Stand up for facts and support PolitiFact.
Now is your chance to go on the record as supporting trusted, factual information by joining PolitiFact’s Truth Squad. Contributions or gifts to PolitiFact, which is part of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Poynter Institute, are tax deductible.
I would like to contribute
The United States leads the world in terms of the number of immigrants it allows to enter the country, says U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.
"We have a legal immigration system in America that accepts 1 million people a year, legally," Rubio said at the National Review Forum May 1. "No other country in the world even comes close to that."
Is Rubio correct that no other country in the world comes close to the number of legal immigrants that come to the United States each year?
First, some background on Rubio’s efforts to change the nation’s immigration laws.
Rubio and seven other senators crafted bipartisan legislation that passed the Senate in 2013. The bill included a pathway to citizenship for certain illegal immigrants, albeit one with significant hurdles. But the House wasn’t interested in that approach, and after that died, Rubio said he still favored changing immigration law through piecemeal bills.
We sent Rubio’s spokesman a summary of our findings, and he noted a similar fact-check we did in 2012. Immigration has been such a hot topic in the 2016 presidential race, though, that we decided to take a fresh look at the numbers.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security keeps track of the number of new legal permanent residents a year, and in 2013 (the most recent year available) it was 990,553.
Of this number, about 46 percent were new arrivals, and about 54 percent were people already in the United States whose status was upgraded to "permanent."
For data on the number of new immigrants in the United States compared with other countries, we turned to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Formed in 1961, OECD collects data on a wide range of topics, including immigration.
We looked at the data in two ways for 2013: first, the sheer number of legal immigrants and secondly, the number of new immigrants as a percentage of the population.
Comparing the sheer number of new legal immigrants in the United States with other countries is complicated because countries use different requirements to define an "immigrant" for their statistics.
For example, Germany -- which has had big increases in immigration in recent years -- uses a broad definition of an immigrant that catches a lot of short-term flows. That means that the figures reported by Germany are not directly comparable with those in the United States, which only counts permanent immigration, said Thomas Liebig, an OECD immigration expert.
OECD standardizes the data from various countries to make them comparable with those in the United States. That process aims to count only permanent residents and exclude other categories such as seasonal workers or students.
The OECD is in the process of standardizing the data for 2013, but the United States will be in the top spot for the sheer number of immigrants with nearly one million immigrants. Provisional figures by OECD show that Germany had 466,000 while the United Kingdom had 291,000.
In per capita rates,the United States place 19th out of 24 countries. That means that the United States received fewer immigrants per capita in 2012-13 compared with several European countries, New Zealand, Australia and Canada.
"While the United States remains the largest destination of new permanent immigration in the OECD in absolute terms, inflows in per capita terms (i.e. relative to its population) are less than half of the OECD average," Liebig told PolitiFact.
Several other immigration experts pointed to the OECD data but also offered additional caveats. People moving within the European Union will not necessarily get citizenship in their new country, while those in the United States given greencards can become citizens after three or five years, said Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for low levels of immigration.
"It is correct to say that in total number of people admitted with what I would call a ‘clear path to citizenship,’ the United States vastly exceeds all other countries. And these absolute numbers matter a great deal. One million people is still a lot of folks, whether they are 1 percent or 3 percent of a nation's population," he said. "As a percentage of the population, the number who can get citizenship is still very high in the United States, but some countries are higher. What is very generous about the United States is that we give so many folks with no historical or ethnic tie to the United States a clear path to citizenship."
Rubio said, "We have a legal immigration system in America that accepts one million people a year, legally. No other country in the world even comes close to that."
The United States accepted just under 1 million people in 2013, the most recent numbers available. As a percentage of population, though, the United States ranked 19th out of 24 countries in 2013. Still, Rubio is correct that the overall figure puts the United States ahead of other countries. We rate this claim Mostly True.
National Review Forum, Sen. Marco Rubio, May 1, 2015
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Permanent inflows to OECD and EU countries, 2012-13
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Migration databases, 2000-2012
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Methodology for standardizing statistics, 2007
U.S. Department of Homeland Security, "U.S. Lawful permanent residents," 2013
Christian Science Monitor, "A new unlikely nation of immigrants in Germany," Dec. 12, 2013
FORBES, "Is the U.S. the most immigrant-friendly country in the world?" Nov. 18, 2012
"PolitiFact, "Debbie Wasserman Schultz says Marco Rubio now against immigration reform, pathway to citizenship," Jan. 30, 2015
PolitiFact, "Hillary Clinton says ‘not one’ GOP presidential contender backs pathway to citizenship," May 7, 2015
PolitiFact, "Marco Rubio’s file," Accessed May 10, 2015
PolitiFact, "Marco Rubio says U.S. admits 1 million immigrants a year, far more than any nation," June 20, 2012
Interview, Thomas Liebig, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development senior administrator for the international migration division, May 7, 2015
Interview, Miguel Gorman, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development spokesman, May 7, 2015
Interview, Alex Nowrasteh, immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, May 7, 2015
Interview, Steven Camarota, Center for Immigration Studies director of research May 7, 2015
Interview, Molly Rohal, Pew Research Center spokeswoman, May 7, 2015
Interview, Alex Conant, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio spokesman, May 11, 2015
Read About Our Process
In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.