Perceived Problems and Service Delivery for Korean Immigrants

Article excerpt

Subjective experiences vary among immigrant groups adjusting to a new society. Some problems are common to all immigrants, and some are unique to certain groups. Studies of perceived problems, based on in-depth interviews with 90 Korean families in New York, were placed in the overall context of American immigrant problems to differentiate the common needs of all immigrants from the unique needs of Korean immigrants. In this article, the author studies family relations; child rearing; and practical aspects of language, employment, and health. The author discusses the development of a multiservice center for all immigrants and services specific to the Korean population.

Immigration to the United States has become increasingly heterogeneous since the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (Gordon, 1990; Jensen, 1989; Kraly, 1987). Although people are immigrating from all over the world, the largest increases are in immigrants from Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. The 1990 census indicated that these three groups account for as much as 40 percent of the total population increase over the past decade in the United States (Barringer, 1990). The number of Korean immigrants has increased rapidly in the past few decades, from 70,000 in 1970 to 799,000 in 1992 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1992).

Despite the increases, however, understanding of the new groups lags far behind their arrival. How does each immigrant group perceive the adjustment experience, and what are the problems they face while adapting? Answers to these questions could help social workers develop and deliver effective services for immigrants. This article builds knowledge in this area through a study of Korean immigrant families. The experience of Korean immigrants, placed in the greater context of that of all American immigrants, will differentiate some common needs of immigrants from needs unique to Koreans. Suggestions are made for developing general immigrant programs and programs specific to Koreans.

General Experiences of Immigrants

The adaptation experience of new immigrants varies according to their place of origin, premigration occupation and education, traditional values, and socialization (Kessler-Harris & Yans-McLaughlin, 1978). The literature has stressed some common aspects of experience among the immigrants, specifically in language (Portes & Rumbaut, 1990), employment (Ware, 1932; Portes & Rumbaut, 1990), adjustment stress (Eisenstadt, 1955; Furnham & Bochner, 1989; Portes & Rumbant, 1990), and interpersonal conflict (Landau, 1982).

Language

Except for immigrants from English-speaking countries, the first problem an immigrant encounters is learning a new language (Chen, 1973; Homma-True, 1976; Kosmin, 1990; Land, Nishimoto, & Chau, 1988). However, place of origin and premigration experience seem to generate differences in the speed and ease of language acquisition. Those from "verbal" cultures and similar linguistic circles seem to learn a new language faster than those from "less-verbal" cultures (Finnan, 1981). Occupation determines the level of language skills that will be required. High-level professional jobs demand a higher level of command of the language, whereas low-level, unskilled jobs require a minimum level of language skills.

Employment

Economic survival is the foremost concern on arrival in the United States for adult immigrants (Portes & Rumbaut, 1990). Except for small numbers of religious and political immigrants, the economic motive for immigration has been constant throughout history. Immigrants are welcomed when the U.S. economy is prosperous and when labor is in short supply; when the economy falls into a recession, conflicts arise between natives and immigrants. In general, the least desirable jobs, shunned by natives, are assigned to immigrants (Portes & Rumbaut, 1990; Ware, 1932). Professional immigrants also begin at the lowest level in their occupational field, regardless of their premigration experience credentials; some face underemployment in blue-collar jobs (Howe, 1990; Shin & Change, 1988). …