Minnesota immigration shift mirrors national trend

  • Article by: ALLIE SHAH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 19, 2012 - 11:11 PM

In Minnesota, as nationally, new Asian immigrants outnumber Hispanics for the first time. A big draw: jobs.

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Co-workers Rajeev Gupta, left, Prashanth Gubbala and Purushotham Thenepalli bought lunch at Kabobs Indian Grill on Tuesday at Gaviidae Common in Minneapolis. The three, IT professionals at Target, all hold master’s degrees in computer science.

Photo: Megan Tan, Star Tribune

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For the first time, more new immigrants to the United States are coming from Asian countries than from anywhere else in the world.

The number of Asian arrivals surpassed even the number of Hispanic new immigrants in the past decade, according to a Pew Research Center study released Tuesday.

The percentage of Asian immigrants also appears to be on the rise in Minnesota, where about 30 percent of immigrants who arrived here since 2000 were Asians, compared with 29 percent who were Hispanic.

Pew researchers say the national crossover happened in 2009 and was driven by two trends: the slowdown of immigration from Mexico and U.S. demand for high-skilled workers in specialized fields.

"The biggest factor is essentially net migration [from] Mexico is down to zero," said D'Vera Cohn, senior writer of the Pew Research Center and co-author of the study. "Asian immigration has continued unabated. That's what led to this crossover."

Roughly 430,000 Asians, or 36 percent all new immigrants, came to the United States in 2010, according to the latest census data. That compares with about 370,000, or 31 percent, who were Hispanic.

Chinese immigrants represent the largest subgroup of Asians in the United States.

But in Minnesota, Hmong rank No. 1, followed by Asian Indians and then Chinese.

The number of Minnesotans with roots in India nearly doubled from 2000 to 2010, when the Asian Indian population in the state reached 33,031. Much of that growth was fueled by immigration related to demand for workers with advanced technical skills.

"We have a lot of folks who are fulfilling workforce needs who are from that Asian Indian group," said Andi Egbert, senior researcher for Minnesota State Demographic Center.

What distinguishes Asian immigrants from other immigrant groups, Cohn said, is the kinds of visas they carry. While most immigrants come to the United States on family visas, sponsored by a relative already living here, a larger share of Asian immigrants come on work visas. In 2011, 129,000 immigrant work visas were issued across the country. Of that number, more than 72,000 were issued to people from India, while nearly 11,000 went to Chinese.

Piyumi Samaratunga, an immigration attorney who helps some of Minnesota's largest companies sort through the legal work needed to attain highly skilled workers from abroad, said her clients are not seeking people from a particular country. Instead, she said, they're searching for particular skills.

"Immigration is such a costly and unpredictable process that if you do have the skills and education available here in our U.S. worker base, they would not be looking to hire those individuals," she said.

Recalling a time when her firm helped a Fortune 500 company hire a scientist from overseas, she said, "This individual was one of eight or 10 globally who had the expertise that this company so desperately required."

The news that more workers are coming to the United States from China, India and South Korea does not surprise Isaac Cheifetz, an executive recruiter who focuses on the information solutions industry. "The trends identified in this report are simply reflecting the long-term movement of talent based on the long-term trends of global development," said Cheifetz, who is president of Open Technologies. "These are all countries that have put enormous effort successfully in developing their human capital."

The Pew report was criticized by at least one Asian-American organization, who said the numbers highlighted by Pew obscured the challenges facing some Asian immigrants.

"The Pew Research Center findings are not representative of all Asian-American groups, especially since only Asian-Americans from the top six largest subgroups [Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese] were surveyed for the research," said Doua Thor, executive director of the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC).

"After decades of working to debunk the Model Minority Myth -- the misconception that all Asian-Americans excel academically and face few obstacles -- Pew's research only makes it more difficult for SEARAC and our allies to advance equity for Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders," Thor said in a statement issued Tuesday. "Working on behalf of Cambodian, Hmong, Laotian, and Vietnamese communities, SEARAC feels that additional information about these communities is missing from Pew's research.''

The SEARAC release cited 2010 census figures indicating that more than one in three Cambodian, Hmong, and Laotian Americans over age 25 had less than a high school education, compared with about one in seven of the general U.S. population. It also noted that 11.3 percent of Americans overall were estimated to live in poverty compared with 18.2 percent of Cambodian Americans and 27.4 percent of Hmong Americans.

This report contains material from the Associated Press. Allie Shah • 612-673-4488

  • STATE IMMIGRANTS SINCE 2000

    Total foreign-born population 378,483

    Entered 2000 or later 165,741

    Asian 30%

    Hispanic/Latino (of any race) 29.1%

    Black or African American 28.1%

    White (not Hispanic) 11.4%

    Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 American Community Survey

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