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Divergent Paths, Diverse Communities:
Asian Immigrants in the United States
If a poll asked Americans which geographic area or country currently sends the most immigrants to the United States, it is likely that a majority of people would answer: Latin America or Mexico. These responses are understandable since immigration from Latin America (especially Mexico) continues to dominate the political debates and social commentaries. The correct response lies in another region of the world. While foreign-born residents comprise 13 % of the 2015 U.S. population, they are projected to reach 19% in 2060 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2014). Asians have become the fastest growing stream of new immigrants to the U.S. (Pew Research Center, 2013). The continent of Asia is subdivided into 48 countries and includes East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, and the Middle East regions. Southeast Asia contributes the most people to the total number of Asian immigrants. As of 2013, China replaced Mexico as the top sending country. Other top sending Asian countries include India, the Philippines, Vietnam, and South Korea. Almost half of Asian immigrants have settled in California, New York, and Texas.
When the first major wave of Asian immigration occurred in the late 19th century, most Asians in the U.S. were low-skilled and low-wage laborers. Historically, Asians had experienced exclusion by laws (e.g. Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that prohibited all immigration from China) and had been targets of anti-Asian hostility during the 1880s through 1965. After the 1965 Immigration Act replaced exclusionary immigration rules, a new wave of immigration occurred, and the Asian American population in the U.S. rapidly increased. Modern Asian immigrants come for family reasons such as family unification (31%), education opportunities (28%), or economic opportunities (21%) (Pew Research Center, 2013). Though the vast majority came to the U.S. via legal channels, it is noteworthy that Asians represent 14% of the 11 million unauthorized immigrant population (Zong & Batalova, 2016).
As of 2013, approximately three quarters of Asian Americans adults were born outside of the U.S. A little over half of the foreign born Asians can speak English fluently compared to 95% of those born in the U.S. However, there are not significant differences in socioeconomic status across the generations. Rates of having a college degree, median annual earnings of full-time workers, poverty, and homeownership are comparable between the two groups. On average, Asian immigrants tend to be more educated, more likely to be employed in management occupations, and have higher household income compared to the overall foreign- and U.S.- born populations. As they are from dozens of different countries, there are often substantial subgroup differences in socioeconomic status, history, culture, language, religious beliefs, and social and political values. For example, households of Indian, Taiwanese, Filipino, and Malaysian immigrants have the highest median income, over the median income of Asian immigrant households ($70,000) and native born Asian households ($49,000) (Zong & Batalova, 2016). Saudi, Iraqi, and Burmese immigrant households have the lowest median income and are most likely to be in poverty. The vast majority of Indian, Taiwanese, Saudi Arabian, and Singaporean immigrants are college graduates, while less than a quarter of those from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos are college-educated.
These wide variations within the group indicate that the stereotypes that Asians are well-off can create disadvantages to individuals who lack the resources to integrate into American society. Despite the increasing numbers of Asians in the U.S., Asian immigrants and their descendants are often perceived as outsiders or foreigners, which may hinder their sense of belonging and invalidate their lived experience in the U.S. Though the rate was lower than other racial and ethnic groups, 19% of Asian immigrants experienced racial discrimination and 14% regarded the perceived racial discrimination as a major problem (Pew Research Center, 2013). Compared to those from Latin America, undocumented Asian immigrants display much lower enrollment rates for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) which provides temporary relief from deportation and access to work authorization for unauthorized immigrants brought to the U.S. as children (Rusin, 2015). The Migration Policy Institute explains that a heavy sense of shame within the ethnic communities and lack of trust and knowledge may contribute to the underrepresentation of Asians in DACA or other similar relief programs.
Despite the challenges facing Asian immigrants, three fourths of this population answered to the Pew Research Center survey that they would still come to the U.S., if they had to do it again (Pew Research Center, 2013). Asians report that they are more satisfied with living in the U.S. than they were in their countries of origin in several aspects, such as opportunities to get ahead or freedom to express political views. However, when it comes to family ties, most Asians favored their countries of origin.
Successful integration of immigrants into U.S. society have contributed to the nation's economy, industry, technology, arts, and culture. The integration happens in multiple dimensions, including legal status, social class, geographic location, sociocultural characteristics, family, and health (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2015). While most studies regarding Asian immigrants have focused on cultural adaptation, there needs to be more of a focus on the whole integration of this fastest growing group of new Americans. Consideration of the heterogeneity within this group will be a valuable contribution to better understanding Asian immigrants and facilitating their integration process.
Bongki Woo and David Takeuchi, PhD
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2015). The Integration of Immigrants into American Society. Panel on the Integration of Immigrants into American Society, M. C. Waters and M. G. Pineau, eds. Committee on Population. Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Pew Research Center (2013). The Rise of Asian Americans, Pew Research Center's Social & Demographic Trends Project. Retrieved 2016-02-18.
Rusin, R. (2015). Origin and Community: Asian and Latin American unauthorized youth and U.S. deportation relief. Migration Policy Institute. Retrieved from:
U.S. Census Bureau. (2014). Table 11. Percent of the projected population by Hispanic origin and race for the United States: 2015 to 2060, December 2014. Retrieved from:
Zong, J., & Batalova, J. (2016). Asian Immigrants in the United States. Migration Policy Institute. Retrieved from: and Poverty
IIL gratefully acknowledges the contribution of our Associate Dean for Research, David Takeuchi and an emerging scholar Bongki Woo, a PhD candidate at BCSSW.
Westy Egmont, Director
BCSSW, Immigrant Integration Lab

