Rhode Island


Immigration Facts
Summary Demographic State Data (and Source)
Population (2012 CB est.) 1,050,292
Population (2000 CB est.) 1,048,319
Foreign-Born Population (2012 CB est.) 159,012
Foreign-Born Population (2000 CB est.) 119,277
Share Foreign-Born (2012) 15.1 %
Share Foreign-Born (2000) 11.3%
Naturalized U.S. Citizens (2012 CB est.): 71,278
Share Naturalized (2012) 44.8 %
Legal Immigrant Admission (DHS 2001 – 2012) 35,973
Refugee Admission (HHS 2000 – 2012) 3,238
Illegal Alien Population (2010 FAIR est.) 35,000
Costs of Illegal Aliens (2009 FAIR) $278,159,085
Projected 2050 Population (2006 FAIR) 1,811,000

State Population

According to the Census Bureau, the population of Rhode Island in 2012 was 1,050,292 residents.

Between 2000 (population 1,048,319) and 2012, the state's average annual population change was 161 residents. That was an annual average change of 0.0 percent. The comparable national annual rate of change was 0.9 percent.

Between 1990 (population 1,003,464) and 2000, the state's annual average population change was 4,486 residents. The annual average rate of change was 0.4 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 Rhode Island was about 159,012 persons in 2012. This estimate meant a foreign-born population share of 15.1 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 3,244 people, compared to the state's annual average population change of about 161 people. That is a 161  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 2014.0 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 30.2 percent share of the state's current births is large enough to account for about 3,430 births a year. Combining the average increase in the foreign-born population and estimated immigrant births suggests that immigration may account for about 6,670 persons added to the state's population annually, i.e., nearly 4143.0 percent of the state's overall population increase.

As of 2012 about 38.9 percent of Rhode Island's foreign-born population had arrived in the state since 2000. This compares with the national average 40.9 percent. In 2000, 34.8 percent of the state's foreign-born population that had arrived since the previous Census.

Foreign-Born Characteristics

An indicator of the change in Rhode Island'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 20 percent to 20.9 percent. In 2000, 42.5 percent of those persons in also said they spoke English less than very well. In the 2012 estimate, the share was 40.9 percent that spoke English less than very well. In 2012 Spanish speakers were 52.9 percent of those who spoke other than English at home, and 60.0 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 71,278 residents of Rhode Island, or 44.8 percent of the foreign-born population in Rhode Island, were naturalized U.S. citizens, compared to 56,184 residents, or 47.1 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 Rhode Island's population resulting from net international migration has been about 6,600 people. It was -1368.0 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 Rhode Island were 43 percent above admissions just after adoption of the current immigration system in 1965. During the 1965 to 1969 period, annual admissions averaged about 2,706 persons. During the most recent five years, annual admissions averaged about 3,879 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 Rhode Island between fiscal years 1965 and 2012 has been 143,701 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 Rhode Island was 2,833 (2,052 pre-1982 residents and 781 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 Rhode Island 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


Rhode Island has received 3,238 refugees over the most recent ten fiscal years including 130 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

Rhode Island Fiscal Costs
Due to Illegal Aliens
           ($M) (Pct.)
K-12 educ. $158.70 57.0%
LEP educ. $27.40 9.8%
Medicaid+ $23.80 8.6%
SCHIP $14.80 5.3%
Justice $21.90 7.9%
Welfare+ $11.30 4.1%
General $20.30 7.3%
Total $278.20  
Tax receipts $11.90  
Net Cost $266.30  
Source: "The State Cost Studies"

FAIR Estimate - FAIR estimates the illegal alien population of Rhode Island as of 2010 was about 35,000 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 Rhode Island 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 30,000 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 Rhode Island 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 Rhode Island, LEP public school enrollment in 2010 ( 6,739) was 65.8 percent of LEP enrollment a decade earlier. By contrast, overall K-12 enrollment in the state was 92.8 percent of enrollment a decade earlier.

Population Projection

FAIR projected Rhode Island's population in 2050 likely would be between 1,766,000 million and 1,811,000 million with current levels of immigration. Alternatively, the population could be lower (1,573,000) 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 Rhode Island as 5,254 in 2013.

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

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


Water: Rhode Island has a daily, per-capita water demand of 113.5 gallons.1 By 2050 the state's population is projected to rise from 1.1 million in 2006 to over 1.8 million.2 This means that by 2050 public water usage may increase by 79.5 million gallons each day.

Traffic: Rhode Island highways experienced a 20 percent increase in traffic between 1990 and 2008. In 2010, 37 percent of its roads were considered congested by The Road Information Project.3 As population growth put more traffic on the roads, the average commute for Rhode Island residents increased from 19 minutes in 1990 to 22.7 minutes in 2005.4

The typical Providence commuter experienced about 29 hours each of congestion-related delays in 2007, resulting in an additional 18 gallons of fuel use per commuter and total time and fuel losses valued at $386 million.5  About 10 percent of Rhode Island commuters had a commute of 45 minutes or longer in 2008.

