Iranian immigrants

Iranian immigrants: Revolution and Immigration

Iranian immigrants: Iranians in the United States

Significance: Iranian immigration to the United States is a recent phenomenon and has taken place primarily since 1975. The Islamic fundamentalist revolution of the late 1970’s that transformed Iran into a theocratic state was a major world event that increased Iranian migration to the United States and created some negative stereotypes of Iranians among Americans. Some large Iranian American communities have developed, most notably in the region of Los Angeles.

The first recorded immigrants from Iran to the United States arrived during the 1920’s, when 208 people from Iran (or Persia, as the country was then generally known) came to the United States. Their numbers increased over the next four decades but still remained comparatively small. Immigration and Naturalization Service data show only 9,059 people coming from Iran during the 1960’s. In the 1970’s through the 1990’s, Iranian immigration shot up dramatically. Between 1970 and 1979, 33,763 Iranians immigrated legally to the United States. During the 1980’s, this figure went up to 98,141 and decreased only slightly, to 76,899, during 1990’s. Between 2000 and 2008, 67,915 new residents came from Iran.

Country of origin Iran
Primary language Farsi
Primary regions of U.S. settlement California
Earliest significant arrivals 1920’s
Peak immigration period 1979-2008
Twenty-first century legal residents* 93,195 (11,649 per year)

*Immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status in the United States.

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008.

By 1980, the Iranian-born population of the U.S. amounted to 130,000 people, compared to only about 24,000 a mere ten years earlier. More than 70 percent of this 1980 population had arrived during the second half of the 1970’s, so they were an extremely new group. They were concentrated on the West Coast, with four out of ten Iranian residents of the United States living in California alone and one out of five living in the Los Angeles-Long Beach metropolitan area. The Iranian-born population continued to expand into the twenty-first century, growing from slightly more than 204,000 in 1990 to more than 290,000 in 2000 and to about 328,000 in 2007.

Carl L. Bankston III

Further Reading

Ansari, Maboud. The Making of the Iranian Community in America. New York: Pardis Press, 1992. Useful overview of the growth of the Iranian immigrant community in the United States. 

Bozorgmehr, Mehdi. "Iran.” In The New Americans: A Guide to Immigration Since 1965, edited by Mary C. Waters, Reed Ueda, and Helen B. Marrow. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007. Best available short overview of Iranian immigration, written by a highly respected authority on this topic. 

Dumas, Firoozeh. Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America. New York: Villard, 2003. Warmly personal memoir of the experiences of an Iranian American. 

Karim, Perssis, and Mehid M. Khortami, eds. A World in Between: Poems, Stories, and Essays by Iranian-Americans. New York: George Braziller, 1999. Anthology of literary works by Iranian immigrants that illustrate the experiences of Iranians in the United States. 

Naficy, Maid. The Making of Exile Cultures: Iranian Television in Los Angeles. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993. Examination of how Iranian television has influenced group identity in the large ethnic community in Los Angeles. 

Sharavini, Mitra K. Educating Immigrants: Experiences of Second Generation Iranians. New York: LFB Scholarly Publishing, 2004. Emphasizes the importance Iranian immigrants place on education for their children and looks at the relative success of Iranian ancestry students in American schools. 

See also: Arab immigrants; California; Israeli immigrants; Los Angeles; Muslim immigrants; Pakistani immigrants; Refugees; Religions of immigrants.

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