Cambodian immigrants

The arrival of thousands of immigrants from Southeast Asia during the mid-to-late 1970’s marked a new era in immigration to the United States because of multiple factors.

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Captive Thai workers

Thai laborers were forced to toil in a makeshift garment factory in a Los Angeles suburb for more than six years until the operation was busted.

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Exeter incident

This racially motivated attack on Filipino farmworkers was one of the first of several similar attacks in central California’s agricultural centers.

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Filipino American press

Filipino American newspapers and magazines have featured stories not only about Filipinos living in the United States but also about events of interest in the Philippines, demonstrating the desire among many Filipino Americans to stay connected with their ancestral homeland.

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Filipino immigrants

Significance: During the late twentieth century, Filipinos became one of the fastestgrowing immigrant populations in the United States. By the early twenty-first century, they constituted the third-largest Asian immigrant group in the United States, after Asian Indians and Chinese, and could be found living throughout the North American continent.

Filipino farmworkers in California during the 1930’s

Filipino farmworkers in California during the 1930’s. (Library of Congress)

Although most immigration from the Philippines to the United States occurred during the twentieth century, the earliest identifiable Filipino immigrants arrived in America during the 1830’s.At that time, hunters and trappers of Filipino origin settled in the region of Louisiana below New Orleans, which was then the busiest port in the United States after New York City. At that time, the Philippine Islands were a Spanish colony, and these first Filipino immigrants appear to have reached New Orleans on Spanish ships. As late as the 1930’s, descendants of these early Filipino immigrants, popularly known as "Manila men,” maintained a settlement along the mouth of the Mississippi River and supported themselves by shrimping, fur-trapping, and fishing.

American Involvement in the Philippines

At the end of the nineteenth century, the Philippines came under the political dominance of the United States, a development that would eventually contribute to a large Filipino American population. When the United States fought Spain in the Spanish-AmericanWar in 1898, Filipino rebels were engaged in their own war against their Spanish rulers. When Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt ordered the U.S. Navy to attack the Spanish at Manila, the Philippines’ capital, the United States established contact with Filipino insurgents. After the United States defeated Spain, the U.S. government did not withdraw its armed forces from the occupied former Spanish colonies, which included the Philippines, Cuba, and Guam. Instead, the United States sent troops to the Philippines to subjugate Filipinos unwilling to accept American rule, and the United States set up its own colonial government.

U.S. governor-general William Howard Taft, who later became president of the United States, was among many Americans who believed that educational programs could help to direct the development of the Philippines and establish ties between the United States and its new colonial subjects. American teachers were sent to the Philippines, and Filipino students known as pensionados were brought to the United States. About 14,000 government- subsidized Filipino students studied in the United States between 1903 and 1938.

Push-Pull Factors

During the decade following the arrival of the first pensionados, Filipino immigration to the United States increased dramatically. The Filipino American population increased from fewer than 3,000 persons in 1910 to more than 26,000 in 1920 and more than 100,000 in 1930. These new immigrants were drawn to America primarily by the demand for labor.

Profile of Filipino immigrants

Country of origin Philippines
Primary language Tagalog, English
Primary regions of U.S. settlement West Coast, Hawaii
Earliest significant arrivals 1830’s
Peak immigration period 1965-2008
Twenty-first century legal residents* 469,033 (58,629 per year)

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

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

During the early twentieth century, American industry grew rapidly and agriculture increasingly became a large-scale enterprise, requiring growing numbers of hired workers. Farming became more regionally specialized as advances in refrigeration and transportation made it practical to grow fruits and vegetables on large regional farms for export to distant parts of the United States. To meet the need for labor, farmers in California and canning factories in Alaska began recruiting Filipino workers. In 1920, the West Coast of the United States alone was home to an estimated 5,600 Filipinos. By 1930, this number had grown to 45,372. Filipino migrant workers provided much of the seasonal labor for fruit and vegetable farms in California, Oregon, and Washington, where they harvested asparagus, grapes, strawberries, carrots, lettuce, potatoes, and beets.

