Unlike most of the foreign born from Asia, those from Vietnam came to the United States mainly as refugees and asylum seekers from the mid-1970s onward. Today, the United States is home to about 1.1 million Vietnamese immigrants, making them the fifth-largest immigrant group in the United States after Mexican, Filipino, Indian, and Chinese immigrants.
The Vietnamese immigrant population grew faster than other immigrant groups during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, but the population has since grown much slower than the overall immigrant population in the United States.
Over half of Vietnamese immigrants reside in California and Texas (for more information on immigrants by state, please see the ACS/Census Data tool on the MPI Data Hub), and nearly one-fifth reside in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Compared to the foreign born overall, the Vietnamese foreign born were less likely to hold a bachelor's degree but had much higher naturalization and homeownership rates.
This spotlight focuses on Vietnamese 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 2008 American Community Survey (ACS) and 2000 Decennial Census, and the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Immigration Statistics (OIS) for 2008 and 2009.
Size and Distribution
Demographic and Socioeconomic Overview
Legal and Unauthorized Vietnamese Immigrant Population
Size and Distribution
There were about 1.1 million foreign born from Vietnam residing in the United States in 2008.
There were 1,138,039 foreign born from Vietnam residing in the United States in 2008, accounting for 3.0 percent of the country's 38.0 million immigrants.
The Vietnamese immigrant population in the United States grew rapidly during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, but the population grew much more slowly during the first decade of the 21st century and declined as a share of the total immigrant population from 3.2 percent in 2000 to 3.0 in 2008.
In 2008, the Vietnamese born were the fifth largest immigrant group in the United States after immigrants from Mexico, the Philippines, India, and China (see Table 1; see also the pie charts showing the top 10 countries of birth of immigrants residing in the United States over time here).
Half of all Vietnamese born resided in California and Texas.
California had the largest number of Vietnamese immigrants (469,341, or 41.2 percent of the Vietnamese-born population) in 2008, followed by Texas (142,522, or 12.5 percent), Florida (48,866, or 4.3 percent), Washington (44,136, or 3.9 percent), and Virginia (40,804, or 3.6 percent).
Vietnamese immigrants were a sizeable share of the immigrant populations in Louisiana (14.9 percent), Iowa (7.7 percent), and Oklahoma (6.6 percent).
Between 2000 and 2008, the size of the Vietnamese immigrant population grew modestly in 34 states and declined in 16 states and the District of Columbia.
California experienced the largest absolute increase in the Vietnamese immigrant population between 2000 and 2008 (from 418,249 to 469,341), followed by Texas (from 107,027 to 142,522), Florida (from 28,790 to 48,866), and Virginia (from 30,730 to 40,804). By contrast, the population declined in 16 states and the District of Columbia with Pennsylvania (from 26,656 to 24,010) and Kansas (from 9,105 to 7,315) experiencing the largest absolute declines.
One in five Vietnamese immigrants resided in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.
The Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA, metropolitan area had the largest number of Vietnamese born in 2008 (220,261, or 19.4 percent), followed by San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA (92,896, or 8.2 percent); Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX (63,853, or 5.6 percent); and San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA (62,420, or 5.5 percent).
The Vietnamese foreign born made up over 10 percent of the immigrant population in three metropolitan areas.
In 2008, the Vietnamese born accounted for 17.7 percent of all immigrants in the New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner, LA, metropolitan area, 14.0 percent of all immigrants in the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA, metropolitan area, and 11.0 percent of all immigrants in the Oklahoma City, OK, metropolitan area.
There were 1.4 million members of the Vietnamese diaspora residing in the United States in 2008.
Of the 1.4 million members of the Vietnamese diaspora residing in the United States in 2008, two-thirds (65.2 percent) were born in Vietnam (excluding individuals born in Vietnam to at least one U.S.-born parent who were native-born U.S. citizens at birth) and about one-third (33.1 percent) were U.S. citizens at birth. A small number of individuals with Vietnamese ancestry immigrated to the United States from other countries, notably the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia.
Note: There is no universally recognized definition of the term diaspora. Most often, the term includes individuals who self-identify as having ancestral ties to a specific country of origin. To calculate the size of the Indian diaspora in the United States, we included all individuals who selected "Vietnam" (either alone or in combination with another option) in response to the two ACS questions on ancestry.
Demographic and Socioeconomic Overview
Over one-third of Vietnamese foreign born in the United States arrived in the 1990s.
