El Salvador: Salvadoran Population in the Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD Metro Areas

Photo Credit: Canva
Photo Credit: Canva

Salvadoran population in the Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD metropolitan areas: There are approximately 208,800 Salvadoran immigrants* living in the Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD metro areas. The largest numbers of Salvadoran immigrants are found in Montgomery County, MD (43,013), Prince George’s County, MD (42,891) and Fairfax County, VA (34,144).

Among Salvadoran immigrants, 54 percent are male and 46 percent are female. Foreign-born individuals from El Salvador are less likely to be to be proficient in English than all other foreign-born individuals. Specifically, 36 percent of Salvadoran immigrants are proficient in English compared to 66 percent of all other foreign born. Twenty-six percent of them are naturalized U.S. citizens, compared to 54 percent of all other foreign-born individuals.

Salvadoran population in the United States: The absolute number of foreign-born individuals from El Salvador in the United States has increased over time. However, as a percentage of the immigrant population, it has remained stable since 2000. Before the 1990s, immigrants from El Salvador constituted less than 1 percent of the total immigrant population. In 1960, there were approximately 6,085 Salvadoran immigrants in the country. In 1970, the number of Salvadoran immigrants increased to 19,300 and by 1980 it grew to 94,100. In 1990, immigrants from El Salvador (445,887) constituted 2% of the total immigrant population.

Today, Salvadoran immigrants (1,385,122) constitute three percent of the total foreign-born population of the United States. The largest numbers of Salvadoran immigrants in the United States are found in the Los Angeles, CA (281,616), the Washington, DC (210,870), and the New York, NY (156,763) metropolitan areas.

Temporary Protected Status: Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is a temporary humanitarian protection available to certain people from designated countries (e.g. El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) facing extreme conflict, disaster, or other critical situations. Today, TPS holders from El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti constitute more than 90 percent of all TPS beneficiaries.[1] Individuals granted TPS may obtain work authorization, but TPS does not lead to permanent resident status or U.S. citizenship.

El Salvador was first designated for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) by President George W. Bush in 2001. The country was struck by a series of major earthquakes in 2001 resulting in 1,100 deaths, 7,900 injuries, and more than 2,500 missing persons. In addition, the earthquakes displaced an estimated 1.3 million individuals of El Salvador’s population of 6.2 million. Approximately 220,000 homes, 1,700 schools, and 900 public buildings were damaged or destroyed. Earthquake-related losses in housing, infrastructure, and the agricultural sector exceeded $2.8 billion.[2]

In the past, the U.S. government determined that El Salvador remained too unstable for the safe return of Salvadoran TPS holders. In July 2016, a report by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) found that “recovery from the earthquakes has been slow and encumbered by subsequent natural disasters and environmental challenges, including hurricanes and tropical storms, heavy rains and flooding, volcanic and seismic activity, an ongoing coffee rust epidemic, and a prolonged regional drought that is impacting food security.”[3]  Increasing violence and insecurity are also still major constraints to economic growth.  According to the same report, “murder, extortion, and robbery rates were high, and the Salvadoran government struggles to respond adequately to crime, including significant criminal gang activity. The fiscal, unemployment, and security situations in El Salvador also remained poor. El Salvador’s economy experiences significant challenges. Around a third of the country’s work force is underemployed or unable to find full-time work. In 2014, almost a third of all Salvadorans (32 percent) lived in poverty.”[4]

Approximately 32,359 TPS holders from El Salvador live in the Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD metropolitan areas.[5] Over time, these Salvadoran immigrants have become vital members of American society. They contribute to the local and national economy, have hundreds of thousands of U.S.-born children, and are civically engaged in their communities.[6]

Ending Temporary Protection Status: As of May 2019, TPS designations for El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Sudan were terminated. However, these terminations will not go into effect until further notice as there are at least two ongoing lawsuits.[7] 

Many Salvadoran workers have become valued employees across several industries. A recent study, estimated that out of 195,000 Salvadorans with TPS, roughly 171,100 recipients are working in the United States.[8] In all of the states with a sizeable population of Salvadorans with TPS, construction is the leading industry within which they work. Nationally, there are about 36,900 Salvadorans with TPS who work in construction. According to the same study, the second largest industry employing Salvadoran workers with TPS is restaurants and other food services (22,400). The third-most impacted industry among Salvadoran workers with TPS is landscaping, which employed roughly 11,700 Salvadoran TPS beneficiaries nationwide.[9] Ending TPS could trigger further economic problems as most of the TPS beneficiaries spend their wages on goods and services purchased from U.S. businesses. Some have mortgages and workers’ wages serve as tax revenue for federal, state, and local governments.

