New York State

The history of immigration into the state of New York has been dominated by immigration into New York City, in which about 90 percent of the state immigrant population lives. The rest of the state has had a somewhat different but nonetheless significant immigration history.

In the first U.S. Census of 1790, New York ranked as the fifth-most populous of the country’s eighteen states and territories with a total population of 340,120. About one-half of its residents were of English descent and one-fifth were of Dutch descent. By 1820, New York ranked as the most populous state in the union and remained so until the 1960’s, when it was overtaken by California. The state’s earliest Jewish immigrantsJewish immigrants;New York State were mostly Spanish and Portuguese, but German Jews began arriving during the 1830’s. From then until the end of the nineteenth century, the Irish, Germans, and English furnished the largest numbers of immigrants to the state.New York StateNew York State[cat]STATES;New York State[03870]

Through New York’s history, the majority of new immigrants to the state have settled, at least initially, in New York City, which was both the largest city in the United States and the country’s primary port of entry for immigrants. During a single year, 1853, about 300,000 immigrants passed through the port of New York City. Most of these people were Irish fleeing from their homeland’s devastating potato famine, and most of them crowded into the tenements of New York City.

Between the 1880’s and World War I (1914-1918), the numbers of Italian, Polish, Greek, and Russian immigrants entering New York increased rapidly. Most of these immigrants were laborers, but many of their children became important professional figures, politicians, and entertainers. La Guardia, FiorelloFiorello La Guardia, who was mayor of New York City for eleven years; Lehman, Herbert H.Herbert H. Lehman, who was state governor for nearly ten years; and Javits, Jacob K.Jacob K. Javits, who represented New York in the U.S. Senate for twenty-four years, were all children of immigrants.

Twentieth Century Trends

Studies of immigration into the state of New York typically focus on New York City, through which many millions of immigrants have entered the country. This is natural, as during the early years of the twenty-first century, 90 percent of the state’s entire immigrant population resided in the city. However, more than 200,000 other immigrants were living in other parts of the state. Immigration patterns in upstate New York are quite different from those of the city. A study of the foreign-born population of upstate New York completed in 2007 by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York revealed some of those differences, drawing on data from the 2000 U.S. Census.

According to the 2007 report, Latin American immigrants constituted more than one-half of all foreign-born residents of New York City but only 13 percent of the populations of such major upstate cities as Buffalo, Rochester, Albany, and Syracuse. In contrast, European immigrants accounted for 43 percent of all foreign-born residents in the upstate cities but only 17 percent of New York City’s foreign born. Recent immigrants from German immigrants;New York StateGermany and Polish immigrants;New York StatePoland were prominent among the foreign born in the upstate cities, along with newcomers from eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics. As might be expected, the percentage of Canadian immigrants;New York StateCanadian immigrants is much higher upstate than in New York City, especially in Buffalo, which stands on the Canadian border. However, the proportions of Asian immigrants both upstate and in the city are roughly the same: 25 percent in the city and 30 percent upstate.

Upstate New York and Long Island also differ from New York City in having many immigrant agricultural workers. Their exact numbers are difficult to establish, because many of these immigrants are undocumented. However, of the 47,000 immigrants known to be working on fruit, vegetable, and dairy farms at the turn of the twenty-first century, 80 percent were Mexicans. As many as one-half of these people may have been undocumented. As in other states, many of them are impoverished and without heath care insurance.

The Hispanic immigrant population of upstate New York also includes many Portuguese immigrants;New York StatePortuguese and Brazilian immigrants;New York StateBrazilians. A 2006 state government report on Hispanic immigrants and their children, including Puerto Ricans, in upstate areas found that members of the younger generations still faced many of the same problems that their immigrant ancestors faced. Limited education and English language proficiency were particular problems.New York State

Further Reading

  • Bogen, Elizabeth. Immigration in New York. New York: Praeger, 1987.
  • Klein, Milton M. The Empire State: A History of New York. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2005.
  • Pencak, William, et al., eds. Immigration to New York. Philadelphia: Balch Institute Press, 1991.
  • Youssef, Nadia H. The Demographics of Immigration: A Socio-Demographic Profile of the Foreign-Born Population in New York State. New York: Center for Migration Studies, 1991.

Asian immigrants

Canadian immigrants


Dutch immigrants

Farm and migrant workers

Golden Venture grounding

Jewish immigrants

New Jersey

New York City