Hawaii, then an American territory, was the destination for many Filipino agricultural workers. American sugarcane planters in Hawaii rapidly expanded their exports during the first decade of the twentieth century and needed workers for the fields. In 1906, A. F. Judd, an attorney representing the Hawaii Sugar Planters Association (HSPA) arrived in the Philippines to recruit workers for the sugarcane fields and to make the legal arrangements to bring them to Hawaii. However, relatively few agricultural workers left the Philippines forHawaii until 1909. During that year, unrest among the Japanese, who until then had made up the majority of laborers in the Hawaiian sugarcane fields, prompted plantation owners and managers to increase their recruiting efforts among Filipinos. When Japanese plantation workers went on strike, Hawaiian planters concluded that they needed a new and more easily controlled labor source.

The peoples of the Philippines speak many different languages, although there are a few widely spoken major languages, such as Tagalog, Ilocano, and several closely related dialects of Visayan. The linguistic diversity among the Filipino immigrants helped the Hawaii planters to avoid the labor problems they had experienced with the linguistically homogeneous Japanese. By being careful to recruit workers from different regions of the Philippines, they limited communication among Filipino field-workers. Between 1909 and 1914, about 4,000 Filipinos made the voyage from the Philippines to Hawaii each year. Their numbers decreased after 1915, when the Philippine legislature passed laws regulating the recruitment and treatment of Filipino workers. The numbers picked up again during the 1920’s, however. By 1925, around half of all plantation workers in Hawaii were Filipinos. By the early 1930’s, Filipinos made up about three-fourths of all Hawaii plantation workers.

From the 1930’s to 1965

The wave of Filipino immigrant labor to the United States that began in the first decade of the twentieth century became a trickle in 1934. During that year, the U.S. Congress passed the Tydings- McDuffie Act, which transformed the political status of the Philippines into a commonwealth—the first step toward independence for the Philippines. Under the law’s provisions Filipinos were no longer considered American nationals, and immigration from the Philippines was limited to fifty persons per year. When World War II reached the Philippines in 1942, Japan occupied the Philippine Islands, bringing even this limited flow of migration to the United States to a temporary halt.

After World War II, the United States recognized the full independence of the Philippines. However, the U.S. government still maintained a presence in the Philippines that contributed to new forms of migration. In 1946, the U.S. Congress passed the Luce-Celler Bill, which increased the Philippines’ immigration quota from fifty to one hundred persons per year. Spouses of U.S. citizens were not counted within this quota, however, and they became a major part of Filipino immigration. Meanwhile, the United States retained large military bases in the Philippines, ensuring an ongoing presence of large numbers of mostly male American military personnel, some of whom interacted socially with Filipino women. Many Filipino- American marriages resulted from these contacts. Between 1946 and 1965, as many as one-half of all immigrants from the Philippines arriving in the United States were wives of U.S. servicemen.

In 1948, the U.S. Congress passed the Education Exchange Act, another piece of legislation that promoted the immigration of a new category of Filipinos who would join the growing Filipino American population. The 1948 law enabled foreign nurses to spend two years in the United States for study and professional experience. Differences between American and Filipino living standards lured many Filipino nurses to remain in the United States after they completed their training, and the large demand for nurses in the United States made it relatively easy for them to find work.

Post-1965 Immigration

The 1960 U.S. Census counted 105,000 people living in the United States who had been born in the Philippines. At that moment, Filipinos constituted the second-largest immigrant group in the United States, only slightly behind immigrants born in Japan. As American restrictions on immigration from Asia were relaxed after 1965, the historical ties between the Philippines and the United States set the stage for a new wave of Filipino migration.

Immigration from the Philippines, 1930-2008

Immigration from the Philippines, 1930-2008

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008. Figures include only immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status. There are no data for Filipino immigration before 1930.

When Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (also known as the Hart- Celler Act), the United States adopted a new immigration policy that dropped the former quota system of immigration that had been biased in favor of immigrants from northern and western Europe. The new basis for admitting immigrants was a set of preferences, with immigrants migrating to reunite with family members in the United States given the highest priority classifications, followed by immigrants with needed job skills. The new immigration policy opened immigration to the United States to many parts of the world, and the numbers of immigrants began climbing dramatically.

Thanks to the historical links between the United States and the Philippines, Filipinos were in a particularly good position to take advantage of the change in American immigration law. Because the Philippines remained a relatively low-income country—even though it had many well-educated and highly skilled people—and the United States was one of the world’s most prosperous nations, Filipino interest in emigrating to the United States was great. Moreover, many potential immigrants already had skills that were in demand in the United States and some familiarity with the English language and American culture.

Many post-1965 immigrants from the Philippines were highly skilled professionals. Before 1960, fewer than 2 percent of the people of Filipino ancestry residing in the United States had professional occupations, compared to 6 percent of all Americans. By contrast, two decades later, about one-quarter of all Filipinos in the United States were professionals. By the twenty-first century, this figure had risen to nearly one-third.

The United States had a particularly strong demand for medical workers that Filipinos could supply because the American occupation of the Philippines had established American training and standards in the islands. As a consequence, nurses, physicians, medical technicians, and other medical professionals were heavily overrepresented among the occupational fields of Filipino immigrants to the United States.

Nurses, who had already begun moving from the Philippines to the United States after passage of the 1948 Education Exchange Act, began arriving in the United States in even greater numbers following the passage of the Health Professions Assistance Act in 1976. This piece of legislation required professionals to have firm job offers from American employers before they could immigrate to the United States. This law was followed by active cooperation of immigration officials with American hospitals in recruiting nurses. Again, the special historical connections between the United States and the Philippines meant that the Philippines was training nurses ready for work in the United States, making that Asian country an ideal recruiting ground for immigrants.

Changing Push-Pull Factors

During the 1960’s, the American military presence in the Philippines continued and even grew along with American involvement in the Vietnam War. By 1980, one quarter of all married Filipino American women had husbands who had served in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War period. The popular identification of the Philippines as a source of wives also expanded into civilian American society, so that marriages arranged by mail between women in the Philippines and men in the United States were becoming common during the 1970’s. By the early 1990’s, an estimated 19,000 so-called mail-order brides were leaving the Philippines each year to join husbands and fiancés abroad, with the United States their primary destination.

As the Filipino American population increased, a growing number of residents of the United States had immediate relatives in the Philippines. Because the 1965 change in immigration law had made family reunification the category that allowed the most immigrants, this meant that each new immigrant opened the way for others. The result was an exponential growth in the Filipino American population throughout the last decades of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first century. In 2007, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that 2.5 million people of Filipino descent were living in the United States, ranking Filipino Americans only slightly behind Asian Indian Americans and a little further behind Chinese Americans.

In 2007, more than 72,500 people from the Philippines were admitted to legal permanent residence in the United States, and nearly 39,000 people born in the Philippines became naturalized U.S. citizens. By this time, Filipino Americans were living in communities across the United States, but the single largest concentration could be found in California’s Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana metropolitan area, in which an estimated 380,000 Filipinos resided in 2007.

Carl L. Bankston III

Further Reading

Bankston, Carl L. "Filipino Americans.” In Asian Americans: Contemporary Trends and Issues. Edited by Pyong Gap Min. 2d ed. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Pine Forge Press, 2006. Sociological survey of modern Filipino American communities throughout the United States. 

Bulosan, Carlos. American Is in the Heart: A Personal History. 1946. Reprint. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1974. Memoir of perhaps the best-known Filipino American writer, who came to the United States as an immigrant fieldworker during the 1930’s. 

