The Immigration of Koreans to the United States: A Review of 45 Year (1965-2009) Trends*

Article excerpt

This paper reviews changes in patterns of Koreans' immigration to the United States between 1965 and 2009 based on annual statistical reports by the immigration office. This review captures changes in the annual number of Korean immigrants, their immigration mechanisms and occupational characteristics, and the proportion of status adjusters. The annual number of Korean immigrants gradually increased for the first ten years, reached the peak between 1976 and 1990, gradually decreased in the 1990s, and slightly increased in the 2000s again. At the end of the 1960s and early 1970s, professionals, especially medical professionals, composed a significant proportion of Korean immigrants. The proportion of Korean immigrants in specialty occupations declined in the late 1970s and early 1980, with a concomitant increase in the proportion of family-based immigrants. But the trend reversed beginning in the early 1990s, with the gradual increase in the proportion of Korean specialty immigrants and the radical decrease in the proportion of family-based immigrants. The predominant majority of Korean immigrants during recent years are status adjusters. The presence of an increasing number of non-immigrant temporary residents in the Korean community, along with great technological advances, has helped Korean residents maintain strong transnational ties to their homeland.

Keywords: Korean Emigration, Korean Immigration, International Students, Post- 1965 Korean Community in the U.S., Globalization


The Korean population, including the multiracial, in the United States has grown to more than 1.7 million in 2010. More than 95% of Korean Americans consist of post-1965 immigrants and their children. The influx of a large number of Korean immigrants to the United States since the late 1960s was made possible by the Immigration Act of 1965 that was in full effect in 1968. The new immigration law abolished the race-based discrimination in assigning immigration quotas and gave equal opportunity for U.S. immigration to all countries. The liberalized immigration law has resulted in a radical change in the source countries of immigrants. Before 1965, the vast majority of immigrants originated from European countries, with immigrants from Asian countries composing less than 5%. By contrast, about 75% of post-1965 immigrants originated from Latin America and Asia, with European immigrants making up less than 15% (Min 2002).

South Korea is one of the major beneficiaries of the new immigration law. As will be shown in this paper, approximately one million Koreans immigrated to the United States between 1965 and 2009. But the Korean immigration flow has gone through changes over time since 1965 in size, immigrants' entry mechanisms and socioeconomic backgrounds, and the proportion of status adjusters. This paper reviews changes in patterns of Koreans' immigration to the United States over the past 45 years. It will focus on changes in patterns during the most recent years (2000 and after). Tables and figures presented in this paper are based on Annual Reports and Statistical Yearbooks, which are published annually by the Immigration and Naturalization Service between 1965 and 2001, and Yearbooks of Immigration by Office of Immigration Statistics between 2002 and 2009. I consider this review of Korean immigration patterns with extensive statistics useful to scholars studying Korean Americans in the United States and Korea. It will also serve as an important reference source for Korean social workers and community leaders in the United States and policymakers involving overseas Koreans in Korea. Because of the practical implications of immigration data, I want to make this article available to readers in Korea.

Theoretical Perspectives

To explain international migration, social scientists have developed various theories, each of which emphasizes a particular factor. I consider the following four factors most useful to understanding changing patterns of Koreans' immigration to the United States: (1) the push-pull factors: (2) the immigration policy of the U. …


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