How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

A close look at Chinese immigration to the U.S., by the numbers

Photo by m kasahara/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Diners at the Sea Harbour restaurant in Rosemead, Calif.

In case you haven't seen it, the Migration Policy Institute's Migration Information Source site has rolled out an extensive compilation of facts about Chinese immigration to the United States, from where Chinese immigrants live to how many Americans identify as being of Chinese descent.

The history of Chinese migration to the U.S. is critical to the nation's overall history on too many levels to count. The large-scale arrival of Chinese immigrants in the 19th century played a part in everything from the building of the railroads to the nation's first truly restrictive immigration law to how U.S. citizenship is defined, in that order. From the intro to the data-packed MPI feature:

Although narratives describing the first waves of immigration to the United States often focus on European newcomers, Chinese migrants drawn by the economic boom associated with the 1849 California Gold Rush were also among the country’s early immigrants. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, however, banned most Chinese immigration to the country, and legal opportunities for Chinese migration to the United States did not expand significantly until the reform of the US immigration system in 1965.

The number of Chinese immigrants in the United States has grown each decade since 1960, when the population stood at just under 100,000, to reach 1.8 million in 2010. The Chinese born represented the second-largest immigrant group in the country (after the foreign born from Mexico) in 2010, and accounted for 4.5 percent of the total foreign-born population.


Among the highlights:

  • In 2010, there were about 4.3 million self-identified members of the Chinese diaspora residing in the United States; more than one-third were born in the U.S.

  • Over half the Chinese-born immigrants in 2010 resided in two states: California and New York; in 2010, the highest share lived in the San-Francisco-Oakland-Fremont region.

  • More than 700,000 immigrants born in mainland China and Hong Kong received U.S. green cards between 2001 and 2010; in 2010, roughly 1 percent of all unauthorized immigrants in the country were from China.


The feature is part of a larger special issue that examines migration from, to, and within China, including pieces on the rural-to-urban migration taking place in China and on Chinese immigrant communities that one might not think of, like the one in South Africa.

The Chinese immigrant diaspora extends around the world and is especially large in Latin America, where Peruvians, Venezuelans, Mexicans, Cubans and others claim Chinese heritage.

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