Middle Eastern and North African Immigrants in the United States

Laura Harjanto and Jeanne Batalova
Date of Publication: 
January, 2022
Source Organization: 
Migration Policy Institute

Fluctuations in U.S. immigration policy and global developments have impacted the immigration patterns of Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) immigrants since at least the 1920s, becoming particularly turbulent in the decades since the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001. These trends and more are traced in “Middle Eastern and North African Immigrants in the United States,” an article by Laura Harjanto and Jeanne Batalova for the Migration Policy Institute. The article finds that, historically, there have been three significant waves of MENA immigration to America: one in the late 1800s, which largely consisted of Arab Christians fleeing insecurity, conscription and persecution in Ottoman Syria; another beginning in 1948, which was driven by multiple regional political instabilities; and finally one beginning in 1965, which was spurred on by the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act that ended the nationality-based quota system. As of 2019, the top MENA immigrant-sending countries were Iraq (20.7 percent of MENA immigrants), Egypt (17.1 percent) and Lebanon (10.0 percent), and the top MENA immigrant-receiving U.S. states were California (18 percent), Michigan (10 percent) and New York (9 percent). MENA immigrants are disproportionately likely to be proficient in English (61 percent), have a college degree (46 percent over the age of 24) and be naturalized citizens (62 percent). However, they are disproportionately likely to experience poverty, earning median household incomes of just $54,000. Nonetheless, MENA immigrants sent almost $56 billion in remittances in 2020, with these funds comprising as much as a third of some MENA countries’ GDPs. (Kyla Schmitt for The Immigrant Learning Center’s Public Education Institute)

Download now or view online.


Harjanto, L. & Batalova, J. (2022, January). Middle Eastern and North African Immigrants in the United States. Migration Policy Institute. https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/middle-eastern-and-north-african...