South Carolina


Immigration Facts
Summary Demographic State Data (and Source)
Population (2012 CB est.) 4,723,723
Population (2000 CB est.) 4,012,012
Foreign-Born Population (2012 CB est.) 272,004
Foreign-Born Population (2000 CB est.) 115,978
Share Foreign-Born (2012) 5.8 %
Share Foreign-Born (2000) 2.5%
Naturalized U.S. Citizens (2012 CB est.): 81,907
Share Naturalized (2012) 30.1 %
Legal Immigrant Admission (DHS 2001 – 2012) 38,788
Refugee Admission (HHS 2000 – 2012) 2,050
Illegal Alien Population (2010 FAIR est.) 70,000
Costs of Illegal Aliens (2009 FAIR) $390,639,510
Projected 2050 Population (2006 FAIR) 6,629,000

State Population

According to the Census Bureau, the population of South Carolina in 2012 was 4,723,723 residents.

Between 2000 (population 4,012,012) and 2012, the state's average annual population change was 58,099 residents. That was an annual average change of 1.3 percent. The comparable national annual rate of change was 0.9 percent.

Between 1990 (population 3,486,703) and 2000, the state's annual average population change was 52,531 residents. The annual average rate of change was 1.4 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 South Carolina was about 272,004 persons in 2012. This estimate meant a foreign-born population share of 5.8 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 12,737 people, compared to the state's annual average population change of about 58,099  people. That is a 21.9  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 134.5 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 11.6 percent share of the state's current births is large enough to account for about 6,510 births a year. Combining the average increase in the foreign-born population and estimated immigrant births suggests that immigration may account for about 19,245 persons added to the state's population annually, i.e., nearly 33.1 percent of the state's overall population increase.

As of 2012 about 47.4 percent of South Carolina'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 South 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 5.2 percent to 7.0 percent. In 2000, 41.9 percent of those persons in also said they spoke English less than very well. In the 2012 estimate, the share was 39.5 percent that spoke English less than very well. In 2012 Spanish speakers were 63.9 percent of those who spoke other than English at home, and 70.0 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 81,907 residents of South Carolina, or 30.1 percent of the foreign-born population in South Carolina, were naturalized U.S. citizens, compared to 42,983 residents, or 37.1 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 South Carolina's population resulting from net international migration has been about 14,355 people. It was 13.9 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 South Carolina were 546 percent above admissions just after adoption of the current immigration system in 1965. During the 1965 to 1969 period, annual admissions averaged about 667 persons. During the most recent five years, annual admissions averaged about 4,306 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 South Carolina between fiscal years 1965 and 2012 has been 102,807 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 South Carolina was 3,276 (791 pre-1982 residents and 2,485 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 South 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


South Carolina has received 2,050 refugees over the most recent ten fiscal years including 135 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

South Carolina Fiscal Costs
Due to Illegal Aliens
           ($M) (Pct.)
K-12 educ. $221.60 56.7%
LEP educ. $44.60 11.4%
Medicaid+ $30.20 7.7%
SCHIP $7.20 1.8%
Justice $28.00 7.2%
Welfare+ $21.20 5.4%
General $37.90 9.7%
Total $390.60  
Tax receipts $21.20  
Net Cost $369.40  
Source: "The State Cost Studies"

FAIR Estimate - FAIR estimates the illegal alien population of South Carolina as of 2010 was about 70,000 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 South Carolina 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 55,000 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 South 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 South Carolina, LEP public school enrollment in 2010 ( 31,511) was 565.0 percent of LEP enrollment a decade earlier. By contrast, overall K-12 enrollment in the state was 111.2 percent of enrollment a decade earlier.

Population Projection

FAIR projected South Carolina's population in 2050 likely would be between 6,566,000 million and 6,629,000 million with current levels of immigration. Alternatively, the population could be lower (6,202,000) 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 South Carolina as 5,089 in 2013.