The Council of Korean Americans (CKA), based in Washington D.C., works to advance the position of Korean Americans in business, culture, and society. CKA aims to achieve this vision in five areas; leadership, mentoring, advocacy, heritage, and image. By investing in the next generation of Korean American leaders, encouraging civic engagement, and promoting Korean heritage and public image, CKA works to ensure that Korean Americans will be a part of "the promise of America."
Immigration is central to the mission and values of this agency. CKA views the Hart-Cellar Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which reversed previous U.S. immigration policies that discriminated against non-Europeans and prioritized immigrants who had relatives already living in the United States, as the reason why their work is possible and necessary. Drawing from this tradition of inclusive immigration policy, the CKA now supports and advocates for comprehensive immigration reform. CKA asserts that while President Obama's executive actions are a meaningful step in the right direction, reform through Congress would make a positive impact in the lives of many Korean Americans, in addition to the millions of other immigrants to the United States from all over the world.


Gee, G. C., Morey, B. N., Walsemann, K. M., Ro, A., & Takeuchi, D. T. (2016)
American Behavioral Scientist (published online before print March 2, 2016)
Citizenship is both a system of privilege and a source of social identity. This study examines whether there are disparities in psychological distress between citizens and noncitizens, and whether these disparities may be explained by markers of social disadvantage (e.g., poverty, discrimination) or perceptions of success in the United States (i.e., subjective social status). The authors analyzed data from the Asian subsample (n = 2,095) of the National Latino and Asian American Study. The data showed that noncitizens report greater psychological distress compared with naturalized citizens and native-born citizens after accounting for socio-demographics (e.g., age, gender, Asian subgroup), socioeconomic characteristics (education, employment, income-to-poverty ratio), immigration (e.g., interview language, years in the United States, acculturative stress), health care visits, and everyday discrimination. Preliminary evidence suggests that subjective social status may explain some of the disparities between naturalized citizen and noncitizen Asian Americans.
Li, J., & Hummer, R. A. (2015)
Population Research and Policy Review, 34(1), pp. 49-76
Research has shown that although new immigrants in the United States are usually healthier than the native-born, the health of immigrant families declines after spending significant time in the United States. However, the majority of this research has focused mainly on Hispanics. This study examines how the relationship between duration of U.S. residence and health varies by educational attainment for Asian immigrants. Li and Hummer used data from the 2003 New Immigrant Survey (NIS), a nationally representative survey of immigrants who recently obtained legal permanent residence (LPR). The sample for this study included the respondents of Asian origin aged 25 and above. The authors found that the association between duration in the U.S. and health status and behavior does vary by education. Asian immigrants with less than 12 years of education were more likely to report poor overall health, have at least one chronic health condition, and be current smokers. This study is important for service providers and policy makers aiming to promote immigrant health.
Gordon, J. A., & Liu, X. (2015)
International Journal of Multicultural Education, 17(3), pp. 21-36
In 2013, Chinese and Indian immigrants became the largest groups of new migrants to the United States. Many are parents who come to the United States so that their children can attend competitive high schools and universities. Chinese and Indian immigrants are typically highly skilled, highly educated, and middle to upper class. Many are transmigrants and their educational experiences with schools in China and India influence their attitudes about education. As such, parents from China and India who have children entering American schools often want to place their children in schools that have similar educational priorities to those of their home countries. A significant portion of Chinese and Indian immigrant parents move to the best school districts or have their children live with relatives in good school districts. The extended communities that Chinese and Indian immigrants are often part of in the United States operate as networks for parents to discuss their children's educational attainment and achievement, and these networks help reinforce cultural educational expectations. As such, the United States school systems should begin to reframe the dialogue about education and curricula in ways that are culturally relevant to Chinese and Indian immigrant parents' educational expectations for their children. If U.S. schools fail to integrate parents' cultural attitudes toward education, the country risks further segregating schools by racial and ethnic divides and widening the achievement gap.
Han, M., & Pong, H. (2015)
