The data on year of entry were derived from answers to questionnaire item 10, which was asked of a sample of persons. The question, "When did this person come to the United States to stay?" was asked of persons who indicated in the question on citizenship that they were not born in the United States. (For more information, see the discussion under "Citizenship.")
The 1990 census questions, tabulations, and census data products about citizenship and year of entry include no reference to immigration. All persons who were born and resided outside the United States before becoming residents of the United States have a date of entry. Some of these persons are U.S. citizens by birth (e.g., persons born in Puerto Rico or born abroad of American parents). To avoid any possible confusion concerning the date of entry of persons who are U.S. citizens by birth, the term, "year of entry" is used in this report instead of the term "year of immigration."
The census questions on nativity, citizenship, and year of entry were not designed to measure the degree of permanence of residence in the United States. The phrase, "to stay" was used to obtain the year in which the person became a resident of the United States. Although the respondent was directed to indicate the year he or she entered the country "to stay," it was difficult to ensure that respondents interpreted the phrase correctly.
A question on year of entry, (alternately called "year of immigration") was asked in each decennial census from 1890 to 1930, 1970, and 1980. In 1980, the question on year of entry included six arrival time intervals. The number of arrival intervals was expanded to ten in 1990. In 1980, the question on year of entry was asked only of the foreign-born population. In 1990, all persons who responded to the long-form questionnaire and were not born in the United States were to complete the question on year of entry.