Immigration Facts
Summary Demographic State Data (and Source)
Population (2012 CB est.) 6,897,012
Population (2000 CB est.) 5,894,121
Foreign-Born Population (2012 CB est.) 916,399
Foreign-Born Population (2000 CB est.) 614,457
Share Foreign-Born (2012) 13.3 %
Share Foreign-Born (2000) 9.2%
Naturalized U.S. Citizens (2012 CB est.): 434,688
Share Naturalized (2012) 47.4 %
Legal Immigrant Admission (DHS 2001 – 2012) 232,207
Refugee Admission (HHS 2000 – 2012) 60,059
Illegal Alien Population (2010 FAIR est.) 275,000
Costs of Illegal Aliens (2009 FAIR) $1,510,304,431
Projected 2050 Population (2006 FAIR) 10,611,000

State Population

According to the Census Bureau, the population of Washington in 2012 was 6,897,012 residents.

Between 2000 (population 5,894,121) and 2012, the state's average annual population change was 81,869 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 4,866,692) and 2000, the state's annual average population change was 102,743 residents. The annual average rate of change was 1.9 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 Washington was about 916,399 persons in 2012. This estimate meant a foreign-born population share of 13.3 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 24,648 people, compared to the state's annual average population change of about 81,869  people. That is a 30.1  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 49.9 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 26.6 percent share of the state's current births is large enough to account for about 22,830 births a year. Combining the average increase in the foreign-born population and estimated immigrant births suggests that immigration may account for about 47,475 persons added to the state's population annually, i.e., nearly 58.0 percent of the state's overall population increase.

As of 2012 about 43.6 percent of Washington's foreign-born population had arrived in the state since 2000. This compares with the national average 40.9 percent. In 2000, 46.6 percent of the state's foreign-born population that had arrived since the previous Census.

Foreign-Born Characteristics

An indicator of the change in Washington'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 14 percent to 19.3 percent. In 2000, 45.5 percent of those persons in also said they spoke English less than very well. In the 2012 estimate, the share was 40.4 percent that spoke English less than very well. In 2012 Spanish speakers were 44.4 percent of those who spoke other than English at home, and 45.0 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 434,688 residents of Washington, or 47.4 percent of the foreign-born population in Washington, were naturalized U.S. citizens, compared to 257,648 residents, or 41.9 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 Washington's population resulting from net international migration has been about 42,785 people. It was 26.8 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 Washington were 382 percent above admissions just after adoption of the current immigration system in 1965. During the 1965 to 1969 period, annual admissions averaged about 4,969 persons. During the most recent five years, annual admissions averaged about 23,973 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 Washington between fiscal years 1965 and 2012 has been 670,929 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 Washington was 37,539 (9,850 pre-1982 residents and 27,689 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 Washington 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


Washington has received 60,059 refugees over the most recent ten fiscal years including 2,165 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

Washington Fiscal Costs
Due to Illegal Aliens
           ($M) (Pct.)
K-12 educ. $1,455.0 53.2%
LEP educ. $125.5 4.6%
Medicaid+ $498.7 18.2%
SCHIP $9.7 0.4%
Justice $176.2 6.4%
Welfare+ $143.6 5.2%
General $325.0 12.0%
Total $2,737.5  
Tax receipts $203.2  
Net Cost $2,534.3  
Source: "The State Cost Studies"

FAIR Estimate - FAIR estimates the illegal alien population of Washington as of 2010 was about 275,000 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 Washington was 270,000 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 230,000 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 Washington 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 Washington, LEP public school enrollment in 2010 ( 93,069) was 167.1 percent of LEP enrollment a decade earlier. By contrast, overall K-12 enrollment in the state was 103.2 percent of enrollment a decade earlier.

Population Projection

FAIR projected Washington's population in 2050 likely would be between 10,240,000 million and 10,611,000 million with current levels of immigration. Alternatively, the population could be lower (8,626,000) 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 Washington as 22,877 in 2013.

