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E.g., 08/23/2014

Chinese Immigrants in the United States

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Chinese Immigrants in the United States

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Source Spotlights are often updated as new data become available. Please click here to find the most recent version of this Spotlight.

The 1980 census recorded the foreign born from China as the 10th-largest immigrant group in the United States. By 2006, the number of Chinese immigrants had increased nearly fivefold, making them the third-largest immigrant group in the United States after the Mexican and Filipino foreign born.

Although half of the immigrants from China have settled in just two states — California and New York — their numbers are increasing rapidly in states such as Wyoming and Nebraska, which previously attracted relatively few Chinese immigrants (for more information on immigrants by state, please see the 2006 ACS/Census Data Tool on the MPI Data Hub).

This spotlight focuses on the foreign born from China residing in the United States, examining the population's size, geographic distribution, and socioeconomic characteristics using data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2006 American Community Survey (ACS) and 2000 Decennial Census, and the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Immigration Statistics (OIS) for 2006 and 2007.

Click on the bullet points below for more information:

Size and Distribution (includes Hong Kong but not Taiwan)


Demographic and Socioeconomic Overview (does not include Hong Kong or Taiwan)

Notes and Definitions
IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT THE DATA: In the section on the size and distribution of the Chinese born in the United States, China includes Hong Kong but does not include Taiwan. In subsequent sections, China does not include Hong Kong or Taiwan unless otherwise indicated.

The U.S. Census Bureau defines the foreign born as individuals who had no U.S. citizenship at birth. The foreign-born population includes naturalized citizens, lawful permanent residents, refugees and asylees, legal nonimmigrants (including those on student, work, or other temporary visas), and persons residing in the country without authorization.

The terms foreign born and immigrant are used interchangeably.

 

Legal and Unauthorized Chinese Immigrant Population (does not include Hong Kong or Taiwan)

Size and Distribution (includes Hong Kong but not Taiwan)

There were about 1.6 million foreign born from China residing in the United States in 2006.
The 1,551,316 Chinese immigrants in 2006 (including Hong Kong but not Taiwan) was 5.2 times higher than the 286,120 Chinese foreign born counted in the 1980 decennial census.

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Chinese immigrants made up 4.1 percent of all immigrants in 2006.
In 1960, Chinese immigrants composed 1.0 percent of all foreign born. That shared more than doubled to 2.6 percent in 1980 and then increased to 4.1 percent in 2006 (see Table 1).

 

Table 1. Total and Chinese Foreign-Born Populations, 1960 to 2006

Year Foreign Born Chinese born(a)
Rank(b) Share of All Foreign Born Number
1960 9,738,091 21 1.0% 99,735
1970 9,619,302 14 1.8% 172,132
1980 14,079,906 10 2.6% 366,500
1990 19,797,316 6 3.4% 676,968
2000 31,107,889 3 3.8% 1,193,685
2006 37,547,315 3 4.1% 1,551,316

Notes: a Includes individuals born in Taiwan for 1960 and 1970. Includes individuals born in Hong Kong for years 1980 and later. b Rank refers to the position of the Chinese born relative to other immigrant groups in terms of size of the population residing in the United States in a given census year.
Source: Data for 2000 from the 2000 census; data for 2006 from the American Community Survey 2006. Data for earlier decades from Gibson, Campbell and Emily Lennon, U.S. Census Bureau, Working Paper No. 29, Historical Census Statistics on the Foreign-Born Population of the United States: 1850 to 1990, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC., 1999. Available online.


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More than half of all Chinese immigrants resided in just two states.
In 2006, California had the largest number of Chinese immigrants (496,197), followed by New York (322,545) for a total of 689,974 or 52.8 percent of the Chinese immigrant population.

The states with the next-largest Chinese-born populations were Massachusetts (66,920) and New Jersey (65,292).

New York-Northern New Jersey, Long Island, NY-NJ-PA is the metropolitan area with the largest number of Chinese born (353,019, or 22.8 percent), followed by San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA (194,903, or 12.6 percent), Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA (175,243, or 11.3 percent), and Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA-NH (60,017, or 3.9 percent) (see Map 1). These four metropolitan areas accounted for 50.5 percent of all Chinese immigrants in 2006.

