Would you be surprised if we told you that one of the most famous rappers in the world is originally from Australia? What if we told you an Academy Award winner escaped the political disrupt in Africa at an early age? There’s a large faction of Hollywood celebrities (and even a couple of politicians!) that immigrated to the United States. Sometimes legally… and sometimes without any documents at all.
Salma Hayek: Mexico
Originally from Mexico, Salma moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in film in 1991. After her arrival, her visa expired and she resided in the country as an illegal immigrant. In her attempt to became a working actress, she endured racial discrimination against Mexican actresses in Hollywood. She became a naturalized U.S. citizen shortly after her legal status was reinstated and now, she’s an immigration activist who opposes any legislation that labels an illegal resident as a criminal.
Gloria Estefan: Cuba
Gloria Estefan’s family escaped from Cuba when Fidel Castro came into power during the early 60’s. Her father was a soldier and the primary bodyguard for President Batista and was captured while serving for JFK in the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion. He was later released and Gloria was reunited with her father briefly, before he served two years in Vietnam. In 1975, Gloria met Emilio Estefan and he asked her to join his band, where they became successful and eventually married. Both Emilio and Gloria became crossover pop-stars and won several Grammy Awards throughout their careers.
Pierce Brosnan: Ireland
Pierce Brosnan is originally from Drogheda, County Louth, Ireland and lived there with his grandparents until the age of 12. He then moved to London to be with his mother and new step-father, but dropped out of school at 16 and joined the circus for three years (we’re not kidding). It was at the age of 19 that he discovered his passion for acting and he immigrated to Southern California in 1982 to chase after his dreams. After breaking into the industry with a role on Remington Steele, he’s starred in 4 Bond movies, Mamma Mia!, and The Ghost Writer.
Charlize Theron: South Africa
Charlize Theron was born in Benoni, South Africa in 1975. Theron began spending time in the United States around the age of 16 when she acquired a modeling contract, and seasonally or temporarily in New York. At the age of 19, she moved to New York permanently and attended the Joffrey Ballet School but a knee injury eliminated any chance of the future actress becoming a professional dancer. She then moved to Los Angeles and slowly but surely, achieved a successful career in film. Theron didn’t become a naturalized U.S. citizen until 2007, four years after winning the Oscar for Monster.
Audrey Hepburn: Belgium
The great Audrey Hepburn was born in 1929 in Brussels, Belgium. She acquired British citizenship as a child and attended school in London but her mother moved her to the Netherlands in 1939, believing it was a safe neutral zone during World War ll. Audrey endured Nazi-occupied Holland until the end of the war, which she then traveled back and forth between Amsterdam and London to perform ballet. When her film career took off at her Academy Award win for Roman Holiday, she became and international gypsy. She became known as America’s Sweetheart, even though she was never American.
Anthony Hopkins: Margam, UK
Anthony Hopkins isn’t a born American, he’s Welsh! Hopkins was born in 1937 in Margam, Wales and trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London (now we see where he got the Hannibal Lector theatrics from). He starred in The Elephant Man in 1980 and became a recognized actor by the time he appeared in 1992’s Dracula. The Silence of the Lambs made Hopkins an irreplaceable Hollywood staple and he received a star on the Walk of Fame in 2003. 3 years prior, in 2002, Anthony Hopkins was made a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Michael J. Fox: Canada
Michael J. Fox was born in Edmonton, Canada and immigrated to the United States in 1979, one year before he was cast as Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties, a role he would win 3 Emmy Awards for. Fox was then given the opportunity of a lifetime to play Marty McFly in the Back to the Future franchise. Michael J. Fox is now struggling with Parkinson’s Disease and founded the Michael J. Fox Foundation to help search for a cure.
