Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Characteristics of Eastern European Immigration in the United States

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Characteristics of Eastern European Immigration in the United States

Article excerpt


In the last centuries, Eastern Europe has been characterized by dramatic socio-political and economic transformations. Countries were formed and revised, political ideologies were imposed and then dropped, leaving lasting marks on individuals and families. Immigration from that region towards United States mirrors this region's course of events, registering various trends throughout the history. The recent overall increase in the number of immigrants in the US has been calling for more research on the immigrant adaptation processes. Although the literature on some immigrant groups has been enriched in the past years, the research on Eastern European (EE) immigrants has been lacking. This may be explained by the fact that the communist regimes of more than half a century significantly limited the emigration from this region. The fall of communism in late 1980s and the post-communist socio-economic and political transition determined a resurgence of EE immigrants as a new phenomenon and require their systematic study. Examining EE immigrants will increase the understanding of today's diverse immigrant population and their adaptation in the host society.

The purpose of this article is to facilitate an understanding of the characteristics of Eastern European immigration. Systematic research on EE immigrants can help advance the current knowledge on Eastern European immigrants and how they adapt to the United States. As such, the goal of the study is to examine Eastern European immigrants' human capital (education level), length of US residence and their adaptation, as measured by income and possession of health insurance.


Immigration Policies

The immigration process is determined largely by the immigration laws of the receiving countries. These policies regulate the characteristics of the immigrant cohorts, indicating how many people are allowed to immigrate, their nationalities, and their human capital (education levels, occupations). Following is a brief summary of these policies, with a focus on their impact on Eastern European immigration.

Until the later 1800s, immigrants entered freely into the United States. Later on, several immigration acts in 1875, 1903, and 1917 limited the number of immigrants on a variety of moral, economic and physical grounds (Edmonston, and Passel, 1994; U.S. INS, 1991). Until 1860, almost all immigrants to US were from Germany, Ireland and the United Kingdom. After 1860, a growing number came form Scandinavia, Asia, and South America. Another shift occurred in the 1880s with a considerably increase in the number of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, mainly from Austria-Hungary, Italy, Greece, Poland, and Russia peaking with several years of over one million per year in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Immigration lessened during the World War I but increased again after the war (Edmonston, and Passel, 1994; U.S. INS, 1991).

In 1921 the Quota Act was passed which limited immigration to 3 percent of the foreign-born population by national origin groups in the US. This restricted sharply the number of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe (and favored those from Western Europe since these were the largest groups in the US). After the World War II changes were made again to the immigration laws. The 1952 Act introduced a preference structure with separate categories for types of relatives and worker skills, but it retained the national origins quotas. In 1965 amendments eliminated the national origins quotas and gave preferences to family members of US citizens and legal residents. While before 1965 the immigration was predominantly from Europe, after that the immigration from Asia and Latin America has steadily increased, and that from Europe decreased. The Immigration Act of 1990 revised the immigration laws, supporting family reunification, imposing labor shortages-restructuring the number of visas for unskilled workers and increasing the number of visas for priority workers and professionals with US job offers, encouraging entrepreneurial immigrants (investors), and promoting a more diverse immigrant stream by using a "diversity visas" for underrepresented countries, Eastern European countries being included (Edmonston, and Passel, 1994; U. …

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