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What Americans totally misunderstand about immigration, in one chart

Immigrants among fifty from twenty four countries, raise hands to chest as the National Anthem played during the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) naturalization ceremony
AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews
Immigrants are better educated and more diverse than you think.
  • Annalisa Merelli
By Annalisa Merelli

Senior reporter based in New York City

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Immigration may be at the center of the American political debate, but a new Harvard University study shows Americans are missing a crucial piece of information.

Generally, people believe that immigrants are poorer, more dependent on welfare, and more numerous than they really are. That’s according to study circulated last month by the National Bureau of Economic Research, based on a 2018 survey in six developed countries.

Respondents in all of the countries held strong misconceptions about immigrants and their contributions to society, according to the poll’s results. But the discrepancy between perception and reality was particularly striking in the United States.

One example: On average, US respondents estimated that immigrants made up 36% of the US population. That is more than three times the real share of immigrants in the country, which is 10%.

The US was also the country where respondents were the least accurate at guessing their shared religious and ethnic background with immigrants. The more different they perceived immigrants to be, the more likely they were to reject generous welfare policies.

📬 A periodic dispatch from the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly in NYC.

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