Journal of College Student Development, 56(1), pp. 1-14
Research shows that a significant percentage of Asian American college students suffer from psychological distress and have significantly higher suicidal rates than other racial/ethnic groups of the same age range. However, Asian American students underutilize mental health services. There are several factors that may contribute to this, such as acculturation, cultural barriers, and stigma attached to mental health issues. Additionally, there are very few bicultural and/or bilingual Asian American counselors available, and studies show that Asian American students prefer to seek mental health services from someone who shares their values and culture. Thus, cultural barriers are a strong factor in limiting access to mental health services for Asian American students struggling with mental illness. In many Asian cultures, seeking mental health services is often seen as an individual's personal weakness that reflects poorly on the entire family system, including the family's ancestors. Many Asian Americans face rejection from their community if they have a family member struggling with mental illness. However, it appears that acculturation predicts help-seeking behavior and that Asian Americans who identify more with American values are more likely to seek mental health services. Research suggests that mental health agencies should hire more bicultural, bilingual, and culturally competent mental health service providers and that colleges and universities should do a better job recruiting Asian Americans to the field of mental health.
Zhou, M. (2014)
Ethnic and Racial Studies, 37(7), pp. 1172-1183
Segmented assimilation theory predicts that the unique contexts of exit and reception of a particular group can create distinct patterns of adaptation that benefit or constrain group members regardless of individual socio-economic and demographic characteristics. This study explores questions around how some Asian Americans can achieve full assimilation while remaining culturally distinct in American society. Zhou uses U.S. census and survey data on Chinese Americans, and qualitative research on Chinese immigrant communities in New York and Los Angeles. Although a significant presence of the Chinese in America dates back to the 1840s, the Chinese American community remains mostly first generation (foreign-born Chinese Americans make up 61%). Contemporary Chinese immigrants are diverse in origin and do not encounter the same exclusion that their predecessors faced. A common feature of current Chinese American communities is the presence of an ethnic enclave economy. Often there are systems of supplementary education, such as Chinese-language schools, after-school tutoring, and centers for special skills training. These schools can serve as a bridge between the immigrant family and American schools. Additionally, the schools promote Chinese values and ethnic identity. This study finds that Chinese Americans rely on the ethnic community to successfully assimilate into American society.

Shen, F. C., Liao, K. Y., Abraham, W. T., & Weng, C. (2014)
Journal of Counseling Psychology, 61(2), pp. 241-252
Asian Americans are often overrepresented in science and technology fields. Occupational stereotypes of Asian Americans reflect the occupational segregation of this group. This study explores the effects of parental pressure and support, living up to parental expectations, and internalized stereotyping (i.e. identifying with stereotypes about people of one's own culture) on occupational outcomes (i.e. self-efficacy, outcome expectations, and interests in stereotypical occupations). Two hundred twenty-nine Asian American undergraduate and graduate students were surveyed for this study. Results indicated that both living up to parental expectations and internalized stereotyping partially mediated connections between parental pressure and occupational outcomes. Additionally, results indicated that only living up to parental expectations mediated the connection between parental support and occupational outcomes.

The Asian American achievement paradox
By, Lee, J. & Zhou, M.
Russell Sage Foundation (2015)
Sociologists Jennifer Lee and Min Zhou conduct several in-depth interviews with adult children of Vietnamese refugees and Chinese immigrants, blending the fields of sociology and social psychology. They explain how immigration laws, institutions, and culture have interacted to bring about high achievement among some Asian American groups, feeding the stereotype of the "model minority". In their research, the authors found that policies after 1965 that favored those who had higher levels of education created a "success frame" for Asian Americans. Since then, the "success frame" has been reinforced in many local Asian communities, and has contributed to increased pressure on Asian American families to prepare their children for college. The researchers also found that Asian American's high rates of achievement rely on public schools providing extra support from teachers and guidance counselors. However, high achievement can come at a price: often times, when Asian Americans do not fit into the "success frame", it leads some to feel like failures or racial outliers.

