U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Immigrants and Criminality: A Cross-National Review

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice Abstracts Volume: 29 Issue: 1 Dated: (March 1997) Pages: 143-171
M G Yeager
Date Published
29 pages
This literature review focuses on the contemporary research literature that pertains to the criminal behavior of immigrants; the primary interest is the criminogenic involvement of those who have been granted legal status to reside in their new country or who have otherwise become citizens, but were born elsewhere; the review draws on empirical studies from Canada, the United States, Europe, and Australia.
Although resident populations of the countries studied typically presume that immigrants commit a disproportionate amount of crime, the studies generally conclude that immigrants have lower propensities for crime than their native-born counterparts, except when a group's cultural traditions legitimize certain illegal acts. Immigrants are generally older than the most crime-prone age group (15-24 years) and are often better educated, better employed, desirous of assimilation, and mindful of the customs of their host country. Part of the problem in making definite conclusions about the linkage between immigration and crime is an issue of measurement. It is difficult to determine whether the reported differences between the criminality of the native-born and the foreign-born are a product of age differentiation, the percentage of males in the population, education, employment, or poverty. Ethnicity may not be the issue, but rather the socioeconomic conditions under which people live regardless of ethnicity. Regarding the second and third generation of children of immigrants, they often experience severe cultural marginality in their adopted country. One of the universal findings of this meta-survey is that the children of immigrants have much more serious crime problems than their parents. 125 references