E.g., 08/31/2014
E.g., 08/31/2014

Korean Immigrants in the United States

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Korean Immigrants in the United States

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The number of Korean immigrants in the United States grew 27-fold between 1970 and 2007, from 38,711 to 1.0 million, making them the seventh largest immigrant group in the United States after Mexican, Filipino, Indian, Chinese, Salvadoran, and Vietnamese foreign born.

Almost all Koreans in the United States are from South Korea, and over half of all Korean immigrants reside in just four states: California, New York, New Jersey, and Virginia (for more information on immigrants by state, please see the 2006 ACS/Census Data tool on the MPI Data Hub).

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

Click on the bullet points below for more information:

Size and Distribution

Definitions
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.

 

Demographic and Socioeconomic Overview

Legal and Unauthorized Korean Immigrant Population

Size and Distribution

There were 1.0 million foreign born from Korea residing in the United States in 2007.
The 1960 census counted 11,171 Korean immigrants, a number that increased 93-fold to 1,042,580 Korean immigrants in 2007. The Korean born were the seventh-largest foreign-born group in the United States in 2007 after immigrants from Mexico, the Philippines, India, China, El Salvador, and Vietnam.

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Korean immigrants made up 2.7 percent of all immigrants in 2007.
In 1960, Korean immigrants composed 0.1 percent of all foreign born in the United States. That share increased to 2.1 percent in 1980 and to 2.9 percent in 1990. Korean immigrants’ share declined to 2.8 percent in 2000 and 2.7 percent in 2007 (see Table 1).

 

Total and Korean Foreign-Born Populations, 1960 to 2007

Year Foreign born
Korean born
Rank (a) Share of all foreign born Number
1960 9,738,091 44 0.1% 11,171
1970 9,619,302 37 0.4% 38,711
1980 14,079,906 10 2.1% 289,885
1990 19,797,316 8 2.9% 568,397
2000 31,107,889 7 2.8% 864,125
2007 38,059,555 7 2.7% 1,042,580

Notes: (a) Rank refers to the position of the Korean born compared 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; 2007 data from the American Community Survey 2007. Data for earlier decades from Campbell Gibson and Emily Lennon, "Historical Census Statistics on the Foreign-Born Population of the United States: 1850 to 1990" (U.S. Census Bureau Working Paper No. 29, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 1999). Available online.


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The majority of Korean immigrants are from South Korea.
The American Community Survey, which provides population data between decennial census years, does not distinguish between immigrants born in South Korea from immigrants born in North Korea.

During the 2000 census, however, respondents were given the option of listing their place of birth as "Korea," "South Korea," or "North Korea." About 82 percent of Korean immigrants in 2000 listed their birthplace as "Korea," 18 percent listed "South Korea," and less than 1 percent listed "North Korea."

Since 2000, the United States has admitted 37 North Koreans as refugees (as of December 31, 2007). In 2004, the United States passed the North Korean Human Rights Act, which affirms that North Koreans are eligible for refugee status or asylum in the United States.

Although it does not impose any quota on the number of refugees or asylees admitted from North Korea, the United States remains cautious about resettling a large number of North Korean refugees fearing espionage or other sensitive activities.

Since 2000, the United States has also admitted about 257 North Koreans on temporary visas, the majority of which were tourists and business travelers; the number also includes about 23 students and exchange visitors.

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Over half of all Korean immigrants resided in California, New York, New Jersey, and Virginia.
In 2007, California had the largest number of Korean immigrants (322,628, or 30.9 percent), followed by New York (95,265, or 9.1 percent), New Jersey (73,033, or 7.0 percent), and Virginia (51,685, or 5.0 percent).

Together, these four states accounted for 52.7 percent (542,611) of all Korean-born immigrants.

Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA was the metropolitan area with the largest number of Korean born (217,874, or 20.9 percent), followed by New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA (145,427, or 13.9 percent); Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV (59,377, or 5.7 percent); Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, IL-IN-WI (40,578, or 3.9 percent); Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA (37,211, or 3.6 percent); and Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA (29,498, or 2.8 percent). These six metropolitan areas accounted for over half (50.8 percent) of the 1.0 million Korean immigrants in 2007.

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Demographic and Socioeconomic Overview

About one of every four Korean foreign born in the United States arrived in 2000 or later.
As of 2007, 26.8 percent of the 1.0 million Korean foreign born entered the country in 2000 or later, with 23.5 percent entering between 1990 and 1999, 26.0 percent between 1980 and 1989, 19.5 percent between 1970 and 1979, and the remaining 4.2 percent prior to 1970.

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Over two-thirds of Korean immigrants in 2007 were adults of working age.
Of the Korean immigrants residing in the United States in 2007, 10.2 percent were minors (under age 18), 67.2 percent were of working age (between 18 and 54), and 22.6 percent were seniors (age 55 or older).

Of the foreign-born population in the United States in 2007, 7.8 percent were minors, 69.6 percent were of working age, and 22.6 percent were seniors.

