Study: More Asians Than Hispanics Entering U.S.

Jun 19, 2012
Originally published on June 19, 2012 5:59 pm
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For years now, the largest group of new immigrants to the country has been Hispanic. But a new study finds that as of a couple years ago, more Asians than Hispanics were entering the U.S. - legally and illegally, combined.

The study comes from the Pew Research Center, and we're joined now by Paul Taylor, who's executive vice president there. He edited the report. Hi.

PAUL TAYLOR: How are you? Nice to be with you.

SIEGEL: Let's start, first, with the big change that you are reporting here. It's not so much that Asian immigration has suddenly shot up, but it's that Latino immigration has gone down. What are the actual numbers?

TAYLOR: Well, it's a little bit of both. But there's no question it's the decline of the Latinos that has driven this crossover. And that is the result of a very sour economy in this country. Jobs have been the - tend to be the magnet for immigrants from all places in the world - increased border enforcement, increased deportation policies, etc.

Nonetheless, Asian immigration has continued to go up. It's over 400,000 a year. It's now 36, 37 percent of all new immigrants are Asian, whereas about 31 percent are Hispanic, and smaller percentages are white and black. So it's been an important crossover that has sort of occurred under the radar screen. So much of our public debate over immigration has focused on illegal immigration, which is mostly associated with Hispanics.

SIEGEL: And Asian immigration is not so illegal? It's overwhelmingly legal - or no?

TAYLOR: Of the illegal immigrants in this country, we estimate 10 or 11 percent are Asian. Of Asian immigrants, perhaps 13, 15 percent are here illegally. Most of them are here as visa over-stayers rather than illegal border crossers.

SIEGEL: When you say Asian, what nationalities are you talking about?

TAYLOR: We're talking about more than 20 nationalities. We're talking about South Asia, the Far East. But the six biggest countries of origin are Japan, China, Korea, India, the Philippines and Vietnam. If you add those together, it's about 83, 85 percent of the Asian population here.

SIEGEL: And when you look at that broader group of immigrants from all of those countries combined, how do they compare in terms of - say, education or family structure, to the U.S. population at large?

TAYLOR: Well, it's really interesting. As a group, they have a higher median income than the U.S. population as a whole. They have higher median wealth than the U.S. population as a whole, and they have considerably more educational attainment than the U.S. population as a whole - despite the fact that three-quarters of the adults of this immigrant group are immigrants themselves. And of them, only about half say they speak English very well. So this is an immigrant generation that is doing extremely well in their new country.

SIEGEL: There was another recent study; this one was conducted by the Asia Society. They surveyed 2,000 Asian-Pacific Americans who work for Fortune 500 companies. And the survey found that they feel great loyalty to their employers but not - and I quote from them - "not a sense of belonging in corporate America." Does that attitude square with anything that you've seen?

TAYLOR: Well, we asked what we call identity questions and belonging questions - and remember, Asians have been in this country for more than 150 years. They have been targets of official discrimination based on race; there's a lot of other-ness that - have been imposed on Asian-Americans by the host culture themselves.

But it is notable that on questions about identity, the strongest sense of identity that Asian-Americans have is with their country of origin. They don't think of themselves as - primarily as Asians. They think of themselves as Filipinos or Vietnamese or Japanese - or what have you - and less so as just Americans.

But when you get into the second generation beginning to age into the workforce, they identify themselves more than their parents' generation do, as typical Americans. But there's still a lingering sense that we are an other, and we are treated that way.

SIEGEL: Paul Taylor, thanks for talking with us.

TAYLOR: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: Paul Taylor, executive vice president of the Pew Research Center. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.