Motivations for Studying Abroad and Immigration Intentions: The Case of Vietnamese Students


Here’s a perfect example of serendipity.  I noticed that someone had visited my blog from this referrer:  Motivations for Studying Abroad and Immigration Intentions
The Case of Vietnamese Students, Journal of International Students.  Why?  Because the author cited this 2018 blog post:  Viet Nam Ranks 5th in International Enrollment in 3 Countries.  

It was written by Tran Le Huu Nghia is a research fellow at Informetrics Research Group and Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Ton Duc Thang University, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. His research interests include graduate employability, teaching and learning in higher education, international education, teacher education and TESOL. 

Below is the abstract:

This article reports a study that investigated prospective and current Vietnamese international students’ motivations to study abroad and their immigration intentions. Analyses of 55 intercept interviews and 313 responses to a survey revealed 12 push and pull factors that motivated students to pursue overseas studies and 18 sociocultural, economic, and political factors that influenced their immigration intentions. Independent samples t tests indicated that there were statistically significant differences in the influence of motivations on decisions to study overseas between groups of male and female students and prospective and current students. The analyses, furthermore, suggested that students’ immigration intentions depended on their personal attachment to the home country and (perceived) adaptability to the host country.

I highly recommend this short (16 pp.) article, if you’re interested in learning more about why young Vietnamese study overseas, including key push and pull factors. 

To further whet your appetite to read the entire article, here is part of the conclusion:  

In short, despite its limitations, this exploratory study found that international students were motivated by several factors to pursue international education overseas. The study also indicated that not all of the students were immigration hunters; many were willing to return their home for socioeconomic, cultural, and political reasons. Therefore, the fear that international students arrive in a host country to seek immigration opportunities is biased, especially when the host country has the power to adjust its policies regarding international students (e.g., Spinks, 2016).

I’ve had considerable first-hand experience over the past 14 years in Viet Nam with the fact that many Vietnamese students who study overseas at not “immigration hunters” and are returning home for “socioeconomic, cultural, and political reasons.”  The reasons are simple:  1) there’s much more to come back to in a growing number of fields; and 2) conditions in some of main host countries are not as favorable as in the past, to say the least.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

“International Students Contribute to Our Economy & American Innovation”

This image, created by NAFSA:  Association of International Educators, a “non-profit professional organization for professionals in all areas of international education including education abroad advising and administration,” was recently posted on Facebook by a US higher education colleague. 

All compelling points with which I agree 100%.  In fact, they could create another graphic that lists more reasons for hosting international students and encouraging a certain percentage to remain, if they so desire.   

Here’s the problem though:  while this information appeals to reasonable and rational US Americans who either already have somewhat of a global outlook, or at least “get it” when it comes to the economics of hosting large numbers of international students, it falls on blind eyes and deaf ears when it comes to people like President Trump and many (most?) of his supporters. America First, remember?  Their words and actions, rather than making the US better than it is for all people, are accelerating its decline.

Why? Nativism and nationalism – in that order.  If you’re not sure what these words mean, don’t worry you’re in good company.  Many people with a Ph.D. after their name don’t know either.  Just read the articles linked from one or both of the words. 



Viet Nam Ranks 5th in Emigration to the United States

travel stateViet 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).

  1. Mexico: 84,045
  2. Dominican Republic: 48,254
  3. China: 35,350
  4. Philippines: 30,410
  5. Viet Nam: 28,719
  6. India: 27,303
  7. Haiti: 16,694
  8. Jamaica: 13,695
  9. Bangladesh: 12,331
  10. 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: 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 categoryImmigrant 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.)

TOTAL:  28,719

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.)

economics vn-am

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.  


The F-1 as the (Immigration) Path of Least Resistance

us visaI’ve heard on the grapevine from reliable sources that increasing numbers of Vietnamese students from certain areas in Vietnam are not showing up for classes at certain US higher education institutions.  They apply (or someone applies for them), receive their I-20s, have a visa interview and A) are denied; or B) receive a visa, travel to the US and disappear into a (presumably) Vietnamese-American community in Orange Country, San Jose, or wherever.  Regarding option B, I wonder if this isn’t the tip of an emigration iceberg with far-reaching implications for recruitment and US visa policy.

Here’s how it works:  they hear “on the street”, i.e., from a friend, relative or an education agent, that it’s easy to get a student visa to institution X.  While some students skip town, which they’re permitted to do (i.e., the original admitting institution is obliged to transfer their SEVIS record), and transfer to Substandard Language School Z in LA or NYC, for example, others simply fly to the US, make like Houdini and disappear.  From the offending party’s point of view, this sure beats the hell out of filing an immigration petition and waiting for years for a “yes” or “no” decision from on high.

Methinks the powers that be need to devise an effective way to ensure that people who receive a student visa actually end up studying at an accredited educational institution.  Immigration shouldn’t be this easy.  The first step would be for the “Department of Homeland Security” to compare international student statistics with those who begin their studies at the admitting institution or immediately transfer to another educational institution.  The “no shows” comprise the balance.

Suggestions?  Next steps?  Is anyone listening?


Vietnam Ranks 7th in… U.S. Immigration

immigrationThis has become an annual update about Vietnamese emigration to the U.S.  As I mentioned in a May 2012 post entitled Vietnam is a “Top Ten” Country in Another Category, Vietnam ranked 8th among all countries sending young people to study in the U.S. and 7th in another (unlikely), according to US Department of Homeland Security FY 2011 statistics:  immigration.

