What are the top five immigrant groups in Minnesota?

Immigration has changed in the past 30 years.

The origin countries of Minnesota’s foreign-born population has changed significantly in the last three decades.
The origin countries of Minnesota’s foreign-born population has changed significantly in the last three decades.

— Star Tribune file

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In his Buffalo law office, John Peterson has files full of old news stories that have piqued his interest over the past three decades.

"If it's something really intriguing, I save the articles," Peterson said. "And I go back and read them from time to time."

Among them is a 2001 Star Tribune graphic showing how immigration trends had changed in Minnesota between 1900 and 1990. Peterson was curious how recent data would compare to the numbers from 30 years ago.

He reached out to Curious Minnesota, the Star Tribune's community-driven reporting project fueled by questions from readers. Peterson wanted to know the most common origin countries of Minnesota's new immigrants.

In 1990, Laos topped the list of countries where foreign-born Minnesotans originated — with nearly 15,000 residents. The second most common origin country at that time was Canada. Vietnam, Germany and the United Kingdom rounded out the top five.

Today, the largest share of Minnesota's foreign-born population, nearly 58,000 people, came from Mexico. About 40,000 came from Somalia, and another nearly 37,000 residents came from India.

Looking just at recent arrivals, people from Somalia accounted for about 12% of new immigrants in the state over the last decade. Minnesota has the largest concentration of people of Somali ancestry in the United States.

That was followed by Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and Mexico, according to U.S. Census Bureau data analyzed by the Washington, D.C.-based think tank Migration Policy Institute.

"If we look at the United States overall, the top three immigrant origin country countries are India, China and Mexico, and they dominate the flows to the U.S. overall," said Jeanne Batalova, a senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute.

"Minnesota is unique in the sense that it is still receives a significant proportion of refugees, as well as family members of refugees who were resettled in Minnesota," Batalova said.

In 1900, when immigrants accounted for about a quarter of the state's population, there were more than 100,000 immigrants from Germany, Sweden and Norway, respectively.

Immigration to Minnesota was largely from European countries for the most of the 20th century, but that changed starting in the 1980s, said Megan Dayton, a senior demographer for the state of Minnesota. In the 1950s, 90% of the state's immigrants came from Europe. That is now reversed.

"About 90% of the foreign-born population in Minnesota does not come from Europe," Dayton said. "So we've really increased the number of international immigrants from particularly Asia, Latin America and Africa into Minnesota."

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