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

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

Immigration Impact

Sanctuary Policies

City or County

King County

Ordinance (November 9, 2009) (File No. 2009-0393) [Search “2009-0393”]

  • “…County sheriff’s office personnel shall not request specific documents relating to a person’s civil immigration status for the sole purpose of determining whether the individual has violated federal civil immigration laws. The documents include but are not limited to: (a) passports; (b) alien registration cards; or (c) work permits.”
  • “The Seattle-King County department of public health shall not condition the provision of health benefits, opportunities or services on matters related to citizenship or immigration status. The Seattle-King County department of public health may inquire about or disclose information relating to an individual’s citizenship or immigration status for the purpose of determining eligibility for benefits or seeking reimbursement from federal, state or other third-party payers.”
  • “...presentation of a photo identity document issued by the person’s nation of origin, such as a driver’s license, passport or matricula consular, which is a consulate-issued document, shall be accepted and shall not subject the person to a higher level of scrutiny or different treatment than if the person had provided a Washington state driver’s license or identification card.”

Ordinance (December 2, 2013) (File No. 2013-0285)

  • Prohibits the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention from complying with an ICE detainer request UNLESS: (1) ICE agents provide written documentation and case identifying information that the individual has been previously convicted of a homicide at any time in the past; or the individual either has been convicted of a violent, serious, sex, or serious traffic offense within the past ten years or within the past ten years has been released from prison after serving a sentence for a violent, serious, sex, or serious traffic offense conviction; or (2) ICE agents provide written documentation and case identifying information that the individual has been convicted in any jurisdiction of an offense that, if committed in the state of Washington would meet the criteria outlined in 1.


Resolution No. 30672 (April 19, 2004)

  • Seattle opposed enactment of HR 2671, the CLEAR Act, and S. 1906, the Homeland Security Enhancement Act, because they required state and local police officers to enforce federal immigration laws or lose federal funding.

Council Bill No. 114436 (a.k.a. Ordinance No. 121063) (February 7, 2003)

  • Prohibits Seattle City officers or employees from inquiring into the immigration status of any person, or engaging in activities designed to ascertain the immigration status of any person…UNLESS “…the officer has the reasonable suspicion to believe (1) the individual has previously been deported, (2) is again present in the US, and (3) is committing or has committed a felony….”

Amicus Brief (March 23, 2012)

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


Immigration-driven population growth is taking its toll on Washington, the tenth fastest growing state in the U.S. In the last ten years, over one million new residents settled in Washington. Twenty-nine percent of these new residents were immigrants.

Washington's Growth Management Act and a strong grassroots movement to limit growth are being stymied by with this large-scale population increase, which is generating traffic, pollution, overcrowded schools, and a lack of affordable housing, as well as straining natural resources.


In Snohomish, King, and Pierce counties, 24 of the 158 of the largest utilities will be unable to meet water demands by 2015, and twelve of those were projected in 2001 to be at full capacity in four years. Seattle expects shortages within 20 years. Even with current conservation efforts, demand fueled by population growth is expected to exceed existing supplies by five percent.1

Poverty: Washington’s immigrants are more likely to be poor than their native-born counterparts. In 2007, 16.6 percent of foreign-born households were below the poverty line, compared to 10.7 percent of native households. An additional 11.4 percent of the foreign-born and 7.0 percent of native households were not in poverty but had incomes less than 1.5 times the poverty level.2 25.2 percent of children in immigrant families were poor in 2006, compared to 13.1 percent of native children.3 

Traffic:Washington highway traffic increased by 22 percent between 1990 and 2008. Over one-fourth (27%) of the state’s major urban highways are congested.4 As population growth put more traffic on the roads, the average commute for Washington residents increased 16 percent during the 1990s, to 26 minutes in 2000.5

Seattle commuters spent an estimated 43 extra hours in traffic and burned 30 additional gallons of fuel due to traffic congestion in 2007. The estimated value of these time and fuel losses was $1.6 billion. Vancouver area residents are also affected by overgrowth in the Portland area, where each commuter sat through about 37 hours of congestion delays 2007. In Spokane, the typical commuter lost 9 hours due to congestion.6  About 15 percent of Washington commuters had a commute of 45 minutes or longer in 2008.7

Road maintenance has not fully kept up with increased traffic. One-third (33%) of major roads in the state are in poor or mediocre condition, and 27 percent of its bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. As a result of road conditions, the typical Washington driver pays an additional $272 per year in maintenance and operating costs, for a total of $1.3 billion statewide.8

