Majority Christian, Rising Share of Other Faiths

The geographic origins of new legal permanent residents in the United States have shifted markedly during the past two decades, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. government data on immigration. A total of 41% of new green card recipients in 1992 came from the Asia-Pacific region, the Middle East-North Africa region or sub-Saharan Africa. By 2012, more than half (53%) of new green card holders were from those regions. Conversely, the annual percentage of legal immigrants coming from Europe and the Americas has decreased. Well over half (59%) of all new legal immigrants in 1992 came from Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean or North America. By 2012, fewer than half (47%) came from those regions.

With this geographic shift, Pew Research estimates that the religious makeup of legal immigrants also has been changing. The study finds that while Christians continue to make up a majority of legal immigrants to the U.S., the estimated share of new legal permanent residents who are Christian declined from 68% in 1992 to 61% in 2012. Over the same period, the estimated share of green card recipients who belong to religious minorities rose from approximately one-in-five (19%) to one-in-four (25%). This includes growing shares of Muslims (5% in 1992, 10% in 2012) and Hindus (3% in 1992, 7% in 2012). The share of Buddhists, however, is slightly smaller (7% in 1992, 6% in 2012).

Unauthorized immigrants, by contrast, come primarily from Latin America and the Caribbean, and the overwhelming majority of them – an estimated 83% – are Christian. That share is slightly higher than the percentage of Christians in the U.S. population as a whole (estimated at just under 80% of U.S. residents of all ages, as of 2010).

These are among the key findings of the new study by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life examining recent trends in the geographic origins and religious affiliation of immigrants to the United States. Because the U.S. government does not keep track of the religion of new permanent residents, the figures on religious affiliation in this report are estimates produced by combining government statistics on the birthplaces of new green card recipients over the period between 1992 and 2012 with the best available U.S. survey data on the religious self-identification of new immigrants from each major country of origin. These data come primarily from the New Immigrant Survey, a 2003 survey conducted by migration experts at several academic institutions that asked new green card recipients about their religion, among other questions.

The full report is available at For information on religion among migrants not just in the U.S. but globally, see the Pew Research Center’s 2012 report “Faith on the Move: The Religious Affiliation of International Migrants.”