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Korean immigrant women outnumbered men in 2007.
Of all Korean immigrants residing in the country in 2007, 56.8 percent were women and 43.2 percent were men.

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The majority of Korean immigrants were naturalized U.S. citizens in 2007.
Among the Korean foreign born, 54.4 percent were naturalized U.S. citizens in 2007, compared to 42.6 percent among the overall foreign-born population.

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Fifty-seven percent of Korean immigrants in 2007 were limited English proficient.
About 16.4 percent of the 1.0 million Korean immigrants age 5 and older reported speaking "English only" while 26.6 percent reported speaking English "very well." In contrast, 57.0 percent reported speaking English less than "very well," slightly 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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More than half of Korean foreign-born adults had a bachelor’s or higher degree.
In 2007, 51.3 percent of the 850,000 Korean-born adults age 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to 27.0 percent among the 31.6 million foreign-born adults.

On the other end of the education continuum, about 9.5 percent of Korean immigrants had no high school diploma or the equivalent general education diploma (GED), compared to 31.9 percent among all foreign-born adults. About 20.7 percent of Korean-born adults had a high school diploma or GED compared to 24.0 percent among all foreign-born adults.

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Korean immigrant men and women were less likely to participate in the civilian labor force than foreign-born men and women overall.
In 2007, Korean-born men age 16 and older were more likely to be in the civilian labor force (69.7 percent) than Korean-born women (49.0 percent). However, both Korean-born men and women were less likely to be in the civilian labor force than all foreign-born men (79.0 percent) and women (54.8 percent).

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About 40 percent of employed Korean-born men worked in management, business, finance, and sales.
Among the 273,316 Korean-born male workers age 16 and older employed in the civilian labor force, 20.6 percent reported working in management, business, and finance, 19.6 percent reported working in sales, and 9.6 percent reported working in service occupations.

Compared to other immigrants, Korean-born male workers age 16 and older employed in the civilian labor force were also more likely to report working in information technology; other sciences and engineering; social services and legal; and education, training, media, and entertainment occupations (see Table 2).

Both Korean 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.

 

Table 2. Occupations of Employed Workers in the Civilian Labor Force Age 16 and Older by Gender and Origin, 2007

  Korean foreign born All foreign born
  Male Female Male Female
Persons age 16 and older employed in the civilian labor force 273,316 258,919 13,476,859 9,081,914
Total percent 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Management, business, finance 20.6 14.4 10.2 10.2
Information technology 4.3 1.5 3.8 1.9
Other sciences and engineering 6.6 2.2 3.9 2.1
Social services and legal 4.3 2.0 1.1 2.0
Education/training and media/entertainment 7.3 9.4 3.3 7.0
Physicians 2.7 1.3 1.2 1.0
Registered nurses 0.2 3.9 0.3 3.4
Other health-care practitioners 1.4 2.3 1.0 3.0
Health-care support 0.3 2.0 0.6 5.2
Services 9.6 17.3 17.2 25.7
Sales 19.6 21.3 7.8 10.6
Administrative support 5.5 12.8 5.3 14.8
Farming, fishing, and forestry 0.0 0.0 2.5 1.1
Construction, extraction, and transportation 8.6 1.6 26.9 3.2
Manufacturing, installation, and repair 8.9 8.0 14.8 8.9

Source: 2007 American Community Survey.


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Legal and Unauthorized Korean Immigrant Population

About 350,000 Koreans have gained lawful permanent residence in the United States since 1990.
Between 1990 and 2007, 350,181 Korean-born immigrants obtained lawful permanent residence (LPR) in the United States — about 2.0 percent of the 17.8 million immigrants who received LPR status over the same period. The Korean born accounted for 2.1 percent (or 22,405) of the 1.1 million immigrants who received lawful permanent residence in 2007.

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Over half of Korean-born lawful permanent residents in 2007 were employment-based immigrants.
Of the 22,405 Korean born granted LPR status in 2007, 50.5 percent (11,308) were employment-based immigrants, 39.5 percent (8,848) were immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, and 9.9 percent (2,222) were family-sponsored immigrants.

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Korean-born lawful permanent residents made up 2.2 percent of all those eligible to naturalize as of 2006.
Korean-born LPRs are the 11th-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, 180,000 (2.2 percent) were born in Korea.

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In 2007, 2 percent of all unauthorized immigrants in the United States were from Korea.
The Office of Immigration Statistics has estimated that 230,000, or 2 percent, of the approximately 11.8 million unauthorized migrants in January 2007 were born in Korea.

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The number of unauthorized immigrants from Korea increased 31 percent between 2000 and 2007.
The estimated number of unauthorized immigrants from Korea has increased 31 percent since 2000, rising from 180,000 to 230,000.

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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 Bryan C. Baker. 2008. Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: January 2007. September 2008. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics. Available online.

Jefferys, Kelly J. and Daniel C. Martin. 2008. Refugees and Asylees: 2007. July 2008. 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.