Mila Kunis: Ukraine
Mila Kunis and her parents left Soviet-Era Ukraine when she was 7 years old. Upon arrival, Mila didn’t speak a lick of English before she began taking acting lessons. After a series of small cameos and commercial roles, Mila was offered the role of Jackie on That 70’s Show, where she become a household name and meet her future husband, Ashton Kutcher. Today, Mila is a celebrated actress who has starred in films such as Black Swan, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Oz, Friends With Benefits, and voices Meg Griffin on Family Guy.
Dave Matthews: South Africa
Our second celebrity hailing from South Africa is Dave Matthews. Born in Johannesburg in 1967, Dave immigrated to America to avoid military service that was once mandated underneath the apartheid regime. When he entered the United States, he settled down in Virginia and worked as a bartender while touring local colleges with a band he formed – The Dave Matthews Band. Today, Dave Matthews and his group of talented musicians have won 2 Grammy Awards and several #1 hits on the Billboard’s Hot 100.
Madeleine Albright: Czechoslovakia
Madeleine Albright was the first woman in the history of the United States to become the nation’s Secretary of State. Albright was born in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia in 1937, and her parents immigrated with her and her siblings to the United Kingdom in 1941 after converting from Judaism to Catholicism. She came to the United States in 1948 and studied at Wellesley College and Columbia University. After 2001, when Albright retired from politics, she founded a strategy consulting firm – The Albright Group.
M. Night Shyamalan: India
M. Night Shyamalan, director and screenwriter, immigrated from India in 1970 with his parents when he was 2 months old. He was raised Hindu while attending a Roman Catholic grammar school in Penn Valley, Pennsylvania. After he completed his studies at NYU, he became well-known in the film industry for his plot twists and surprise endings. In 2008, his home country of India rewarded the accomplished director with Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award the government can grant.
Pamela Anderson: Canada
Most folks aren’t aware that Baywatch babe Pamela Anderson wasn’t always an American citizen. Originally from Ladysmith, British Columbia, the former Playmate of the Year moved to the United States to pursue a modeling career in 1989. Since she’s been in the country, she’s had a successful television career, has appeared on more Playboy covers than any other model, and was married to two rock stars – Tommy Lee and Kid Rock.
Lupita Nyong’o: Mexico-Kenya
Lupita Nyong’o was born in Mexico and raised in Kenya where she was initially bit with the acting bug. Due to the political conflict, her family had no other choice but to immigrate to the United States when she was a teenager. Lupita attended Hampshire College, earning a degree in theater and film studies, and then she received a Master’s Degree from Yale in drama. After graduation, she was immediately cast in 12 Years A Slave; for this role, she became the first Mexican-Kenyan actress to win an Academy Award.
Eddie Van Halen: Netherlands
Eddie Van Halen, guitarist and co-founder of metal band Van Halen, was born in 1955 in Nijmegen, Netherlands. At the age of 7, Eddie, his siblings, and their parents immigrated to the United States. Eddie and his brother Alex, the drummer and co-founder of Van Halen, are the only naturalized U.S. citizens in their family. In 2011, Rolling Stone placed Eddie Van Halen on the list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.
Natalie Portman: Israel
Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem, Israel and relocated to the States with her parents she was 3 years old. Natalie is a dual citizen of both countries and fluent in English and Hebrew. Natalie has had a strong career as a film actress and has starred in critically acclaimed movies such as Black Swan, V for Vendetta, and Closer. She graduated from Harvard University in 2003 and has co-authored two scientific, research journals. Natalie lives in the United States full time, but doesn’t stay away from Israel for too long; “My heart’s in Jerusalem. That’s where I feel at home.”
Neil Young: Canada
Neil Young was born in 1945 in Toronto, Canada. The first time Young was in the United States, he was vacationing with his parents in Florida after battling Polio in 1951. He didn’t return to America after just after 1966, when he and bass player Bruce Palmer relocated to Los Angeles. Neil was an undocumented immigrant until he received his green card in 1970.
