Uncertainty about the size of the unauthorized foreign-born population in the united states

Jennifer Van Hook, Anne Morse, Randy Capps, Julia Gelatt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


One of the most common methods for estimating the U.S. unauthorized foreign-born population is the residual method. Over the last decade, residual estimates have typically fallen within a narrow range of 10.5 to 12 million. Yet it remains unclear how sensitive residual estimates are to their underlying assumptions. We examine the extent to which estimates may plausibly vary owing to uncertainties in their underlying assumptions about coverage error, emigration, and mortality. Findings show that most of the range in residual estimates derives from uncertainty about emigration rates among legal permanent residents, naturalized citizens, and humanitarian entrants (LNH); estimates are less sensitive to assumptions about mortality among the LNH foreign-born and coverage error for the unauthorized and LNH populations in U.S. Census Bureau surveys. Nevertheless, uncertainty in all three assumptions contrib utes to a range of estimates, whereby there is a 50% chance that the unauthorized foreign-born population falls between 9.1 and 12.2 million and a 95% chance that it falls between 7.0 and 15.7 million.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2315-2336
Number of pages22
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Demography


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