 

Map: State Proportion of the Chinese Population in the United States (PDF)

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The size of the Chinese immigrant population more than doubled in five states between 2000 and 2006.
Between 2000 and 2006, states with few Chinese immigrants saw the size of those populations grow quickly. The five states where the Chinese immigrant populations doubled were Wyoming, Nebraska, Tennessee, South Dakota, and Idaho (see Table 2).

 

Table 2. Top 10 States for Growth of the Chinese Born, 2000 to 2006

  2000 2006 Change 2000 to 2006
Wyoming 355 1,132 219%
Nebraska 1,788 3,990 123%
Tennessee 4,616 9,933 115%
South Dakota 443 886 100%
Idaho 1,016 2,030 100%
Iowa 3,158 6,209 97%
Indiana 6,631 12,220 84%
Arkansas 1,769 3,233 83%
Maine 1,025 1,841 80%
Oregon 9,518 16,853 77%

Source: Data for 2000 from the 2000 census; data for 2006 from the American Community Survey 2006.


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Demographic and Socioeconomic Overview (does not include Hong Kong or Taiwan)

More than a quarter of all Chinese foreign born in the United States arrived in 2000 or later.
Of the 1,357,482 Chinese foreign born in the United States in 2006 (not including those from Hong Kong or Taiwan), 28.6 percent entered the country in 2000 or later, with 35.1 percent entering between 1990 and 1999, 21.1 percent between 1980 and 1989, 7.8 percent between 1970 and 1979, and the remaining 7.1 percent prior to 1970.

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Nearly two-thirds of Chinese immigrants in 2006 were adults of working age.
Of the Chinese immigrants residing in the United States in 2006, 8.7 percent were minors (under age 18), 61.0 percent were of working age (between ages 18 and 54), and 30.4 percent were seniors (age 55 or older).

Of the foreign-born population in the United States in 2006, 8.1 percent were minors, 69.9 percent were of working age, and 22.1 percent were seniors.

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Women accounted for the majority of the Chinese-born population living in the United States in 2006.
Of all Chinese immigrants residing in the country in 2006, 54.3 percent were women and 45.7 percent were men.

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Over half of Chinese immigrants were naturalized U.S. citizens in 2006.
Among the Chinese foreign born, 52.3 percent were naturalized U.S. citizens in 2006, compared to 42.1 percent among the overall foreign-born population.

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Nearly two-thirds of Chinese immigrants in 2006 were limited English proficient.
About 6.6 percent of the 1.3 million Chinese immigrants age 5 and older reported speaking "English only" while 27.5 percent reported speaking English "very well." In contrast, 65.9 percent reported speaking English less than "very well," which is higher than the 52.4 percent reported among all foreign born age 5 and older.

(Note: The term limited English proficient refers to any person age 5 and older who reported speaking English "not at all," "not well," or "well" on their survey questionnaire. Individuals who reported speaking only English or speaking English "very well" are considered proficient in English).

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Two in five Chinese foreign-born adults had a bachelor's or higher degree.
In 2006, 43.7 percent of the 1.2 million Chinese-born adults age 25 and older had a bachelor's or higher degree compared to 26.7 percent among the 30.9 million foreign-born adults.

On the other end of the education continuum, about 25.6 percent of Chinese immigrants had no high school diploma or the equivalent general education diploma (GED), compared to 32.0 percent among all foreign-born adults.

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Chinese immigrant men were less likely to participate in the civilian labor force than foreign-born men overall.
Of Chinese-born men age 16 and older, 69.1 percent were in the civilian labor force compared to 79.3 percent of all foreign-born men age 16 and older. However, Chinese-born women age 16 and older were just slightly less likely to be in the civilian labor force (55.0 percent) than foreign-born women overall (55.1 percent).

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Nearly one-quarter of Chinese-born men were employed in management, business, finance, and information technology occupations.
Among the 393,000 Chinese-born male workers age 16 and older employed in the civilian labor force, 14.2 percent reported working in management, business, and finance occupations, and 10.9 percent reported working in information technology. These occupational rates are higher than those for the foreign born overall (see Table 3).

Both Chinese foreign-born men and women were significantly less likely to be employed as construction, extraction, and transportation workers than foreign-born men and women overall, but they were more likely to be working in science and engineering occupations.