A report from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) estimated the economic costs associated with expelling Salvadoran, Honduran, and Haitian TPS recipients from the United States. According to the report, “removing these individuals will cost taxpayers over $3 billion, and the inability of these individuals to work will result in over $45 billion in lost Gross Domestic Product over a decade and $6.9 billion in lost Social Security and Medicare contributions over a decade. At the same time, the wholesale lay-off of the entire employed TPS population from these three countries would results in $967 million of turnover costs, e.g. costs employers incur when an employee leaves a position.”[10]

Finally, ending TPS could have repercussions that affect both immigrants holding the status as well as their families, including 273,000 U.S.-citizen children under age 18 living with family members from these countries.[11] If  TPS is terminated, many families may need to be separated as the parents will have to leave United States while their U.S. citizen children  will be able to stay. Those who return may experience severe, persistent challenges as there are still high rates of violence and fewer educational opportunities in those countries.

Education, Income and Housing: In terms of educational attainment, Salvadoran immigrants in the DC and Baltimore metro areas are more likely to not have a high school degree compared to all other foreign-born and native-born individuals. Specifically, 56 percent of foreign-born from El Salvador do not have a high school degree, compared to 14 percent of all other immigrants and 6 percent of native born.   

The median family income of Salvadoran immigrants in the DC and Baltimore metro areas ($50,000) is significantly lower than the median family income of all other foreign born ($76,598). Foreign-born Salvadorans have a lower median personal earned income ($31,026) in comparison to all other foreign-born individuals ($53,108) and native-born U.S. citizens ($65,363).

Salvadoran immigrants are less likely to be homeowners (45 percent) compared to the rest of the foreign-born population (57 percent) and native-born U.S. citizens (66 percent) in the Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD metro areas.

Employment and Occupation: The unemployment rate for Salvadorans is relatively low (5 percent), which is about the same rate as that of all other foreign born but slightly lower compared to the native-born population (6 percent). Salvadoran immigrants are less likely to be employed in STEM occupations in comparison to all other foreign born and native-born U.S. citizens. The largest proportions of Salvadoran immigrants in the Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD metro areas are employed in important occupations such as construction (26 percent), building and grounds cleaning and maintenance (22 percent), and food preparation and serving (15 percent). During the COVID-19 pandemic, many states categorized industries as “essential” and “non-essential” with regards to whether the services that they offer are vital for the health and welfare of the population. Industries that are classified as “essential” remained opened and employees in these industries are at the frontlines as they keep societies functioning. The larger shares of Salvadoran immigrants living in the DC and Baltimore metro areas have some of these frontline occupations.

Salvadoran immigrants in the DC and Baltimore metro areas are slightly more likely to be self-employed and not incorporated (7 percent) compared to all other foreign born (6 percent). The foreign born from El Salvador are slightly less likely to be self-employed and incorporated (2 percent) compared to all other foreign born (4 percent) and U.S. native-born citizens (3 percent). 

The median income for self-employed Salvadoran immigrants in the DC and Baltimore metro areas is $33,000, which is lower than the median income for self-employed foreign-born individuals ($41,367).


* Please note that the terms “immigrant” and “foreign born” are used interchangeably throughout this fact sheet. Foreign born refers to individuals who are not a U.S. citizen at birth or who were born outside the U.S., Puerto Rico or other U.S. territories and whose parents are not U.S. citizens. The foreign born may include naturalized U.S. citizens, Legal Permanent  Residents, temporary residents, refugees and asylees, and others. Additionally, native born includes those who are U.S. citizens at birth, those born in the United States, Puerto Rico, or other U.S. territories, and those born abroad to a parent who is a U.S. citizen. 

[1] National Immigration Forum. 2019. "Fact Sheet: Temporary Protected Status (TPS)."

[2] Immigration and Naturalization Service, Justice. 2001. "Designation of El Salvador under Temporary Protected Status Program." Federal Register.

[3] U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. 2016. “Extension of the Designation of El Salvador for Temporary Protected Status.” Federal Register.

[4] Id.

[5] Wilson, Jill H. 2019. Temporary Protected Status: Overview and Current Issues. Congressional Research Service.

[6] Svajlenka, Nicole Prchal, Angie Bautista-Chavez, and Laura Muñoz Lopez. 2017. TPS Holders Are Integral Members of the U.S. Economy and Society. Center for American Progress.

[7] American Immigration Council. 2020. “Temporary Protected Status: An Overview”.

[8] Warren, Robert, and Donald Kerwin. 2017. "A Statistical and Demographic Profile of the US Temporary Protected Status Populations from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti." Journal on Migration and Human Security 577-592.

[9] Id.

[10] Baran, Amanda, Jose Magana-Salgado, and Tom K. Wong. 2017. Economic Contributions by Salvadoran, Honduran, and Haitian TPS Holders. Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

[11] CAP analysis of 2017 one-year American Community Survey microdata. Data accessed via Steven Ruggles and others, “Integrated Public Use Microdata Series, U.S. Census Data for Social, Economic, and Health Research, 2017 American Community Survey: 1-year estimates” (Minneapolis: Minnesota Population Center, 2018), available at https://usa.ipums.org/usa/. This measure includes children under the age of 18 who are U.S. citizens living in a household with a family member who holds TPS. Data reflect TPS holders from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti, making up 94 percent of all TPS holders.