Asians now make up largest wave of immigrants to the United States

This story is a part of

Global Nation

This story is a part of

Global Nation


Gurdarshan Gill, left, of India, takes the oath to become a U.S. citizen during a naturalization ceremony in San Francisco, Calif., on May 22, 2007. (Photo by Robert Galbraith/Reuters.)

New immigrants to the United States are predominantly coming from the Far East — from Asia — rather from Latin America.

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According to a study released by the Pew Research Center, Asians have passed Latinos as the largest portion of new immigrants to this country. The Asian population in the U.S. quadrupled between 1980 and 2010 to about 18 million, or 6 percent of the total population.

Researchers say the new trend reflects both a slow-down in illegal immigration and the demands many companies have for higher-skilled workers. 

Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, co-director of Immigration Studies at New York University and the incoming dean at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, said the Asian immigration trend has been building throughout history. This wasn't something that just happened over time.

"Asians have been migrating to the United States for well over a century," he said. "Part of this is the general, cumulative momentum that immigration generates over time. Second, obviously, is it's a story of the new economies in Asia, that have generated development and wealth and made a migration option as more attractive option to larger groups of would-be migrants."

Another factor has been family reunification. Because so many Asians have come here through the decades, new migrants can expect a warm welcome when they arrive on American shores.

Fundamentally, he said, it's a story not of the growth in new immigration from Asia, but in the tremendous slow-down in immigration among Hispanics.

"We really have two headlines here," Suarez-Orozco said.

Suarez-Orozco said there are a variety of factors that have slowed down Hispanic migration, among them increased deportations and stricter border controls under the Obama administration, as well as the slowing U.S. economy, which provides jobs for illegal immigrants, and the surge in the Mexican and other Latin American economies.

A declining birth rate in Mexico has also made it less necessary for young people to head to the United States to find work.

"For the first time in a long time, Asians, in a way, come to represent what Hispanics have represented over the last four generations," Suarez-Orozco said. "Meaning, they have been the fastest growing sector, the largest number of new arrivals. And what Europeans represented a century ago, when they were the largest group."

But, it should be pointed out, that Asians represent a wide variety of cultures, religions and backgrounds.  And they're coming into the country by all means and manners of immigration: as traditional immigrants, as refugees and as people with high levels of education.

"The average Indian immigrant in the United States is something like 10,000 times more likely to have an advanced degree than the average Indian in India," Suarez-Orozco said.

Another part of the story is that transportation and communication advances in the last 50 to 70 years have made it much easier for Asians to learn about and come to the United States, Suarez-Orozco said.

Compared to other immigrants, he added, Asians are assimilating perhaps faster than any other immigrant wave.

"They're being very quick to move into and connect with the labor market," Suarez-Orozco said. "They're learning English at a very fast rate. Perhaps unprecedented how quickly they're moving into English dominance."

They're also losing their native languages and marrying outside of their immigrant community as well.

"It's telling us the essence of what the American story has been for the last 150 years, with a new cast of characters," Suarez-Orozco said.