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The earliest European immigrants were the French and English. The successive opening of interior lands for farming, lumbering, mining, and manufacturing proved an irresistible attraction for hundreds of thousands of immigrants after the War of 1812, principally Germans, Canadians, English, Irish, and Dutch. During the second half of the 19th century, lumbering and mining opportunities in northern Michigan attracted large numbers of Cornishmen, Norwegians, Swedes, and Finns. The growth of manufacturing in southern Michigan at the end of the century brought many Poles, Italians, Russians, Belgians, and Greeks to the state. After World War II, many more Europeans immigrated to Michigan, plus smaller groups of Mexicans, other Spanish-speaking peoples from Latin America, and large numbers of Arabic-speaking peoples, particularly in Detroit, who by the late 1970s were more numerous there than in any other US city.

The first large domestic migration into Michigan came in the early 19th century after the War of 1812. Heavy immigration took place in the 1920s and 1930s, especially from northeastern states, particularly New York and Pennsylvania, and from Ohio. Beginning in 1916, the demand for labor in Michigan's factories started the second major domestic migration to Michigan, this time by southern blacks who settled mainly in Detroit, Flint, Pontiac, Grand Rapids, and Saginaw. During World War II, many southern whites migrated to the same industrial areas. Between 1940 and 1970, a net total of 518,000 migrants were drawn to Michigan. The economic problems of the auto industry in the 1970s and 1980s caused a significant reversal of this trend, with the state suffering a net loss of 496,000 by out-migration in the 1970s and over 460,000 in the 1980s. Between 1990 and 1998, Michigan had a net loss of 190,000 in domestic migration and a net gain of 87,000 in international migration. In 1996, Michigan's foreign-born population totaled 491,000, or 5% of its total population. In 1998, 13,943 foreign immigrants entered the state, the 11th-highest total for any state that year. Michigan's overall population increased 5.6% between 1990 and 1998. In the period 1995–2000, 467,638 people moved into the state and 559,568 moved out, for a net loss of 91,930, 21,949 of whom were age 65 or over. A total of about 74,949 moved from Michigan to Florida.

Intrastate migration has been characterized since the late 19th century by a steady movement from rural to urban areas. Most parts of northern Michigan have suffered a loss of population since the early years of this century although a back-to-the-land movement, together with the growth of rural Michigan as a retirement area, appeared to reverse this trend beginning in the 1970s. Since 1950, the central cities have experienced a steady loss of population to the suburbs, in part caused by the migration of whites from areas that were becoming increasingly black. By 1998, Michigan's black population numbered 1,405,000, of whom over 1,100,000 lived in the Detroit–Ann Arbor–Flint metropolitan area.