prepared to handle the increasing demand for water. Currently 97 percent of the state is in some form of drought.2 Substantial parts of 39 counties are suffering from extreme or severe drought.3 The water table is very depleted with 79 percent of North Carolina's topsoil conditions considered "very dry".4

Throughout the state, sweeping efforts to save water have been made, as the severity of the shortage has become acute. For example, the city of Durham has made the switch to a tiered water rate system, charging higher per-gallon rates for those who consume more water.5 On a state level, pending legislation, if passed, would enforce uniform conservation measures across the state. This would oblige some regions to transfer water to others in greater need, as well as establishing government accountability for water pumped by farmers.6

Last year, North Carolina lost approximately $500 million in crops due to the water shortage. Additionally, drought-fueled wildfires destroyed roughly 37,000 acres last year, nearly double the 10 year average.7 Exacerbated by population growth, North Carolina's water resources are being stretched ever thinner.

Disappearing Open Space: North Carolina developed 1.7 million acres between 1982 and 1997, making it one of the fastest developing states.8 Since 1982, North Carolina has developed 156,000 acres a year, ranking it in the top five states for acres of rural land lost to development.8,9 During the past nine years, North Carolina's Costal Plains region lost 187,000 acres of timberland to urban uses.10 A federal study estimated that the state could lose 5.5 million acres of timberland by 2040 due to urban growth.11 North Carolina was ranked 4th by the American Farmland Trust for farm acreage loss. 12

A recent two-year federal study of Southern forests found that North Carolina stands to lose the most timberland to urban growth — nearly 5.5 million acres by 2040.13

School Overcrowding: School crowding, particularly at the high school level, has become a statewide issue. Between 2000 and 2006 the student population of North Carolina's k-12 students increased by over 140,000 students,14,15  and is projected to grow by an additional 143,000 students by the year 2015.16

During the past decade, North Carolina was home to three of the fastest-growing school districts in the nation.17 The growth in North Carolina's high school enrollment during the next decade will be fourth largest in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Education.18

One in every ten students, or 3,000 students, in Durham attend class in mobile trailers, many of which are decades old and dilapidated. The district's rate of growth could fill up a new elementary school every year.19 Some schools have even run out of room for more trailers.20 Asheboro and Randolph have spent more than $150 million in the past ten years building schools, renovating schools, and adding classrooms to deal with increased enrollment.21 Chapel Hill expects its high schools to reach 126 percent of their capacity in the next three years.22

In Iredell-Statesville, one elementary school is so overcrowded; the fifth-graders were shifted to a middle school. A Union County elementary is now larger than two of the district's high schools. And crowding has forced some Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools to hold classes in computer labs or libraries. Growth continues to overwhelm schools across the Charlotte region, recently released data show, and the problem will likely worsen. Districts cannot add mobiles or build schools fast enough, and the number of newcomers is still ballooning. "Next year, (classes) will be in the cafeteria and the auditorium — I will not have a choice," said Joel Ritchie, principal of Butler High School in Matthews. "I'm just not going to have additional space".23

Traffic: As population growth put more traffic on the roads, the average commute for North Carolina residents increased 21 percent during the 1990s, to 24 minutes in 2000. This was a much faster rate of increase than the national average of 14 percent.24,25 42% of North Carolina's major urban roads are congested. 34% of North Carolina's major roads are in poor or mediocre condition, and vehicle travel on North Carolina's highways increased 50% from 1990 to 2003. Driving on roads in need of repair costs North Carolina motorists $1.7 billion a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs — $282 per motorist. Congestion in the Charlotte metropolitan area costs commuters $791 per person per year in excess fuel and lost time, and congestion in the Raleigh metropolitan area costs commuters $460 per person per year in excess fuel and lost time.26

Travelers in the Charlotte, NC-South Carolina area experience an annual delay of 51 hours, a number that ranks 13th in the U.S. In the Raleigh-Durham area, travelers experience an annual delay of 27 hours.27 12 percent of commuters have a commute that is 45 minutes or more.28

Between 1989 and 1998, the number of vehicle miles driven in the state increased 37 percent. The number of congested intersections quadrupled in Greensboro during the 1990s.29 In the Triad, the number of miles driven is expected to jump from 2.8 million miles per day in 1994 to 40 million miles per day in 2025.30

Sprawl: North Carolina is one of the states most threatened most by sprawl, according to an American Planning Association report. North Carolina developed 1.7 million acres from 1982 to 1997; the 37 percent increase was the eighth highest in the country. Almost 15 percent of the state's developable land had been built on as of 1997, the tenth highest percentage in the country. Since 1982, North Carolina has consistently ranked in the top five states in the number of acres converted each year to urban uses (about 240 square miles a year).31

A study of urban sprawl between 1970 and 1990 that calculated the impact of population increase and per capita land use found that 241.7 square miles of additional land were consumed by urban sprawl in the Charlotte metropolitan area, and 59.1 percent of that sprawl was attributable to population increase. In the Raleigh metro area sprawl consumed an additional 105.4 square miles and population increase accounted for 76.3 percent of the increase.32