As of 2008, 17.1 percent of the 1.1 million Vietnam foreign born entered the country in 2000 or later, with 35.8 percent entering between 1990 and 1999, 28.2 percent between 1980 and 1989, 17.8 percent between 1970 and 1979, and the remaining 1.1 percent prior to 1970.
By contrast, 29.5 percent of the 38.0 million total foreign born entered the country in 2000 or later with 28.7 percent entering between 1990 and 1999, 20.0 percent entering between 1980 and 1989, 11.4 percent between 1970 and 1979, and the remaining 10.4 percent prior to 1970.
Seven in 10 Vietnamese immigrants in 2008 were adults of working age.
Of the Vietnamese immigrants residing in the United States in 2008, 4.0 percent were minors (under age 18), 70.3 percent were adults of working age (between 18 and 54), and 25.7 percent were seniors (age 55 and older).
Of the total foreign-born population in the United States in 2008, 7.4 percent were minors, 69.0 percent were of working age, and 23.6 percent were seniors.
Vietnamese immigrant women outnumbered men in 2008.
Over half of Vietnamese immigrants residing in the United States in 2008 were women (51.7 percent) and 48.3 percent were men. Among all immigrants, 50.2 percent were men and 49.8 percent were women.
Three-quarters of Vietnamese immigrants were naturalized U.S. citizens in 2008.
Among the Vietnamese foreign born, 74.9 percent were naturalized U.S. citizens compared to 43.0 percent among the overall foreign-born population.
Two-thirds of Vietnamese immigrants in 2008 were limited English proficient.
About 6.3 percent of Vietnamese immigrants age 5 and older reported speaking "English only" while 26.3 percent reported speaking English "very well."
By contrast, 67.4 percent reported speaking English less than "very well" (making them limited English proficient) — substantially above the 52.1 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).
Adult Vietnamese immigrants were less likely to hold a bachelor's degree than the total adult immigrant and native-born populations.
In terms of academic achievement, Vietnamese immigrants were less educated than the overall foreign-born and native-born populations. In 2008, 23.7 percent of Vietnam-born adults age 25 and older had a bachelor's degree or higher compared to 27.1 percent among all 31.9 million foreign-born adults and 27.8 percent of all 168.1 million native-born adults. An additional 22.3 percent had some college education or an associate's degree compared to 16.4 percent among all immigrant adults and 30.8 percent of all native-born adults.
On the other end of the education continuum, 32.6 percent of Vietnam-born adults had no high school diploma or the equivalent general education diploma (GED), the same as among all foreign-born adults (32.6 percent) and higher than native-born adults (11.7 percent). About 21.4 percent of Vietnamese immigrant adults had a high school diploma or GED compared to 21.9 percent among all foreign-born adults and 29.8 percent among native-born adults.
Vietnamese immigrant women, were more likely to participate in the civilian labor force than foreign-born women overall.
In 2008, Vietnam-born women (65.1 percent) were more likely to participate in the labor force than immigrant women overall (57.1 percent). However, their male counterparts were less likely to participate in the civilian labor force (78.1 percent) than foreign-born men (80.5 percent).
Over one-quarter of employed Vietnamese immigrant men worked in manufacturing, installation, and repair occupations.
Among the 416,000 Vietnamese immigrant male workers age 16 and older employed in the civilian labor force in 2008, 27.8 percent reported working in manufacturing, installation, and repair occupations, and 19.0 percent in services (see Table 2).
More than one-third of employed Vietnamese immigrant women worked in services.
Among the 372,000 Vietnam-born female workers age 16 and older employed in the civilian labor force in 2008, 34.8 percent reported working in services; 15.9 percent in manufacturing, installation, and repair occupations; and 12.1 percent in administrative support (see Table 2).
Three in 10 Vietnamese immigrants lived in poverty in 2008, lower than among the foreign born overall.
About 31.3 percent of Vietnamese immigrants lived in poverty in 2008 compared to 37.9 percent of all immigrants and 28.7 percent of the native born.
Note: Poverty is defined as individuals residing in families with total annual income of less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line. Whether an individual falls below the official "poverty line" depends not only on total family income, but also on the size of the family, the number of children, and the age of the householder. The ACS reports total income over the 12 months preceding the interview date.
Vietnamese immigrants were much more likely than immigrants overall to own their own home.
In 2008, 69.5 percent of Vietnamese immigrants age 18 and older owned the home they lived in compared to 56.5 percent among all immigrants in that age group. However, the homeownership rate among native-born U.S. citizens was higher (72.6 percent). Vietnamese immigrants age 18 and older (54.2 percent) were more likely than all immigrants (44.3 percent) and natives (50.8 percent) to reside in a household with a mortgage or home loan.
