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Although a significant number of Koreans settled in Hawaii at the beginning of the 1900s and more came to the U.S. in the years following the Korean War, the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act marked the beginning of the most significant wave of Korean immigrants to the U.S.. In the 1970s and 1980s, Koreans were the third largest immigrant group following Mexicans and Filipinos, with their peak immigration years in the late 1980s.
Korean foreign-born population, for the United States: 1990 and 2000
Today, Koreans represent the seventh-largest group of foreign born in the United States. This Spotlight examines the size, growth, and geographic distribution of the foreign born from Korea since 1990, using data from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Census Bureau.
Both DHS and the Census Bureau do not differentiate between immigration from North Korea and South Korea in their collection of data, and the U.S. Department of State notes that the North Korean government strictly controls movement within and outside of the country. The foreign born from Korea in the U.S. are almost exclusively from South Korea.
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The foreign born from Korea represent the seventh-largest immigrant group in the United States. Census results show the foreign born from Korea (864,125) made up the seventh-largest immigrant group in 2000, following the foreign born from Mexico (9.2 million), the Philippines (1.4 million), India (1.0 million), China (excluding Hong Kong and Taiwan) (988,857), Vietnam (988,174), and Cuba (872,716).
Immigrants from Korea account for 0.3 percent of the total U.S. population and over two percent of the total foreign born population. Census 2000 numbers show that immigrants from Korea made up 0.3 percent of the total U.S. population and 2.8 percent of the roughly 31.1 million foreign born in the United States.
Between 1990 and 2000, the number of foreign born from Korea in the United States increased by 52 percent. The foreign-born population from Korea increased from 568,397 in 1990 to 864,125 in 2000, or by 295,728 people, according to the results of Census 1990 and Census 2000. This represents an increase of 52 percent.
The states with the largest number of immigrants from Korea are California and New York. Census 2000 lists California as having the largest number of foreign born from Korea (268,452), followed by New York (97,933). Six other states with foreign born from Korea numbering over 30,000 were New Jersey (51,970), Illinois (40,681), Washington (38,172), Virginia (37,036), Texas (35,986), and Maryland (31,249). In Hawaii, the 17,202 Korean foreign born constituted 1.4 percent of the state’s population. Hawaii was the only state where the Korean foreign born population surpassed one percent of the state’s total population.
Of the approximately 864,000 foreign born from Korea in the U.S., over 40 percent live in two states. Of the total foreign born from Korea in 2000, California had, by far, the largest share (31 percent), followed by New York (11 percent), according to the Census Bureau.
California and New York had the largest numerical increases in their Korean foreign born populations between 1990 and 2000, while Montana and Minnesota saw their Korean populations more than or almost triple in size. Census Bureau data shows California’s Korean foreign born population increased 68,258 from 200,194 to 268,452 (or 34 percent) between 1990 and 2000, while New York’s increased 25,958 from 71,975 to 97,933 (36 percent). Montana’s Korean foreign born population, though still numerically small, more than tripled in size (232 percent, or from 232 to 770) between 1990 and 2000. Minnesota’s Korean immigrant population grew 194 percent, or from 4,025 to 11,853.
Of the approximately 706,000 people who received permanent residence status in 2003, less than two percent were from Korea. For fiscal year 2003, 705,827 foreign born received permanent resident status, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) 2003 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics. Of these, 12,512 were foreign born from Korea, representing 1.8 percent of all those who received permanent resident status.
In 2003, Korean citizens made up the second-largest group of foreign students in the United States. The DHS 2003 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics shows that of the 624,917 people who came to the United States as foreign students in 2003, 74,115 (nearly 12 percent) were Korean nationals, second only behind Japanese nationals (81,558).
The Korean foreign born made up the sixth-largest immigrant group to obtain citizenship in 2003. DHS statistics list Korea as the sixth largest country of birth for persons naturalizing in 2003, accounting for 15,968 (or 3.4 percent) of 463,204 new U.S. citizens. The top five origin countries of new citizens are Mexico (56,093), India (29,790), the Philippines (29,081), Vietnam (25,995), and the People’s Republic of China (24,014). According to the Census 2000 One Percent Public Use Micro-Sample (PUMS) Data, 52.2 percent of the Korean foreign-born in the country have become U.S. citizens. In comparison, 40.3 percent of the total foreign born from all countries have been naturalized. Since records have been kept, Koreans have naturalized at higher rates than the total foreign born population.