_______. On Becoming Filipino: Selected Writings of Carlos Bulosan. Edited by Epifanio San Juan, Jr. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996. Additional writings by Bulosan documenting the Filipino American immigrant experience. 

Espiritu, Yen Le. Homebound: Filipino American Lives Across Cultures, Communities, and Cultures. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. Study of how Filipino immigrants have adapted to American culture and society built around interviews with more than one hundred Filipino Americans. 

Karnow, Stanley. In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines. New York: Random House, 1989. History of the American conquest and occupation of the Philippines and efforts to impose American culture and institutions on the island nation. 

Okamura, Jonathan Y. Imagining the Filipino American Diaspora: Transnational Relations, Identities, and Communities. New York: Garland, 1998. Exploration of Filipino immigration that examines the subject in the context of Filipino emigration to more than 130 countries around the world. 

See also: Alaska; Anti-Filipino violence; California; Exeter incident; Filipino American press; Filipino Repatriation Act of 1935; Hawaii; Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965; Indonesian immigrants; Luce-Celler Bill of 1946; Mail-order brides; Malaysian immigrants.

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Filipino Repatriation Act of 1935

This federal law provided free transportation for Filipino residents of the continental United States who wished to return home but could not afford to do so.

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Hmong immigrants

Significance: The Hmong are one of the most recent Asian immigrant groups to come to the United States. Their main home is in the northern mountain regions of Laos. The Hmong and other Laotian immigrants were helped by the passage of the Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1975 in their efforts to relocate after the Vietnam War ended.

Shaman conducting a traditional good-luck ritual for members of a Hmong family preparing to leave a Thai refugee camp for the United States in 2004

Shaman conducting a traditional good-luck ritual for members of a Hmong family preparing to leave a Thai refugee camp for the United States in 2004. (Getty Images)

The Hmong people have no significant history of immigration to the United States before 1970. By the year 2000, Hmong immigrants numbered around 170,000 according to U.S. Census data. When they began migrating to the United States, they were encouraged by various settlement agencies to disperse throughout the country. However, because of their kinship patterns and collectivist nature, they instead tended to congregate within communities where other Hmong lived. Consequently, 89 percent of these immigrants settled in California, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan.

American Involvement with the Hmong

During the Vietnam War, Hmong villagers worked alongside the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in their fight against the North Vietnamese in what has been called a "secret war” in Laos. Their assistance on what was supposed to be neutral territory resulted in problems for Hmong veterans on several different levels. After the South Vietnam capital of Saigon fell to North Vietnamese forces and the war ended, Laos was taken over by Pathet Lao communist forces, and the Hmong were targeted for reprisals because of their support of U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia. At risk of severe retaliation from the Lao government, Hmong and other Laotian exiles escaped to Thailand, where they were placed in refugee camps. Upon resettlement to the United States, the Hmong immigrants achieved refugee status largely because of their war efforts on behalf of the Americans as well as their need to escape the communist regime in Laos.

Profile of Hmong immigrants

Countries of origin

Laos and Vietnam

Primary language


Primary regions of U.S. settlement

California, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin

Earliest significant arrivals


Peak immigration period


Twenty-first century legal residents*

30,000 (estimated; 3,750 per year)

*Immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status in the United States. Source: U.S. Census Bureau.

Immigration After 1975

In response to the plight of Indochinese communities such as the Hmong after the Vietnam War, the U.S. Congress enacted legislation to enable Southeast Asian refugees to come to the United States. Many immigrants from that region were well educated and possessed valuable job skills. In contrast, however, a large part of the Hmong immigrants were poorly educated and were unskilled workers, as most had been farmers in their home country, and other aspects of the Hmong economy were not highly advanced. These factors, among others, influenced group assimilation processes even though American officials and citizens were initially supportive of Hmong migration.