Iggy Azalea: Australia
Iggy Azalea is a native Australian. When she was 16 years old, she told her parents she was going on a trip to Florida… and never she never returned. She stayed in Miami before moving to Houston and then, back to Miami again! Izzy lived as an illegal immigrant on and off until February 2013 when she was finally granted a 5 year O-1 Visa. In 2018, she’ll have to renew it again or apply for citizenship.
Rupert Murdoch, Australia
Ironically enough, staunch Republican Ruper Murdoch was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1931. He inherited an Australian newspaper and expanded his media empire into the West, becoming a US citizen in 1985 to legalize his ownership of The Times. Today, he owns the New York Post, the Chicago Sun-Times, Fox media, and MySpace.
Tracey Ullman: Britain
Tracey Ullman is originally from Buckinghamshire, England where she was born in 1959. She was a successful television actress in the United Kingdom before she immigrated to the United States to launch her own comedy series, The Tracey Ullman Show, in 1987. Now, she holds dual citizenship in Britain and America. Ullman is the first British actress to have been given her own sketch show in both the UK and the U.S.
Justin Bieber: Canada
Justin Bieber may have that All-American, good-looking jock stereotype going on but this pop star is 100% Canadian. In 2008, a young and innocent Justin was discovered by Usher’s record label on YouTube and he was brought to the United States to work with the famous R&B singer. Justin still isn’t a naturalized American citizen but works and resides in the U.S. under an O-1 Work Visa. His DUI arrest in 2014 put him at risk for deportation and in the event that someone had been hurt, actions would have been taken.
Rihanna was born on the Island of Barbados and resided in a small, three-room bungalow with her family. It wasn’t until she was discovered in 2003, that she was brought to work in the United States as a music artist and performer. In 2005, she was signed under Jay-Z’s former label, Def Jam Records, and officially became the “good girl gone bad.” Rihanna isn’t a naturalized American citizen but like most entertainers who were born (and still live) in other countries, she holds an o-1 Visa to work legally.
Mikhail Baryshnikov: Latvia, USSR
Mikhail Baryshnikov was born in Latvia in 1948, which at the time, was a part of the Soviet Union. As a professional ballet dancer, he defected to the West in 1974 and began dancing for the American Theater Ballet Company and New York City Ballet. Mikhail also pursued a career as a successful director and choreographer, and received for an Academy Award for his performance in The Turning Point. In the 90’s, he had a character arch on Sex & The City opposite Sarah Jessica Parker. From 1976 until 1982, he was in a relationship with Jessica Lange and they share a daughter together.
Liam Neeson: Ireland
Liam Neeson is a self-proclaimed “authentic Irishman” and moved to the United States for one, very important reason – to act. Liam was born in Northern Ireland in 1952 and was oppressed by the anti-acting community for his choice in profession, which led him to pursue American movie roles. He starred in 5 films before getting his big break as Oskar Schindler in 1992’a Schindler List, a role offered to him by Stephen Spielberg. Since the mid-1990’s, Liam has made a name for himself in the action film genre, as well. He officially became an American citizen in 2009.
Rita Ora: Kosovo-England
Rita Ora was born in Pristina, Kosovo and moved to London with her parents at the tender age of 1. She began singing at an early age and used to perform at her father’s pub. In 2007, she made her first vocal debut on a Craig David single, “Awkward,” and released her first album in 2012 which rose to the top of the UK charts quickly. She gained popularity in the U.S. after appearing on Iggy Azalea’s track “Black Widow” and works as a judge on X-Factor. Ora is also cast as a recurring member in the 50 Shades of Grey film trilogy.
Arnold Schwarzenneger: Austria
As Arnold has always stated, he wants to become the first President of the United States who wasn’t born a natural citizen. In the mid-60’s, the Terminator had moved to the United States from Austria after winning the body-building competition, Mr. Universe. Around the early 70’s, Arnold violated the terms of Visa and was temporarily under investigation by the Immigration Authorities. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin and then returned to the entertainment industry (this time as an actor). Arnold finished his second term as California Governer in 2011.