China Passes Mexico as the Top Source of New U.S. Immigrants

UTAustin_logoBy Neil Shah, WSJ


People walk through New York’s Chinatown district last year in New York City, where Chinese made up the second-largest foreign-born group in the city after immigrants from the Dominican Republic.

Move over, Mexico. When it comes to sending immigrants to the U.S., China and India have taken over.

China was the country of origin for 147,000 recent U.S. immigrants in 2013, while Mexico sent just 125,000, according to a Census Bureau study by researcher Eric Jensen and others presented Friday. India, with 129,000 immigrants, also beat Mexico, though the two countries’ results weren’t statistically different from each other.

For the study, presented at the Population Association of America conference in San Diego, researchers analyzed annual immigration data for 2000 to 2013 from the American Community Survey. The annual survey conducted by the Census Bureau asks where respondents lived the year before. Researchers counted as an  ”immigrant” any foreign-born person in the U.S. who said they previously lived abroad, without asking about legal status. (So while the data include undocumented immigrants, it may undercount them.)

A year earlier, in 2012, Mexico and China had been basically tied for top-sending country—with Mexico at 125,000 and China at 124,000.

It’s not just China and India. Several of the top immigrant-sending countries in 2013 were from Asia, including South Korea, the Philippines and Japan.

For a decade, immigration to the U.S. from China and India, which boast the world’s biggest populations, has been rising. Meanwhile, immigration from Mexico has been declining due to improvements in the Mexican economy and lower Mexican birth rates. More recently, the Great Recession also reduced illegal immigration from Mexico.

A shift in America’s immigrant community will take far longer. In 2012, five times as many immigrants in the U.S. were from Mexico than China.

But the shifting nature of the immigrant flows seen in the Census study give us a peek at what’s likely to happen to the overall racial and ethnic makeup of the U.S. population.

The millennial generation—roughly speaking, people born between 1982 and 2000, but definitions vary and there’s no real endpoint—is already the most diverse generation in U.S. history. As Brookings Institution demographer William Frey details in his recent book, “Diversity Explosion,” the social, economic and cultural implications are just starting to come into view. In time—2044, to be exact, according to Census projections—the entire U.S. population will have no racial majority, and, instead, a melting pot of minorities will shape U.S. society and politics.

Hispanics are still America’s biggest racial or ethnic minority group. But roughly two-thirds of them are now native-born, not recent immigrants. Among the U.S. Asian population, two-thirds (65%) are foreign-born.

Census researchers note that the rise of this latest, Asian wave of immigration seems—and is—dramatic, but past waves have been dramatic, too. The U.S.’s earliest immigrant waves came from Northern and Western Europe, then Southern and Eastern Europe, and finally, from Latin America.

Plenty of recent immigrants don’t come from China, India or Mexico. When you combine them, recent immigrants from those nations made up just about a third of the roughly 1.2 million immigrants in 2013, the Census analysis shows.

The question now is just how big and significant this Asian wave is going to be. “Whether these recent trends signal a new and distinct wave of immigration is yet to be seen,” Census researchers say.

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