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

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

Population Profile

Immigration-driven population growth is taking its toll on South Carolina. In the last ten years, over half a million new residents settled in South Carolina. Thirteen percent of these new residents were immigrants. This large-scale population growth is bringing traffic, pollution, overcrowded schools, and lack of affordable housing to the state, decreasing quality of life and straining natural resources. Some towns like Dorchester County, are considering charging developers impact fees, to help pay for the increased costs of public services, such as fire protection and recreation.1


Disappearing open space: The amount of developed land in South Carolina increased by 1,313,400 acres from 1982 to 2007, growing at a pace of 55,510 acres per year over the last ten years of that period.2

In 2002, urban and built-up land represented almost one-fifth of the state, and prime farmland is disappearing steadily. Maps that project 30-year growth patterns show a tripling in size of the urban Charleston area, spreading into the farms and forests of upper Berkeley and Dorchester counties and along the coast. Preservationists say this means that the state would lose more than half its rural historic sites, 15 Civil War sites, nearly 1,000 archaeological sites, and 25 miles of scenic roads.3 The projected development by 2030 puts 57 percent of cultivated land and 100,000 acres of freshwater wetlands and tidal creeks at risk.4 The Southern Forest Resource Assessment, a two-year study examining the future of southeastern forests, says that urban sprawl and population growth are the biggest threats to South Carolina's woodlands.5

Sprawl: Researchers say that, unless area leaders implement strong growth-control measures, the Charleston metropolitan area will expand by about 230,000 acres during the next 15 years, more than twice the size of Charleston's existing urban area.6

In the Colombia area, sprawl consumed 95.6 square miles and population increase accounted for 46.5 percent of the increase, and in the Greenville area 77.2 square miles of urban sprawl was 62.1 percent attributable to population growth.7

Traffic: South Carolina highways saw a 41 percent increase in traffic between 1990 and 2008.8 As population growth put more traffic on the roads, the average commute for South Carolina residents increased 19 percent during the 1990s, to 24 minutes in 2000 (versus a national rate of increase of 14 percent).9

The typical Charleston-North Charleston commuter lost 38 hours and 23 gallons of fuel due to congestion in 2007. Columbia commuters spent 22 extra hours and burned 14 additional gallons of fuel in the process. In total, commuters in these two cities lost time and fuel valued at $328 million.  About 12 percent of South Carolina commuters had a commute of 45 minutes or longer in 2008.10

Road maintenance has been unable to keep up with increased traffic flows. Over one-fourth (27%) of South Carolina’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition, and 22 percent of its bridges are considered structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Drivers bear the cost of overdue road maintenance. The typical South Carolina driver pays $255 in additional repair and operating costs due to road conditions each year, which adds up to about $811 million statewide.11

School Overcrowding: Between 1990 and 2009, public school enrollment in South Carolina increased by an estimated 83,888 students, or 13.5 percent.12 Enrollment is projected to rise by an additional 38,000 students between 2009 and 2018.13

Fort Mill, the fastest-growing school district in the state, opened three new elementary schools and had additional projects underway, but all of these expanded district facilities may not meet needs as early as 2005.14 Charleston and York counties are proposing tax increases to keep up with enrollment growth.15

Mt. Pleasant is expecting a severe school overcrowding crisis. Already, five of its ten schools are over capacity, and 20 percent of all students in one school learn in trailers. Residents are pressuring local lawmakers to charge development impact fees to pay for building and expanding schools as the result of the added population.16 The town council rejected a housing development because it would add more students to already packed schools.17

Air Quality: More than half of South Carolina counties that were rated in the American Lung Association’s 2010 assessment were graded "F" for risk of exposure to high ozone levels.18

Solid Waste: South Carolina generates 1.45 tons of solid waste per capita each year.19 If this number does not change, population growth projected between 2008 and 2050 will add over 6.3 million tons of solid waste to the state’s annual output.

Poverty: South Carolina’s immigrants are more likely to be poor than their native-born counterparts. In 2007, 31.3 percent of foreign-born households lived below 150 percent of the poverty line, compared to 24.8 percent of native households. Native households were slightly more likely to have incomes below 100 percent of poverty.20 33.5 percent of children in immigrant families were poor in 2006, compared to 20.6 percent of native children.21

Crowded Housing: An estimated 30,472 of South Carolina’s housing units were classified as crowded in 2008, defined as units with more than one occupant per room. This amounted to 1.8 percent of the state’s housing units. In addition, 8,776 were severely crowded, with at least 1.5 occupants per room.22 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, 16 percent of children in immigrant families live in crowded housing, compared to just 8 percent of children with native-born parents.23

Water: Booming development, exacerbated by frequent drought, poses a bleak situation for the future of water in South Carolina. If current growth trends continue, by 2050 South Carolina’s population will have topped 6.6 million, more than a 53 percent increase from its 2006 population.24 South Carolina’s current per-capita water usage is 141 gallons per day.25 This means that by 2050, public use of water may have increased by up to 321 million gallons per day.