Air Pollution: More people means more traffic and more development, leading to more air pollution. Mecklenburg and Wake counties (which grew by 36 and 48 percent, respectively) are among the 25 counties in the country with the worst air pollution, according to the American Lung Association.33 In the Triad, which the American Lung Association has added to its list of the 25 most ozone-polluted regions in the U.S., the number of unhealthy air quality days nearly doubled in the last decade.34

26 of North Carolina's 100 counties received a grade of "F" from the American Lung Association in their "State of the Air 2005 "report. Three other counties received a grade of "D".35

Waste: North Carolina's trash generation could double to 13 million tons by 2010 if current growth rates continue, according to the state's annual solid waste report.36  North Carolina currently produces 1.08 tons of solid waste per capita.37

Poverty: In 2005 21.8 percent of immigrants in North Carolina had incomes below the poverty level, an increase of 50.7 percent since 2000. Among the foreign born the poverty rate climbs to 26.3 percent.38

Crowded Housing: Studies show that a rise in crowded housing often correlates with an increase in the number of foreign-born.39,40  In 2005 over 67,0000 of the state's households were defined as crowded or severely crowded by housing authorities.41 In Chatham County, an Affordable Housing Coalition study found that an influx of low-income and often illegal immigrants has put pressure on the rental market and led to crowding problems and substandard housing.42


  1. U.S. Geological Survey 2000.
  2. U.S. Drought Monitor. June 2008.
  3. Amy Pickle. "The new normal: managed water." News and Observer. June 21, 2008.
  4. Ulbrich, Suzanne. "Onslow, Carteretfeel drought." Jacksonville News. June 20, 2008.
  5. Carolina News 14. "Durham changes to tiered water rate." June 23, 2008.
  6. John Hood. "Wait For Facts on Water Regulations." Lincoln Tribune. June 22, 2008.
  7. Jim Sparks. "NC Drought Deepens in Just a Week." Winston-Salem Journal. June 20, 2008.
  8. Associated Press, "Study Says Sprawl Threatens N.C. as Rapid Development Continues," Herald-Sun, December 2, 2000.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Kenwyn Caranna, "Drivers in Triad Rack up the Miles," News & Record, January 4, 2001.
  11. Allen Breed, "Sprawl, Not Logging, Top Threat to Forests," Associated Press, May 25, 2002.
  12. Ibid.
  13. American Farmland Trust, "Farming on the Edge."
  14. Allen Breed, "Sprawl, Not Logging, Top Threat to Forests," Associated Press, May 25, 2002.
  15. "Overview of Public Elementary and Secondary Schools and Districts: School Year 1999-2000," National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education.
  16. "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.
  17. Projections of Education Statistics to 2015, National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education.
  18. Cynthia Jeffries and Phillip Reese, "High School Enrollment Crisis Grows," News & Record, February 10, 2001.
  19. Cynthia Jeffries and Phillip Reese, op. cit.
  20. Rebecca E. Eden, "Leaders Meet on School Crowding," Herald-Sun, May 1, 2001.
  21. Editorial, "Crowded Schools Require Rejiggering," Wilmington Star-News, March 14, 2001.
  22. Cynthia Jeffries and Phillip Reese, op. cit.
  23. Neil Offen, "City High Schools Going Mobile," Chapel Hill Herald, October 6, 2002.
  24. Report Card for America's Infrastructure 2005," American Society of Civil Engineers.
  25. "Table DP-1-4, Profile of General Demographic Characteristics: 2000," Census 2000, U.S. Census Bureau.
  26. "Table DP-1-4, Profile of General Demographic Characteristics: 1990," 1990 Census, U.S. Census Bureau.
  27. Report Card for America's Infrastructure 2005," American Society of Civil Engineers.
  28. Paul Muschick, "Rough Riding," News & Record, September 30, 2002.
  29. "U.S. Population 2007 Data Sheet," Population Reference Bureau.
  30. Kenwyn Caranna, "Drivers in Triad Rack up the Miles," News & Record, January 4, 2001. 31 "North Carolina Among Fastest-Developing States," Associated Press, December 1, 2000.
  31. Paul Muschick, "Growth and the Environment," News & Record, September 30, 2002.
  32. Beck, Roy and Leon Kolankiewicz, "Weighing Sprawl Factors in Large U.S. Cities," Numbers USA, March 2001.
  33. "North Carolina Among Fastest-Developing States," Associated Press, December 1, 2000.
  34. Paul Muschick, "Growth and the Environment," News & Record, September 30, 2002.
  35. "State of the Air 2005: North Carolina", American Lung Association.
  36. Report Card for America's Infrastructure 2005," American Society of Civil Engineers
  37. Report Card for America's Infrastructure 2005," American Society of Civil Engineers.
  38. "North Carolina State Factsheet," Migration Information Source, Migration Policy Institute.
  39. Randy Capps, "Hardship Among Children of Immigrants: Findings from the 1999 National Survey of America's Families," Urban Institute, 2001.
  40. Haya El Nasser, "U.S. Neighborhoods Grow More Crowded," USA Today, July 7, 2002.
  41. Selected Housing Characteristics: 2005 Data Set- 2005 American Community Survey, American Fact Finder, U.S. Census Bureau.
  42. Geoffrey Graybeal, "Chatham Coalition Begins Housing Study," Chapel Hill Herald, October 18, 2002.


Other Resources  

State Local Reform Organizations

State Representatives Voting Record


Updated December 2011