Between 1981 and 1986, only a few thousand Hmongrefugees came to the United States. Admissions picked up between 1987 and 1994, when more than 50,000 Hmong entered the country. From 2004 until 2006, pressure fromhuman rights groups contributed to the resettlement to the United States of an additional 15,000 Hmong immigrants from a refugee camp in Thailand. Afterward, immigration from northern Laos to the United States slowed.

Hmong in the United States

Hmong communities in the United States have stabilized. U.S. government estimates indicate that between 170,000 and 186,000 Hmong were living in the United States by 2008. However, estimates from nongovernment sources have suggested that there may actually be between 250,000 and 300,000. About 60,000Hmongreside in the state of Minnesota, with about 30,000 in the Minneapolis- St. Paul area alone. The firstHmongrefugees came from a subsistence and agrarian background, but later waves of immigrants came with some knowledge of technology and Western culture. Overall, the American Hmong population was young and highly urban by the year 2009. In fact, the Minneapolis- St. Paul area has the largest Hmong urban population in the world. The majority of Hmong Minnesotans have already become second- or third-generation American-born citizens.

With a relatively short history in the United States, the Hmong still struggle with cultural identity issues. The initial culture shock that occurred during their first wave of immigration resulted in a slower assimilation rate than was anticipated, even though some younger Hmong Americans adapted relatively quickly. The Hmong have not abandoned their collectivist family structures and this has helped them achieve a level of economic stability. Like those of Vietnamese immigrants, Hmong families often pool resources and incomes in order to buy homes, businesses, and cars.

In Minnesota, Hmong residents generate more than $100 million in revenues annually and entrepreneurs have successfully revitalized the University Avenue area of St. Paul. Even though the first wave of Hmong immigrants was not as prepared to cope with the technologically advanced capitalistic society of the United States, over the years they have become upwardly mobile, a situation that indicates a positive future.

Dianne Dentice

Further Reading

Barr, Linda. Long Road to Freedom: Journey of the Hmong. Bloomington, Minn.: Red Brick Learning, 2004. Account of the plight of Hmong refugees during the early twenty-first century. 

Faderman, Lillian, and Ghia Xiong. I Begin My Life All Over: The Hmong and the American Immigrant Experience. Boston: Beacon, 1998. Collection of thirty-five Hmong immigrant narratives that emphasizes generational differences. 

Keown-Bomar, Julie. Kinship Networks Among Hmong-American Refugees. New York: LFB Scholarly Publishing, 2004. Thorough sociological study of Hmong immigrants. 

Mote, Sue Murphy. Hmong and American: Stories of Transition to a Strange Land. Jefferson, N.C.: Mc- Farland, 2004. Another collection of Hmong immigrant narratives. 

Parrillo, Vincent. Strangers to These Shores. 9th ed. Boston: Allyn&Bacon, 2008. General treatment of race and ethnic relations with a section on Laotian immigration that emphasizes Hmong immigrants. 

Schaefer, Richard T. Racial and Ethnic Groups. 11th ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2007. General textbook on American ethnic groups that includes a case study of a Hmong community in Wausau, Wisconsin. 

Sherman, Spencer. "The Hmong in America: Laotian Refugees in the Land of the Giants.” National Geographic (October, 1988).Well-illustrated description of Hmong communities in North Carolina and California. 

See also: Asian immigrants; Immigration waves; Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1975; Laotian immigrants; Minnesota; Refugees; Tennessee; Thai immigrants; Vietnam War.

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Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1975

Strongly supported by President Gerald R. Ford and opposed by those who feared an influx of Southeast Asian refugees after the end of the conflict in Vietnam

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Indonesian immigrants

Indonesia is made up of a large number of populated islands located south of Southeast Asia’s Malay Peninsula.

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Indonesian immigrants: Barack Obama and Indonesia

Although Indonesia’s ties with the United States have historically been limited, the Southeast Asian nation has a special connection with the forty-fourth president of the United States.

