For the first time, the number of Asians moving to the US has surpassed that of Hispanics, reflecting a slowdown in illegal immigration while US employers increase their demand for high-skilled workers.
An expansive study by the Pew Research Center details what it describes as the rise of Asian Americans, a highly diverse and fast-growing group that makes up about 5 percent of the US population. Mostly foreign-born and naturalized citizens, their numbers have been boosted by increases in visas granted to specialized workers and wealthy investors as the US economy becomes driven less by manufacturing and more by technology.
About 430,000 Asians, or 36 percent of all new immigrants, arrived in the US in 2010, compared with about 370,000, or 31 percent, who were Hispanic, according to the latest census data.
The Pew analysis, released on Tuesday, said the tipping point for Asian immigrants likely occurred during 2009 as illegal immigrants crossing the border from Mexico sharply declined due to increased immigration enforcement and a dwindling supply of low-wage work in the weak US economy.
The shift to increased Asian immigration, particularly of people from India, China and South Korea, coincides with changes in US immigration policy dating to the 1990s that began to favor wealthy and educated workers. That policy, still in place, but subject to caps that have created waiting lists, fast tracks visas for foreigners willing to invest at least half a million dollars in US businesses or for workers in high-tech and other specialized fields who have at least a bachelor’s degree.
International students studying at US colleges and universities are also now most likely to come from Asian countries, roughly six in 10, and some are able to live and work in the US after graduation.
Asian students, both foreign born and US born, earned -45 -percent of all engineering PhDs in 2010, as well as 38 percent of doctorates in math and computer sciences and 33 percent of doctorates in the physical sciences.
Several bills pending in the US Congress that are backed by business seek to address some of the visa backlog, through measures such as eliminating per-country limits on employment-based visas or encouraging investment in the sluggish US real estate market. They have stalled amid broader public debate over immigration reform that has focused largely on lower-skilled, undocumented workers.
In recent years, more than 60 percent of Asian immigrants aged 25 to 64 have graduated from college, double the share for new arrivals from other continents.
As a whole, the share of higher-skilled immigrants in the US holding at least a bachelor’s degree now outpaces those lacking a high-school diploma, 30 percent to 28 percent.
“Like immigrants throughout American history, the new arrivals from Asia are strivers,” said Paul Taylor, executive vice president of the Pew Research Center and co-author of the report.
“What’s distinctive about them is their educational credentials. These aren’t the tired, poor, huddled masses of Emma Lazarus’ famous inscription on the Statue of Liberty. They are the highly skilled workforce of the 21st century,” he said.
The findings are part of Pew’s broad portrait of Asian Americans, immigrants or US-born children of immigrants who come mostly from China, the Philippines, India, Vietnam, South Korea and Japan. Now tied with Hispanics as the fastest-growing US group, the nation’s 15.1 million Asian-Americans are slowly becoming visible as founders of startups in Silicon Valley, owners of ethnic eateries, grocery stores and other small businesses in cities across the US, as well as candidates for political office and a key bloc of voters in states such as California, Nevada and Virginia, according to experts.