On June 30, 2008, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reported that five counties were in extreme drought, fourteen were considered in severe drought and 21 were of moderate drought status. Thirteen of 17 monitored streams are in extreme drought conditions according to the South Carolina DNR. The drought also plagues many state lakes, evident by their delining levels. The Santee Lake is over one foot lower than this time last year, meanwhile a group of lakes known as the Savannah lakes are more than 10 feet below the ideal level for this time of year and continuing to decline. Although water restrictions have not yet been mandated, officials are pleading for greater individual conservation efforts.26

Officials are projecting water wars in South Carolina. South Carolina lawmakers are currently working on legislation that would require permits to draw water from state resources, effectively limiting large water consumers such as electric plants. These measures are rousing various individuals and groups who fear that their water consumption may be hindered.27

Last year, South Carolina sued North Carolina over North Carolina’s plans to pump as 36 million gallons per day from the Catawba River, a river that supplies both states. South Carolina fears that if North Carolina diverts this much water from the river, not enough will be left for them. The court case is currently before the Supreme Court. Growing populations have clearly intensified the need to find increasingly valuable water from an ever shrinking pool.


The state attracts illegal aliens largely because of its agricultural production, but large illegal populations can be found in other industries as well. Paul Groeschel, co-director of the Hispanic Office of Legal Assistance on Hilton Head Island, estimates that anywhere from half to three-fourths of the 4,000 to 5,000 Hispanics on Hilton Head are illegal.28

Hospitals throughout the state say they have been left with at least $4 million in unpaid bills after delivering babies for illegal immigrants who disappear before filing Medicaid paperwork. Hospitals in Spartanburg, Greenville, Charleston, and Horry counties are the most affected. Under federal law, hospitals cannot refuse service to anyone, regardless of their citizenship status.29


  1. Arlie Porter, "Competing Interests Complicate Task of Managing Growth, "Post and Courier, March 24,2002.
  2. USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, "Summary Report: 2007 National Resources Inventory."
  3. "Urban Sprawl Threatens Rural Historic Sites,"Associated Press, June 16,2002.
  4. Lynne Langley, "Groups Discuss Growth in S.C.," Post and Courier, January 5,2001.
  5. "Sprawl, Growing Population Affects South Carolina's Forests,"Associated Press, November 27,2001.
  6. Tony Bartelme, "Charleston Sprawl Mirrors Atlanta, Experts Say,"Post and Courier, February 18,2001.
  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 South Carolina’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. The Road Information Project (TRIP), "Key Facts about South Carolina’s Surface Transportation System and Federal Funding," May 2010.
  12. "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.
  13. "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.
  14. Erica Pippins," Growth Threatens to Meet Schools' Capacity by 2005,"The Herald, October 18,2001.
  15. Erica Pippins, "Districts Expect 1,000 New Students," The Herald, June 6, 2002.
  16. David Quick,"Mt. Pleasant Faces Crisis of Overcrowding," Post and Courier, January 10,2002.
  17. "Town Rejects Housing Project Because of Crowded Schools," Associated Press, November 15,2001.
  18. American Lung Association, "State of the Air 2010."
  19. Report Card for America's Infrastructure 2005," American Society of Civil Engineers.
  20. Migration Information Source State Data (Migration Policy Institute)
  21. Urban Institute, Children of Immigrants Data Tool.
  22. American Community Survey, Three-Year Estimates 2006-2008. Data retrieved using ACS Custom Table tool.
  23. Kids Count Data Center, Kids Count Data Center, 2008 American Community Survey Data.
  24. U.S. Census Bureau 2006.
  25. U.S. Geological Survey 2000.
  26. "Oconee, Pickens Counties Upgraded to Extreme Drought," July, 1, 2008.
  27. "U.S. Water News," "Water Wars — S.C. lawmakers debate water permits," February, 2008.
  28. Hospitals Say Illegal Immigrants Often Leave With Unpaid Bills," Associated Press, August 12,2001.
  29. "Condon Calls for State, Local Authority to Arrest Illegal Immigrants," The Herald, October 3,2001.


Other Resources  

State Local Reform Organizations

State Representatives Voting Record


Updated February 2012