Immigrants make America great

50 Years of Immigration: Looking Back at How Immigration Has Changed Florida

As the fourth largest state in the nation, Florida is a multicultural, multinational destination for tourists, transients, and immigrants. Let’s look at how immigration has shaped Florida into the state we know today.


The transformation from a sunken swamp to a bustling settlement and eventually the metropolis we know today took over 150 years. Immigration to Florida grew slowly between the 1830s and 1900 going from zero to hundreds of thousands.

Migration to the panhandle was steady, but it wasn’t as important as the western expansion in the 1800s. While the country looked west, the few settlers in Florida had to make do with what they had, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that the influx of immigrants started contributing to the development of the state.

This growth period is due in part to an agreement to allow 20,000 Cubans to immigrate each year. Not only did this spark economic growth, but it contributed to overall population growth. From 1950-1970 migration to Florida went from 3 million to 8 million.


Migration exploded in the period between 1970 and 1990. Immigrants alone accounted for over 4.5 million and rose to 7.3 million by the late 90s. Without the population growth in Florida, the entire Unites States population would have been over 20 million fewer in 1990.

Not only did immigrants account for a significant part of the population, but they also represented countless cultures and nationalities.

In fact, out of the 7.3 million migrants:

  • Over 4 mil were Latin American and Caribbean
  • 3 mil were Asian
  • And the rest were European or African

These groups contributed to the population and began integrating their cultures in a way that makes today’s Florida utterly unique.


As the influx of immigrants grew, it became known as a “gateway state” – a principal site of entry into the United States. The economy benefited from new businesses, a fast-growing consumer base, and investment into local commerce.

Immigrants would account for over 60% of the total population of Miami and 25% in other areas like Tampa and Orlando. This also had another benefit: diversity in local businesses.

Research shows that immigrants are more likely to start their own businesses and self-employ than American citizens. This is usually because of the discrimination migrants face from lenders, employers, and others. Entrepreneurship allows immigrants to work freely without discrimination and pursue financial stability on their own terms.

As a result, new business has provided more jobs and increased the number of people moving into larger cities searching for employment. This not only helps cities thrive, but it also adds to cultural tapestry in a way that other factors just can’t.

How Far We’ve Come

Immigrants make communities richer in culture and revenue, but they also have a uniqueness that can’t be matched. Thanks to the millions of immigrants who have made their way to Florida over the last few decades, the state has become a travel destination for people the world over.

Everywhere you look, culture and vibrancy reflect generations of migration. The bottom line: immigrants make Florida and the United States better.