The making of Asian America: A history
By Lee, E. 
Simon and Schuster (2015)
Over the past five decades there has been an increase in Asian immigration to the United States. Historian Erika Lee presents the history of Asian American immigrants from their first arrival in the 1500s to present day, illuminating little-known Asian American history and illustrating Asian immigrants' role in American society. Lee discusses the lives and experiences of immigrants from a variety of Asian countries including China, Japan, Korea and other South Asian countries. She looks at how Asian communities in the U.S. have developed over time and examines the sociopolitical context for how Asian Americans went from being a "despised minority" to the "model minority" in the United States. Critical issues such as race, laws and political environments are also explored as Lee illustrates the history of Asian Americans and their influence on U.S. society.

Contemporary clinical practice with Asian immigrants: A relational framework with culturally responsive approaches
By Chung, I.
Routledge (2013)
Many first and second-generation Asian immigrants identify, to varying extents, with traditional Asian cultural values and may experience acculturation challenges. These challenges, such as language barriers, racial discrimination, underemployment, the loss of support networks and changes in family role and structure, result in an urgent need for culturally responsive social work services. Drawing on literature from English-speaking countries with sizeable Asian immigrant populations, such as the United States, Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, this text is designed especially for clinicians and students working with Asian immigrant populations. It discusses culturally relevant therapeutic processes in psychotherapy and counseling with Asian American clients and explores both key psychodynamic constructs and social systemic factors. Chung looks at a variety of issues such as domestic violence, gambling and alcohol addiction, elder abuse, depression, and suicide. The author also discusses the prevalence and nature of mental health issues in Asian American communities by exploring case studies of two different Asian ethnic groups. This book is an important reference for practicing social workers, counselors, and students of social work undertaking clinical practice courses. 
The color of success: Asian Americans and the origins of the model minority
By Wu, E.
Princeton University Press (2013)
The color of success examines the transformation of the public image of Asians living in the United States in the middle decades of the twentieth century. Wu specifically explores how Asian Americans went from being considered the "yellow peril" to "model minorities"--peoples distinct from the white majority but lauded as well-assimilated, upwardly mobile, and exemplars of traditional family values. Weaving together myriad perspectives, Wu provides an unprecedented view of racial reform and the contradictions of national belonging in the civil rights era. She highlights the contests for power and authority within Japanese and Chinese America and explores the sentiments of government officials, social scientists, journalists, and others on the topic. Wu also demonstrates that the invention of the "model minority" took place in multiple arenas, such as battles over zoot suiters leaving wartime internment camps, the juvenile delinquency panic of the 1950s, the issue of Hawaii statehood, and the African American freedom movement. Together, these moments in history illuminate the impact of foreign relations on the domestic racial order and explain how the nation accepted Asians as legitimate citizens while continuing to perceive them as indelible outsiders. By charting the emergency of the model minority stereotype, The color of success reveals that this far-reaching, politically charged process continues to have profound implications for how Americans understand race, opportunity, and nationhood.

Asian Americans in dixie: Race and migration in the South
By Desai, J., & Joshi, K. Y. (Eds.)
University of Illinois Press (2013)
Asian immigrants living in the United States are often seen as "forever foreigners" and are not given enough attention due to the black/white binary that exists in the United States' public perception of issues pertaining to race and ethnicity. Desai and Joshi successfully expand our knowledge of the rapid-growing Asian American population in the South, going beyond the traditional exploration of white-black race relations. Drawing upon interdisciplinary data, this book shows that Asian Americans have faced considerable racial discrimination living in the American South, both in the past and present. Krystyn R. Moon, author of Yellowface: Creating the Chinese in American popular music and performance, 1850s-1920s, explains that this book, "will have great potential as a teaching tool in Asian American and Southern studies."

Follow Professor Egmont on Twitter @wegmont
EDITORS: E. Camacho, W. Egmont, K. Kalliontzi, J. Margolis, K. Medeiros, J. Ozieblowski, C. Palleschi, A., & Q. Zhang-Wu

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