Disappearing Open Space: The amount of developed land in Washington increased by 869,800 acres from 1982 to 2007, growing at a pace of 31,400 acres per year over the last ten years of that period.9

As Washington's population has risen, so has the need for additional housing. In Clark County, an estimated 2,000 acres of county farmland are paved over every year.10 The Seattle-Tacoma metro area lost an average of ten acres of open space each day to development between 1990 and 2000. The Portland-Vancouver area lost about eight acres each day.11 No end is in sight: King County's growth plan estimates that 120,000 new housing units will be needed between 2001 and 2012.12

A study of urban sprawl between 1970 and 1990 that calculated the impact of population increase and per capita land use found that 174.8 square miles of additional land were consumed by urban sprawl in the Seattle metropolitan area, and 97.1 percent of that sprawl was attributable to population increase. In the Portland-Vancouver metro area, which crosses into Washington, sprawl consumed an additional 121.2 square miles and population increase accounted for 93.8 percent of the increase. In the Spokane area, 35.8 square miles of growth was 51.5 percent attributable to population growth, and in the Tacoma area 104.1 square miles of growth was 67.9 percent attributable to population growth.13

Crowded Housing: An estimated 57,816 of Washington’s housing units were classified as crowded in 2008, defined as units with more than one occupant per room. This amounted to 2.3 percent of the state’s housing units. In addition, 14,311 were severely crowded, with at least 1.5 occupants per room.14 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, 22 percent of children in immigrant families live in crowded housing, compared to just 6 percent of children with native-born parents.15

Crowding is even affecting small towns, such as Mount Vernon, where officials are rewriting the building code in response to complaints of as many as 20 people living in one house. "Lifestyle clashes are growing in this town 60 miles north of Seattle," reports USA Today. "Neighbors tattle on neighbors who have too many people crammed into homes and apartments and too many cars jamming driveways." 16

Air Quality: King County is in the top five percent of U.S. counties for airborne toxins. Federal regulators blame traffic congestion and population growth.17 In 2010, the American Lung Association rated King County "F" for risk of high ozone exposure, and Pierce County was graded "D" for ozone and "F" for high particle pollution.18

Immigration and School Overcrowding: Between 1990 and 2009, public school enrollment in Washington increased by an estimated 186,291 students, or 22.2 percent. 19 Enrollment is projected to grow by an additional 74,971 students between 2009 and 2018.20

In 2002, the Evergreen School District was receiving almost 1,000 new students each year, the fastest growth rate of any Washington school district. Twenty-eight of the district's 30 schools were beyond capacity. At most schools, portable classrooms crowded fields and parking lots.21


  1. Mike Lewis, "Long-Term Water Crisis Predicted," The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 10, 2001.
  2. Migration Information Source State Data (Migration Policy Institute)
  3. Urban Institute, Children of Immigrants Data Tool.
  4. The Road Information Project (TRIP), "Key Facts about Washington’s Surface Transportation System and Federal Funding," May 2010.
  5. "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.
  6. Texas Transportation Institute, "Urban Mobility Report 2009."
  7. American Community Survey, 2008 Estimates, Custom Data Table.
  8. The Road Information Project (TRIP), "Key Facts about Washington’s Surface Transportation System and Federal Funding," May 2010.
  9. USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, "Summary Report: 2007 National Resources Inventory."
  10. Michael Zuzel, "Toxic Sprawl,"Columbian, April 29, 2001.
  11. Kathie Durbin, "County's Growth Mirrors Seattle's," Columbian, March 20, 2002.
  12. Eric Pryne, "20 Years' Worth of County Land?"Seattle Times, May 20, 2002.
  13. Beck, Roy and Leon Kolankiewicz, "Weighing Sprawl Factors in Large U.S. Cities," NumbersUSA, March 2001.
  14. American Community Survey, Three-Year Estimates 2006-2008. Data retrieved using ACS Custom Table tool.
  15. Kids Count Data Center, Kids Count Data Center, 2008 American Community Survey Data.
  16. Haya El Nasser, "U.S. Neighborhoods Grow More Crowded,"USA Today, July 2, 2002.
  17. "State of the Air 2005: Washington", American Lung Association.
  18. American Lung Association, "State of the Air 2010."
  19. "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.
  20. "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.
  21. Mhari Doyle, "The Costs of Growth,"Columbian, May 6, 2002.