Characteristics of the Asian Born in the United States

By David Dixon, Migration Policy Institute, March 1, 2006 – This spotlight examines the foreign born from Asia. It is the third in a series on the size and characteristics of the foreign-born population in the United States by country of birth.

Immigration from Asia has increased considerably since the 1965 US Immigration and Nationality Act. In 1960, the Asian born accounted for just five percent of the foreign-born population in the US, while in 2000 they made up over a quarter of those born outside the United States. Today, the Asian born are the country’s second largest foreign-born population by world region of birth behind those from Latin America.

As a group, the foreign born from Asian countries are more likely to be proficient in English, work in higher-level occupations, and have higher earnings than the overall foreign-born population. However, closer examination of this population reveals a great deal of variation by country of birth.

The series draws primarily from Census 2000 data, including social, economic, and housing profiles of the foreign born developed by the US Census Bureau.

Click on the bullet points below for more information:

  • The Asian born accounted for more than a quarter of the total US foreign-born population in 2000.
  • The number of Asian-born individuals in the United States increased 65.2 percent between 1990 and 2000.
  • Immigrants born in Southeastern and Eastern Asian countries accounted for most of the increase in the numbers of the Asian-born population between 1960 and 2000.
  • Southeastern Asians made up the largest proportion of the Asian born, followed by those from Eastern, South Central, and Western Asia.
  • Of the Asian born living in the United States in 2000, three in four arrived after 1980.
  • India, China, and the Philippines accounted for the largest number of arrivals between 1990 and 2000.
  • The Asian-born groups with the largest percentage of recent migrants were from Mongolia, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates.
  • The Asian born were more likely to be citizens than the foreign-born population in general.
  • The Asian born tended to be older than the foreign born generally.
  • Over half of the Asian born were women.
  • Nine of every 10 Asian born spoke a language other than English at home.
  • Just under half of the Asian born who spoke a language other than English at home spoke English “very well.”
  • Nearly four in every five Asian born had a high school or higher degree.
  • More than two in every five of the Asian-born adults had a college education.
  • The Asian born were about as likely to participate in the labor force as the overall foreign-born population.
  • The Asian-born population was less likely to be unemployed than the foreign born in general.
  • The Asian born were concentrated in management or professional occupations.
  • The median earnings of Asian-born men were 34.9 percent higher than those of foreign-born men in general.
  • The median earnings of Asian-born women were 21.1 percent higher than those of all foreign-born women.
  • One in every seven Asian-born individuals lived in poverty in 1999.
  • More than half of Asian-born householders owned their own home.

The Asian born accounted for more than a quarter of the total US foreign-born population in 2000. In 2000, of the 31.1 million foreign born in the United States, 8,226,255 (26.4 percent) were born in Asian countries.

The number of Asian-born individuals in the United States increased 65.2 percent between 1990 and 2000. Between 1990 and 2000, the number of Asian-born individuals living in the US went from 4,979,038to over 8.2 million, an increase of 3,247,217 (65.2 percent).

See the Figures and the rest of this very long article on Migration Information Source.

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