I also noted that from 2002-2011 304,860 Vietnamese emigrated to the U.S. from 2002-2011, more than the population of Đà Lạt in the Central Highlands.)  Most are from the South and have relatives in the U.S., those who had some sort of connection with the former South Vietnam and who left Vietnam in several waves of emigration.

Fast forward to FY 2012.  According to the Department of Homeland Security Office of Immigration Statistics report entitled U.S. Legal Permanent Residents (PDF):  2012, just over 1 million people became legal permanent residents (LPRs), or “green card” recipients, last year.  Of those, 28,304, or 2.7%, were Vietnamese.

2012 Immigration Stats

As I pointed out in last year’s post, this is one reason why it is difficult to obtain a visa because many young people do in fact attempt to use the F-1 as a means of emigrating rather than filing an immigration petition, sitting back and waiting (very patiently) for the bureaucratic wheels to turn.  Other issues include students who may not know their parents had filed an immigrant petition on behalf of their family or who know and fail to mention it at the interview.  Both are likely to result in a denial.

Yet another issue is students who promise that they will return home, work in the family business and “contribute to the development of the country.”  While they mean it at the time of the visa interview and not just say it to jump through a legal hoop that consular officers try to enforce, “life happens.”  They become truly bilingual and bicultural, find a great job, fall in love, whatever.  Emigration is ultimately a personal decision.

One stark reality that the U.S. government has begun to recognize, including in statements made by President Obama, is that the country needs a certain percentage of international graduates to emigrate.  Its population is graying (median age: 37.2) and It needs foreign-born, U.S.-educated and trained professionals in fields that U.S. Americans are not entering in sufficient numbers.


Bonus:   Note the other 19 countries on the list.  Most have large and well-established immigrant communities in the U.S., quite a few are among the “top ten” countries for study in the U.S. and/or are experiencing poverty, instability and war due to internal causes or the result of U.S. intervention and interference (e.g., Iraq).  For more about the latter, check out Linh Dinh’s 2010 essay House Slave Syndrome, which begins thus:

A recent article declares, “Tired of war, thousands of Iraqis want to go to U.S.” What it fails to mention is who triggered all the bloodshed. Who made conditions in Iraq so intolerable that these people must flee?

 You know who. Over and over again, the U.S. has instigated mayhem or carnage overseas, generating thousands if not millions of refugees, many of whom longing to escape, paradoxically, it seems, to the source of their suffering. You beat and humiliate me, so can I move in?

“Patent Pending: How Immigrants Are Reinventing The American Economy”

While this is not exactly breaking news, I am pleased to see how this trend is being documented in order to build an even stronger case for visa policy reform.  It’s an issue that unites key business and political leaders, including President Obama, as well as professional associations such as NAFSA:  Association of International Educators. 

This report, issued by The Partnership for a New American Economy, a nonprofit organization that “brings together a bipartisan group of mayors from across the country and business leaders from all sectors of the economy and all 50 states to raise awareness of the economic benefits of sensible immigration reform,” examines the contribution of foreign-born inventors to the American economy. From more efficient ways to purify seawater to metals that can be molded like plastic, the report highlights several immigrant inventors behind some of the most cutting-edge technologies. These foreign-born inventors are fueling patent awards at the top patent-producing universities, and their new innovations and new companies are advancing American industries and creating American jobs.  (Two co-chairs of The Partnership are Steven A. Ballmer, CEO,  Microsoft Corporation and Michael R. Bloomberg, Mayor, New York City.)  
Key findings of the report include:

  • More than three out of every four patents at the top 10 patent-producing US universities (76%) had at least one foreign-born inventor.
  • More than half of all patents (54%) were awarded to the group of foreign inventors most likely to face visa hurdles: students, postdoctoral fellows, or staff researchers.
  • Foreign-born inventors played especially large roles in cutting-edge fields like semiconductor device manufacturing (87%), information technology (84%), pulse or digital communications (83%), pharmaceutical drugs or drug compounds (79%), and optics (77%).
  • The almost 1,500 patents awarded to these universities boasted inventors from 88 different countries.

The Times They Are a-Changin’

Support for student visa policy reform also comes from the most unlikely of places, namely, The White House.  In his 2011 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama made two references to international students.  The first is that the US is “home to the world’s best colleges and universities, where more students come to study than any place on Earth.”  The second is about international students who end up competing against the US (my italics).

One last point about education.  Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens…  Others come here from abroad to study in our colleges and universities.  But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us.  It makes no sense. 

One change, which appears to be a direct result of the President’s remarks, is a new multi-agency initiative called Study in the States , launched in September 2011 by the Department of Homeland Security “to enhance our nation’s economic, scientific and technological competitiveness by finding new, innovative ways to encourage the best and brightest international students to study and remain in the United States.”  (I discussed this in a previous post.) 

The fact of the matter is the US population is graying with a median age of 37 (2011).  That, combined with the lack of young Americans studying certain key subjects, means that the US desperately needs a certain percentage of international students to stay, work and emigrate. 

Ultimately, emigration is a personal issue.  Many international students, including those from Vietnam, choose to remain in the US for a whole host of reasons, including a lack of opportunity in their chosen field(s) at home, offers to good to refuse in America, the inability to find their niche, which some discover while doing summer internships, and love, among other reasons. 

The day will come, out of economic and therefore political necessity, when the student visa interview will focus exclusively on 1) the applicant’s status as a “bona fide student;” and 2) her/his ability to pay.  Whether or not students intend to return to their home countries after graduation will no longer enter into the equation.  This happens regardless:  they dutifully play the game of promising to return home, whether or not that is their true intention.  A policy change will simply make it easier for international students, especially those in certain fields, to emigrate, if they so desire, and will represent an official recognition of a longstanding reality.