Asians now lead Latinos in annual immigration

Immigration lawyer Djung Tran: America is seen as the land of 'educational opportunity.' (Ed Hille/Staff)
Immigration lawyer Djung Tran: America is seen as the land of 'educational opportunity.' (Ed Hille/Staff)
Posted: June 21, 2012

Asians have surpassed Latinos in annual immigration to the United States, a demographic watershed reflecting the recent decline in illegal immigration from Mexico, and increased demand for highly skilled workers from such nations as India, China, and South Korea.

In 2000, about 1.2 million Latinos entered the United States, compared with 400,000 Asians. By 2009, the groups were tied at about 400,000 each. Since then, Asian arrivals have held a slight lead.

The findings were released Tuesday in a Pew Research Center report, "The Rise of Asian Americans." It was based on U.S. Census Bureau data and a telephone survey of more than 3,500 new immigrants from the six largest Asian subgroups: Chinese, Filipinos, Indians, Vietnamese, Koreans, and Japanese.

"A century ago, most Asian Americans were low-skilled, low-wage laborers crowded into ethnic enclaves and targets of official discrimination," the authors wrote.

Now, many are recruited by U.S. companies, or come here to pursue advanced degrees.

Although the report did not speculate on the impact of the Asian emergence, it did note that Asian Americans are the "highest-income, best-educated, and fastest-growing racial group," and "the most likely of any racial or ethnic group in America to live in mixed neighborhoods and to marry across racial lines."

Recent Asian immigrants also are about three times as likely as recent arrivals from elsewhere to get permanent resident status on the basis of employer rather than family sponsorship, the report said.

The family of Philadelphia lawyer Djung Tran, 36, lived as Vietnamese refugees in Australia in the late 1980s. Her mother was a computer programmer, highly sought-after because she was fluent in technology - in the COBOL, Pascal and Adabas-Natural languages.

Those were the early days of computing, and "employers in the United States actively sought to sponsor her" for immigration, recalled Tran, whose maternal grandfather already lived in South Philadelphia.

As soon as they arrived, Tran's mother began working at the DuPont Co., while her husband, a physician, studied for his medical license in the United States.

"America is seen by a lot of Asians as a land of educational opportunity," said Tran, a specialist in immigration law. "I get a lot of calls from parents who want to send their kids here."

Another consideration, she said, is that "China, Vietnam, and South Korea have expanding middle classes. America is seen as the land of opportunity, with not as much corruption and bribery.

Although some immigrants qualify for specialty-work visas, others who wield substantial wealth can be fast-tracked for legal permanent residency if they invest more than $500,000 in a U.S. business or a project that creates at least 10 permanent jobs here.

Philadelphia lawyer Ron Klasko represents such investors, as well as corporations seeking labor-certified immigrants.

The investor visas are known as EB-5s.

"In Philadelphia," he said, "there were about 200 EB-5s behind the construction of the Comcast building, about 200 in the expansion of the Convention Center. . . . Hundreds of investors in the Navy Yard, about 75 each in the Palomar and Lafayette hotels. The University City Science Center had at least 50."

Virtually all of those investors, he said, are Chinese.

Philadelphian Brad Baldia, 39, just completed eight years as the national president of Asian American Professionals, which trains and mentors Asians for midlevel and higher corporate management.

Baldia, who was born in the Poconos to parents from the Philippines, said that many Asians are in high demand because "they excel at STEM: science, technology, engineering, and math."

Just as Latinos have become a political force to be reckoned with, he said, Asian clout is rising, too.

"Asians have always been neglected in outreach by politicians. But there is now a dedicated staff member on the [Democratic National Committee] specifically for the Asian community. . . . David Oh is the first Asian American councilman in Philadelphia, and Andy Toy will run again.

"Look at Washington Avenue and Chinatown, how fast those areas are growing. We formed an Asian American PAC for Pennsylvania. For me, it is very exciting to be a part of this."

Born in New Delhi, Munish Narula, 41, came to the United States in 2001 to finish a degree in hotel management at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island, then got an M.B.A. in finance at Wharton.

In December 2006, he opened his first Indian restaurant, which he called Tiffin. From that has sprung a chain of seven restaurants.

"The biggest driver" behind Asian immigration, he said, "is the educational component. Most of my friends came from all over the world to study here and ended up staying.

"As more Indians and Asians come in, they bring their culture, their movies, their food. Whole Foods Market on Callowhill Street now has pretty much of a whole aisle devoted to Indian food products. . . . Five years ago, you didn't find that."

While Pew's research tended to hail the achievements of Asian Americans, some immigrant advocates warned against promoting stereotypes of the "model minority." Asians are a very diverse lot, made up of at least 57 ethnic groups. They are not uniformly rich or good in math, or otherwise monolithic, the advocates said.

"While the report does acknowledge that some Asian American communities are poorer than their white counterparts," the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum said in a statement, "more light must be shed on the daily struggles of being an immigrant navigating the U.S. workforce and school systems."


Contact staff writer Michael Matza at 215-854-2541, or mmatza@phillynews.com.

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