In 1990, residents in 19 cities and towns throughout Rhode Island had an average commute of less than 20 minutes. By 2000, only three cities and towns still did. In 2000, the average peak-time Rhode Island driver wasted nearly twice as much time in traffic as in 1990. One top state transportation official says that the traffic on Rhode Island's major roads is so far over capacity that they don't even bother to look at actual traffic figures anymore.6

Rhode Island's severe traffic problems are accompanied by some of the worst roads in the nation. Over two thirds (67%) of its major roads are in poor or mediocre condition, the second worst rate in the nation (behind New Jersey and just ahead of California). Over half (54%) of its bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Drivers bear the cost when road repairs are not completed. The typical Rhode Island motorist pays $467 in additional maintenance and repair costs each year due to road conditions.7

Disappearing open space: The amount of developed land in Rhode Island increased by 60,600 acres from 1982 to 2007, growing at a pace of 2,710 acres per year over the last ten years of that period.8

A study of urban sprawl between 1970 and 1990 that calculated the impact of population increase and per capita land use found that 54.6 square miles of additional land were consumed by urban sprawl in the Providence-Pawtucket, RI-MA metropolitan area, and 30.8 percent of that sprawl was attributable to population increase.9

Crowded housing: An estimated 5,756 of Rhode Island'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, 1,123 were severely crowded, with at least 1.5 occupants per room.10 Crowded housing rates were driven upward by immigration. 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 Rhode Island, 13 percent of children in immigrant families live in crowded housing, compared to just 4 percent of children with native-born parents.11

Sprawl: Between 1964 and 1997, Rhode Island's farmland was nearly cut in half, shrinking from 104,000 acres to 55,000 acres. Between 1988 and 1995 alone, Rhode Island lost an area of forest and farmland equivalent to the size of Providence. Over the next 20 years, sprawl will consume another 3,100 acres of farmland and 24,000 acres of forestland. That will cost state taxpayers $1.5 billion dollars.12

Air pollution: Each of the three Rhode Island counties (Kent, Providence, Washington) included in the American Lung Association's 2010 assessment of high ozone exposure risk was graded "F." Rhode Island shared this distinction with Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, and Tennessee.13

Poverty: Pennsylvania's immigrants are more likely to be poor than their native-born counterparts. In 2007, 9.0 percent of foreign-born households were below the poverty line, compared to 8.2 percent of native households. An additional 6.6 percent of the foreign-born and 5.3 percent of native households were not in poverty but had incomes less than 1.5 times the poverty level.14 18.7 percent of children in immigrant families were poor in 2006, compared to 15.9 percent of native children.15

Education: Between 1990 and 2000, Rhode Island's elementary and high school enrollment increased 18 percent.16 Schools in Richmond, West Greenwich, Coventry, North Kingstown, Westerly, and other communities are suffering spaces crunches, with students packed into schools at levels far over capacity.17

Solid Waste: Rhode Island generates 1.17 tons of solid waste per capita each year.18 If this rate of waste generation holds, projected population growth will add over 700,000 tons to the state's annual solid waste generation by 2050.


  1. U.S. Geological Survey 2000.
  2. Jack Martin and Stanley Fogel. "Projecting the U.S. Population to 2050." FAIR. March 2006.
  3. The Road Information Project (TRIP), "Key Facts about Rhode Island's Surface Transportation System and Federal Funding," May 2010.
  4. 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.
  5. Texas Transportation Institute, "Urban Mobility Report 2009."
  6. Bruce Landis, "Stuck in Traffic," Providence Journal-Bulletin, October 20, 2002.
  7. The Road Information Project (TRIP), "Key Facts about Rhode Island's Surface Transportation System and Federal Funding," May 2010.
  8. USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, "Summary Report: 2007 National Resources Inventory."
  9. Beck, Roy and Leon Kolankiewicz, "Weighing Sprawl Factors in Large U.S. Cities," Numbers USA, March 2001.
  10. American Community Survey, Three-Year Estimates 2006-2008. Data retrieved using ACS Custom Table tool.
  11. Kids Count Data Center, Kids Count Data Center, 2008 American Community Survey Data.
  12. The Costs of Suburban Sprawl and Urban Decay," Grow Smart Rhode Island, December 1999.
  13. American Lung Association, "State of the Air 2010."
  14. Migration Information Source State Data (Migration Policy Institute)
  15. Urban Institute, Children of Immigrants Data Tool.
  16. Table DP-1-4, Profile of General Demographic Characteristics: 1990 and 2000, Census 2000, U.S. Census Bureau.
  17. Katie Mulvaney, "Overcrowding Keeps High School on Probation," Providence Journal-Bulletin, August 21, 2002. Nicole Gesualdo, "It's Time, Again, to Deal With the Classroom Crunch," Providence Journal-Bulletin, November 23, 2001.
  18. Report Card for America's Infrastructure 2005," American Society of Civil Engineers.


Other Resources  

State Local Reform Organizations

State Representatives Voting Record


Updated February 2012