Viet Nam ranks 5th in two US-related categories: the number of its young people studying there as of last June and the number of its citizens who emigrated there in Fiscal Year 2017, which ended on 30 September 2017. (Viet Nam is a “top ten” country in other categories, including EB-5 cases and US real estate purchases in 2016/17.)
Below is a list of the top 10 countries for US-bound immigration (PDF download).
- Mexico: 84,045
- Dominican Republic: 48,254
- China: 35,350
- Philippines: 30,410
- Viet Nam: 28,719
- India: 27,303
- Haiti: 16,694
- Jamaica: 13,695
- Bangladesh: 12,331
- Pakistan: 12,143
The breakdown for Viet Nam is as follows, along with an official definition of each category:
Immediate relatives: 9,974 (Certain immigrants who because of their close relationship to U.S. citizens are exempt from the numerical limitations imposed on immigration to the United States. Immediate relatives are: spouses of citizens, children (under 21 years of age and unmarried) of citizens, and parents of citizens 21 years of age or older.)
Special Immigrants: 53 A special immigrant is a person who qualifies for a green card (permanent residence) under the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) special immigrant program. In order to apply for immigration documents under this status, an individual must fill out a petition documenting his or her circumstances and submit the petition to USCIS.
Family Preference: 17,991 U.S. immigration law allows certain foreign nationals who are family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents to become lawful permanent residents (get a Green Card) based on specific family relationships.
Employment Preference: 665 Approximately 140,000 immigrant visas are available each fiscal year for aliens (and their spouses and children) who seek to immigrate based on their job skills. If you have the right combination of skills, education, and/or work experience and are otherwise eligible, you may be able to live permanently in the United States. There are five employment-based immigrant visa preferences, including the popular EB-5 immigrant investor program in which Viet Nam ranks a distant second to China.
Diversity Immigrants: 0 The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (DV Program) makes up to 50,000 immigrant visas available annually, drawn from random selection among all entries to individuals who are from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. The number is 0 because Viet Nam has a high rate of emigration to the US.
Finally, 36 visas were issued under the Vietnam Amerasian category. Immigrant visas are issued to Amerasians under Public Law 100-202 (Act of 12/22/87), which provides for the admission of aliens born in Vietnam after January 1, 1962, and before January 1, 1976, if the alien was fathered by a U.S. citizen. Spouses, children, and parents or guardians may accompany the alien. Of the estimated 50,000 Amerasian children born during the war, 21,000 of them and more than 55,000 family members were permitted to emigrate to the US under the Amerasian Homecoming Act of 1987. Only about 3% of Ameriasians in the US have found their fathers. The rest are in Viet Nam, many in HCMC. (Here’s a related story from 2015 and a more recent one about a father-daughter reunion.)
The dynamics of push and pull are obvious here, given the fact that people from these countries represent large ethnic minority populations in the US. For example, Mexican-Americans comprise 11.2% of the population.
Vietnamese immigrants are 5.1% of the worldwide total (559,536) with nearly as many Vietnamese moving to the US as immigrants from all of South America (30,242). Vietnamese-Americans are the fourth-largest Asian American group after Chinese-, Indian-, and Filipino-Americans. The US Census Bureau estimates the total population of Vietnamese-Americans (Việt kiều) to be just over 2 million, which is about 44% of the world’s overseas Vietnamese.
Where Do They Live?
California and Texas have the highest concentrations of Vietnamese-Americans with 40% and 12%, respectively. Those states are also #1 and #2 in student enrollment with 6,171 in CA and 5,221 in TX, as of May 2017, according to the SEVIS by the Numbers quarterly update, for a two-state total of 11,392. This means that two states out of 50 and Puerto Rico, which had one (1) student from Viet Nam, hosted 38% of all Vietnamese students, at the end of the 2016/17 academic year.
Another interesting observation is that the percentage of young Vietnamese studying in CA was significantly lower than the percentage of Vietnamese-Americans living in that state (20.38%), while in Texas it was slightly higher (17.24%).
Other states with sizable concentrations of Vietnamese-Americans are Washington (4%), Florida (4%), and Virginia (3%). It’s probably not a coincidence that these are among the top 10 host states for Vietnamese students. There are also significant numbers of Vietnamese-Americans in Atlanta and New York, among other cities.
Vietnamese in the U.S. Fact Sheet
In its series on social and demographic trends in the US, the Pew Research Center has produced fact sheets on Asians in the US, including Vietnamese-Americans. It includes fairly up-to-date information about population, English proficiency, length of time in country, educational attainment, poverty rate, demographics, and social class. For example, you can see how Vietnamese-Americans fare when compared with all Asians in the US in median annual household income, as well as the same income for US born vs. foreign born. (The overall US median household income was $56,516 that year.)
What Does It All Mean?
There are estimated 96 million Vietnamese, which means that the emigration of 28,719 of them to the US, most from southern Viet Nam, is a drop in the statistical bucket. In case you’re wondering, that’s .03% of the population.
Why do they go? There are several reasons, most related to the pull factor. The most obvious one is that so many Vietnamese in parts of the country that were in the former Republic of Viet Nam have so many relatives in the US. Others, some of which overlap, are the often mistaken belief that the grass is greener, marriage (arranged or based on love), and employment-based cases.
In the meantime, growing numbers of overseas Vietnamese are relocating to Viet Nam, most likely in the thousands not tens of thousands, some to join a dynamic and promising startup scene, others to do non-profit work and still others simply to retire in their homeland. The Vietnamese government has taken a number of steps to make them feel more welcome, including dual citizenship and the right to buy property. (Many of those who have no intention of returning home are sending billions of dollars home in the form of remittances. Viet Nam ranks 9th in that particular category with about 50% of those transfers coming from the US.)
Taking Advantage of a Golden Opportunity: They Did It for the Children
I know of one couple who emigrated to the US through the Orderly Departure Program (ODP) created in 1979 under the auspices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as a way of allowing the immigration of Vietnamese affiliated with the Republic of Viet Nam government or military. In this case, the man was a low-ranking soldier in the RVN army, like so many, and a farmer by trade.
Why did they take advantage of the opportunity to emigrate? Not because they were persecuted or discriminated against but as a way to give their children a better education and future. Mission accomplished. What are their future plans? To return to Viet Nam for retirement because they really don’t like living in the US and they want to die and be buried in their hometown (quê hương). Their children will likely remain.
BONUS: There is Some Truth to This Particular Stereotype
It’s well-known that overseas Vietnamese and nail salons go hand in hand. I’ve heard it used by consular officers as a reason why some student applicants are denied. As the story goes, they say (“used to say” might be more accurate, since times have changed) that they plan to live with an aunt in San Jose and study at a local community college or university. Said aunt just happens to own a nail salon that her niece will probably end up working in, illegally, of course. It is a family business, after all.
In fact, according to the Wikipedia entry on Vietnamese-Americans and based on a reliable source,
Nail-salon work is skilled manual labor which requires limited English-speaking ability. Some Vietnamese Americans see the work as a way to accumulate wealth quickly, and many send remittances to family members in Vietnam. Vietnamese entrepreneurs from Britain and Canada have adopted the U.S. model and opened nail salons in the United Kingdom, where few had existed.
This trend occurs in Europe for the same reasons. Like the restaurant and other service sector businesses, labor costs are low and profit is high.