Since the early 1800s, New York has been the primary port of entry for Europeans coming to the US. The Statue of Liberty—dedicated in 1886 and beckoning "your tired, your poor, /Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" to the shores of America—was often the immigrants' first glimpse of America. The first stop for some 20 million immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was Ellis Island, where they were processed, often given Americanized names, and sent onward to an uncertain future.
The first great wave of European immigrants arrived in the 1840s, impelled by the potato famine in Ireland. By 1850, New York City had 133,730 Irish-born inhabitants, and by 1890, 409,224. Although smaller in number, German immigration during this period was more widespread; during the 1850s, German-speaking people were the largest foreign-born group in Rochester and Buffalo, and by 1855 about 30,000 of Buffalo's 74,000 residents were German.
The next two great waves of European immigration—Eastern European Jews and Italians—overlapped. Vast numbers of Jews began arriving from Eastern Europe during the 1880s, by which time some 80,000 German-speaking Jews were already living in New York City. By 1910, the Jewish population of the city was about 1,250,000, growing to nearly 2,000,000 by the mid-1920s. The flood of Italians began during the 1800s, when the Italian population of New York City increased from 75,000 to more than 200,000; in 1950, nearly 500,000 Italian-born immigrants were living in the state. Migration from the 1840s onward followed a cyclical pattern: as one group dispersed from New York City throughout the state and the nation, it was replaced by a new wave of immigrants.
Yankees from New England made up the first great wave of domestic migration. Most of the migrants who came to New York between l790 and 1840 were Yankees; it has been estimated that by 1850, 52,000 natives of Vermont (20% of that state's population) had become residents of New York. There was a slow, steady migration of African Americans from slave states to New York before the Civil War, but massive black migration to New York, and especially to New York City, began during World War I and continued well into the 1960s. The third great wave of domestic migration came after World War II, from Puerto Rico. Nearly 40,000 Puerto Ricans settled in New York City in 1946, and 58,500 in 1952–53. By 1960, the census showed well over 600,000 New Yorkers of Puerto Rican birth or parentage. As of 1990, Puerto Rican-born New Yorkers numbered 143,974. Nearly 41,800 state residents in 1990 had lived in Puerto Rico in 1985. Many other Caribbean natives—especially Dominicans, Jamaicans, and Haitians—followed. In 1996, there were a reported 3,232,000 state residents who were foreign-born (about 17% of the state's population). In 1998, 96,559 foreign immigrants entered New York, the 2nd-highest total of any state (surpassed only by California) and over 15% of the total immigration for that year.
The fourth and most recent domestic migratory trend is unique in New York history—the net outward migration from New York to other states. During the 1960s, New York suffered a net loss of more than 100,000 residents through migration; between 1970 and 1980, the estimated net loss was probably in excess of 1,500,000, far greater than that in any other state: probably 80% of the migration was from New York City. From 1980 to 1990, net loss from migration exceeded 340,000. Between 1990 and 1998, New York had a net loss of 1,722,000 in domestic migration. These general estimates hide a racial movement of historic proportions: during the 1960s, while an estimated net total of 638,000 whites were moving out of the state, 396,000 blacks were moving in; during 1970–75, according to Census Bureau estimates, 701,000 whites left New York, while 60,000 blacks were arriving. According to a private study, a net total of 700,000 whites and 50,000 blacks left the state during 1975–80. It appears that many of the white emigrants went to suburban areas of New Jersey and Connecticut, but many also went to two Sunbelt states, Florida and California. Overwhelmingly, the black arrivals came from the South. During the 1980s, the black population of the New York City area increased by 16.4%. By 1997, blacks comprised 19.4% of the New York City area's total population.
Intrastate migration has followed the familiar pattern of rural to urban, urban to suburban. In 1790, the state was 88% rural; the rural population grew in absolute terms (though not as a percentage of the total state population) until the 1880s when the long period of decline began. New York's farm population decreased by 21% during the 1940s, 33% during the 1950s, 38% during the 1960s, and 49% during the 1970s. By 1990, 84% of all New Yorkers lived in urban areas; by 1996, 91.8%. Meanwhile, the suburban population has grown steadily. In 1950, 3,538,620 New Yorkers (24% of the state total) lived in suburbs; by 1980, this figure had grown to 7,461,161 (42% of all state residents). It should be remembered, of course, that this more than doubling of the suburban population reflects natural increase and direct migration from other states and regions, as well as the intrastate migratory movement from central cities to suburbs. Between 1990 and 1998, New York's overall population only increased by 1%.
In the period 1995–2000, 726,477 people moved into the state and 1,600,725 moved out, for a net loss of 874,248. Of those who left the state, about 308,230 went to Florida, 206,979 went to New Jersey, 112,214 went to Pennsylvania, 100,727 went to North Carolina, and 95,952 went to California. The largest immigration came from New Jersey, with 97,584 people moving to New York.