 

Table 3. Occupations of Employed Workers in the Civilian Labor Force Age 16 and Older by Gender and Origin, 2006

  Chinese foreign-born All foreign-born
  Male Female Male Female
         
Persons age 16 and older employed in the civilian labor force 393,223 343,739 13,285,912 8,921,521
         
Total percent 100 100 100 100
    Management, business, finance 14.2 15.4 10.2 9.8
    Information technology 10.9 7.7 3.9 1.9
    Other sciences and engineering 14 9.6 4.1 2.3
    Social services and legal 0.5 0.8 1 1.9
    Education/training and media/entertainment 8.6 9.2 3.3 6.9
    Physicians 1.9 1.4 1.3 1
    Registered nurses 0.1 1.4 0.3 3.3
    Other health-care practitioners 0.9 1.6 0.9 3
    Health-care support 0.3 2.8 0.6 5.2
    Services 19.7 19.5 16.9 25
    Sales 7.8 9.5 7.8 10.9
    Administrative support 5.5 11.4 5.5 15.1
    Farming, fishing, and forestry 0.1 0.1 2.5 1.1
    Construction, extraction, and transportation 7.4 1.3 26.8 3.4
    Manufacturing, installation, and repair 8.1 8.3 15 9.4

Source: 2006 American Community Survey.


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Legal and Unauthorized Chinese Immigrant Population (does not include Hong Kong or Taiwan)

The Chinese foreign born accounted for about 4 percent of all lawful permanent residents living in the United States in 2006.
According to data from the Office of Immigration Statistics (OIS), the Chinese foreign born accounted for 3.8 percent (460,000) of the 12.1 million lawful permanent residents (LPRs, also known as green-card holders) living in the United States in 2006. They are the fourth-largest LPR group after the Mexican born (27.3 percent or 3.3 milllion), Filipino born (4.5 percent or 540,000), and Indian born (4.2 percent or 510,000).

In 2007, 76,655 Chinese born were granted LPR status. They made up 7.3 percent of the 1.1 million foreign born who became LPRs in 2007.

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Over half of Chinese-born lawful permanent residents in 2007 were family-sponsored immigrants.
Of the 76,655 Chinese born granted LPR status in 2007, 35.4 percent (27,115) were immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, 19.9 percent (15,261) were other family-sponsored immigrants, 18.1 percent (13,866) were employment-sponsored immigrants, and 26.7 percent (20,393) were other categories of LPRs.

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Chinese-born lawful permanent residents accounted for 2.5 percent of all those eligible to naturalize as of 2006.
Chinese-born LPRs are the eighth-largest group of permanent residents eligible to naturalize. According to OIS estimates, of the 8.3 million LPRs eligible to apply for citizenship as of 2006, 210,000 (2.5 percent) were born in China.

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The Chinese born were the third-largest group of student and exchange visitors admitted to the United States in 2006.
In 2006, the United States admitted 70,503 students and exchange visitors and their families from China and Hong Kong on temporary visas, or 6.0 percent of the total. They are the third-largest student and exchange visitor group after the South Korean born (11.6 percent or 135,265) and Japanese born (7.7 percent or 90,490).

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One in five asylees in 2006 was Chinese born.
Of the 26,113 people granted asylum in the United States in 2006, 5,568 (21.3 percent) were from China, making the Chinese born the largest group of asylees. The next-largest were the Haitian born (11.5 percent or 3,001) and the Colombian born (11.4 percent or 2,964). See the Spotlight on Refugees and Asylees for more details.

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In 2006, 2 percent of all unauthorized immigrants in the United States were from China.
OIS has estimated that 190,000, or 2 percent, of the approximately 11.6 million unauthorized migrants in 2006 were born in China.

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For information about ACS methodology, sampling error, and nonsampling error, click here.

Sources

Baker, Bryan. 2007. Trends in Naturalization Rates. December 2007. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics. Available online.

Hoefer, Michael, Nancy Rytina, and Christopher Campbell. 2007. Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: January 2006. August 2007. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics. Available online.

Jeffreys, Kelly. 2007. Refugees and Asylees 2006. May 2007. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics. Available online.

Rytina, Nancy. 2008. Estimates of the Legal Permanent Resident Population in 2006. February 2008. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics. Available online

U.S. Census Bureau. 2006 American Community Survey. Accessed from Steven Ruggles, Matthew Sobek, Trent Alexander, et al., Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 3.0. Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota Population Center, 2004.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics. 2007 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, Table 3: Persons Obtaining Legal Permanent Resident Status by Region and Country of Birth: Fiscal Years 1998 to 2007. Available online.