New census figures show that Atlanta's 28-county metropolitan area added 42,000 foreign-born residents, an increase of 6 percent, from 2007 to 2009.
The immigration influx means as of last year nearly 750,000 metro Atlanta residents - nearly 13 percent of the overall population - were born in foreign countries.
The census figures show about a third of metro Atlanta's foreign-born residents are now U.S. citizens, but they don't distinguish how many immigrants are in the U.S. legally or illegally.
The numbers show an immigration boom that started in metro Atlanta during the 1990s has continued despite the global recession.
By contrast, a report released last week by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, showed immigration levels stalling or declining in other major U.S. cities as the economy worsened.
"Atlanta's economy did a little bit better," said Audrey Singer, a Brookings senior fellow and author of the study.
Metro Atlanta hasn't been spared economic suffering in sectors such as landscaping and construction, but Singer said other areas that employ immigrants such as hotels and convention centers weren't hit as hard.
Immigration is expected to be a major issue in Georgia's upcoming legislative session as Republicans push for an Arizona-style law giving more power to local governments to enforce immigration laws and placing stricter provisions on employers to verify employees' immigration status.
"We are a country of opportunity," said Pam Pinkard of Smyrna, a member of the Atlanta chapter of the Minuteman Project, which seeks stronger enforcement of immigration laws. "Many may not have that opportunity" because of an influx of illegal immigrants.
George Odongo, who was born in Kenya and moved to metro Atlanta three years ago, wants to become a chaplain and says he was drawn to the area because of its educational opportunities. He's saving money from his job at a Dunwoody hotel in hopes of starting night classes at a seminary next year.
"It's a hub of education," said Odongo, 53. "My main purpose is to get a good education and do something with it."