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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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Iranian immigrants: Revolution and Immigration

Much of the immigration from Iran to the United States resulted from political unrest in Iran and as a consequence of people fleeing the Iranian Revolution of 1978-1979 and the creation of the Islamic Republic in 1980.

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Iranian immigrants: Iranians in the United States

By 2007, the geographic concentration of Iranian immigrants had grown greater.

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Israeli immigrants

Significance: The state of Israel was established only in 1948, and much of its own population growth has come about through Jewish emigration from the United States and Europe. This makes analyses of migration from Israel to the United States uniquely complex. Many ostensible immigrants to the United States from Israel have been Jews who originated in the United States, emigrated to Israel, and later returned to North America. Some of these same returnees have even returned to Israel again. The subject is also complicated by the fact that immigrants to the United States from Israel have included Muslim and Christian Palestinians, who may or may not have been Israeli citizens. Moreover, some Palestinian immigrants who were legally Israeli citizens may not have identified with the Jewish state.

The number of immigrants to the United States whose last country of residence was Israel has grown steadily over the decades. From 1950 to 1959, 21,376 legal migrants fromIsrael were admitted into the United States. During the 1960’s, that figure increased to 30,911 and in the 1980’s to 43,669. After a slight dip to 41,340 during the 1990’s, a total of 47,873 new immigrants arrived fromIsrael between 2000 and 2008. Estimates from U.S. Census data indicate that numbers of people born in Israel, or Palestine, in the United States grew from 94,500 in 1990 to 123,000 in 2000 and reached 154,000 in 2007.

Immigration from Israel, 1948-2008

Immigration from Israel, 1948-2008

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008. Figures include only immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status.

According to the sociologist Steven J. Gold, a widely recognized authority on Israeli immigrants, Jewish Israelis in the United States have shown a number of distinctive characteristics. They have tended to have high levels of education and to work in professional fields, most notably in educational services. According to early twenty-first century U.S. Census figures, about one-quarter of Israeli immigrants have been managers, officials, and proprietors. Other common occupations have been in sales, teaching, and professional and technical jobs. However, most Jewish Israeli immigrants have come to the United States in order to escape political unrest in the Middle East, not to seek improved economic opportunities. Consequently, although they have generally adapted well to American life and generally speak English fluently, a substantial number of them have avoided describing themselves as "Americans” and have expressed a desire eventually to return to Israel. Many continue to speak Israel’s national language, Hebrew, at home.

Profile of Israeli immigrants

Country of origin Israel
Primary languages Hebrew, English
Primary regions of U.S. settlement California, New York State
Earliest significant arrivals 1950’s
Twenty-first century legal residents* 36,516 (4,565 per year)

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

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

Jewish Israelis live throughout the United States, but they are most heavily concentrated in New York City and Los Angeles. These two cities alone contain about half of all Jewish Israelis living in the United States. Other popular destinations for many Israeli immigrants have included Michigan, Florida, and Illinois. Israeli immigrants are frequently drawn to large established Jewish neighborhoods, such as Brooklyn and Queens in New York City and West Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley in the Los Angeles area.

Carl L. Bankston III

Further Reading

Gold, Steven J. The Israeli Diaspora. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002. 

Gold, Steven J., and Bruce A. Phillips. "Israelis in the U.S.” In American Jewish Yearbook, 1996. New York: American Jewish Committee, 1996. 

O’Brien, Lee. American Jewish Organizations and Israel. Washington, D.C.: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1986. 

Sobel, Zvi. Migrants from the Promised Land. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books, 1986. 

Telushkin, Rabbi Joseph. The Golden Land: The Story of Jewish Immigration to America. New York: Harmony Books, 2002. 

Worth, Richard. Jewish Immigrants. New York: Facts On File, 2005. 

See also: Afroyim v. Rusk; American Jewish Committee; Anti-Defamation League; Anti-Semitism; Arab immigrants; Dual citizenship; Emigration; Holocaust; Jewish immigrants; Los Angeles; Muslim immigrants; New York City.

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