More than one in five Vietnamese immigrants did not have health insurance.
Among Vietnamese immigrants, 21.4 percent did not have health insurance in 2008 — lower than among all immigrants (32.9 percent) but higher than among the native born (12.9 percent).
About 386,000 children under age 18 resided in a household with a Vietnamese immigrant parent.
In 2008, about 386,000 children under age 18 resided in a household with an immigrant parent born in Vietnam. Most of these children (88.7 percent) were native-born U.S. citizens.
About 16.3 million children under age 18 resided in households with an immigrant parent in 2008, of whom 85.6 percent were native-born U.S. citizens.
Note: Includes only children who reside with at least one parent and households where either the household head or spouse is an immigrant from Vietnam and accordingly does not include Vietnamese children adopted by U.S.-born parents.
Legal and Unauthorized Vietnamese Immigrant Population
There were about 330,000 Vietnamese-born lawful permanent residents in 2008.
The 330,000 Vietnamese-born lawful permanent residents (LPRs) in the United States in 2008 made up 2.6 percent of all LPRs (12.6 million). Vietnam was among 10 leading countries of origin of the LPR population in 2008 on par with Canada (330,000 or 2.6 percent), El Salvador (340,000 or 2.7 percent), and Cuba (350,000 or 2.8 percent).
More than 302,000 Vietnamese foreign born gained lawful permanent residence in the United States between 2000 and 2009.
Between 2000 and 2009, about 10.3 million immigrants obtained green cards, including 302,043 Vietnamese born. The Vietnamese born accounted for 2.6 percent (or 29,234) of the 1.1 million immigrants who received lawful permanent residence in 2009.
The number of Vietnamese immigrants receiving LPR status in 2009 was lower than in 2008 (31,497) but higher than in 2007 (28,691).
Almost 90 percent of all Vietnamese immigrants receiving lawful permanent residence in 2009 were admitted as family-based immigrants.
In 2009, 88.2 percent of Vietnamese immigrants receiving lawful permanent residence were admitted as family-based immigrants — principally as the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens (13,038 or 44.6 percent) and as family-sponsored immigrants (12,748 or 43.6 percent). About 8.7 percent or 2,535 Vietnamese obtained LPR status as asylees or refugees. There were virtually no Vietnamese immigrants who received LPR status based on work.
For comparison, among the 1.1 million immigrants overall who became LPRs in 2009, 47.4 percent (535,554) came as U.S. citizens' immediate family, 18.7 percent (211,859) as family-sponsored immigrants, and another 12.7 percent (144,034) as employment-based immigrants. About 15.7 percent (177,368) of new LPRs were refugees and asylees who were admitted in prior years and adjusted their status to LPR in 2009.
In 2009, about 2 percent of the total number of refugees admitted to the United States were from Vietnam.
Of the 74,602 refugees admitted to the United States in 2009, 1,486 were from Vietnam. In absolute terms, the number of refugees from Vietnam in 2009 was nearly the same as in 2007 (1,500), while the share of the total number of refugees admitted to the United States from Vietnam has dropped from 3.1 percent in 2007 to 2.0 percent in 2009. About 45 Vietnamese were granted asylum in the United States in 2009.
As of 2008, 200,000 Vietnamese-born lawful permanent residents were eligible to naturalize.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service's Office of Immigration Statistics (OIS) estimates the Vietnamese born accounted for 2.5 percent of the 8.2 million LPRs eligible to naturalize in 2008.
Those 200,000 Vietnamese-born LPRs who were eligible to naturalize in 2008 made up 60.6 percent of all Vietnamese-born LPRs. Roughly 40,000 Vietnamese-born LPRs naturalized in 2008.
For information about ACS methodology, sampling error, and nonsampling error, click here.
Hoefer, Michael, Nancy Rytina, and Bryan Baker. 2010. Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: January 2009. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics. Available online.
Monger, Randall and Nancy Rytina. 2009. U.S. Legal Permanent Residents : 2008. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics. Available online.
Ruggles, Steven, Trent Alexander, Katie Genadek, Ronald Goeken, Matthew B. Schroeder, and Matthew Sobek. 2010. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 5.0 [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota. Available online.
Rytina, Nancy. 2009. Estimates of the Legal Permanent Resident Population in 2008. October 2009. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics. Available online.
U.S. Census Bureau. 2008 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. 2008. Yearbook of Immigration Statistics. Various tables. Available online.