There have been four waves of immigration to the U.S.: 1) Native Americans; 2) immigrants from Western and Northern Europe and slaves from Africa from the 16th century to the 19th century; 3) immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and the Caribbean in the 19th and 20th centuries; and 4) immigrants from Latin America and Asia after World War II.
The fourth wave has accelerated since 1965. President Lyndon Johnson eased restrictions on the number of immigrants to be accepted from each country, and as a result the number of immigrants from Latin America and Asia, which had been suppressed under stricter limits than those on people from Europe, started rising sharply. Their fertility rates are also generally high, which is helping drive the steady expansion of the U.S. population.
The lead player in the fourth wave is about to shift from Latinos to Asians. In 2013, the U.S. accepted a total of more than 1.2 million immigrants. The top spots were dominated by Asian countries, with 147,000 people from China and 129,000 from India, exceeding the 125,000 from Mexico. Immigrants from South Korea and the Philippines have also kept climbing. The recent trend underscores the fact that Asia, a region with a diverse mix of countries and huge populations, is gaining greater presence in the U.S.
Furthermore, diligent Asians earn high incomes and achieve high education. Statistics in 2013 showed that their median household income was $72,000 and people aged 25 or older who have a bachelor’s degree or higher stood at 51%, considerably higher than the U.S. national average of $52,000 and 30%. This is another reason that Asians are increasing their presence in the country.
Patty Chen runs a real estate company in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. “We not only arrange contracts to buy a house; we support many things, such as kids, fixing up a house and finding shops. They come to us for support.” She said she has received requests from Chinese clients looking to buy houses for cash. These customers hope to immigrate to the U.S. for their children’s education or to protect their assets, even though they may not be fluent in English.
According to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia, the purchasing power of Asians in the U.S. totaled $770 billion as of 2014 — 19th in the world if compared with gross domestic product data — larger than Saudi Arabia and Switzerland. One estimate by Selig showed that their purchasing power will continue to expand and top $1 trillion in 2019. The increase in the number of Asians, who are relatively young and wealthy, might serve as a tailwind for the U.S. economy, which has been struggling with the aftereffects of the financial crisis and its aging population.
Meanwhile, the higher Asians’ economic status becomes, the bigger say they have in the country. In September 2014, about 19,000 people reportedly gathered at Madison Square Garden in New York to show their support for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his first visit to the U.S. since taking office. The Indian group that organized the event claimed it was the largest ever in the U.S. to welcome a foreign leader. MR Rangaswami, an Indian investor who participated in the event, said, “That was a big milestone event that the community can look back on and feel proud.” He is also involved in lobbying and takes as an example Jewish-Americans. By learning about their political and charity activities, he tries to boost the recognition of the Indian-American community in the U.S. as well as the national interests of India. Lobbying campaigns by Indian residents were also the driving force behind the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement, which took effect in 2008.
“My dad told me as a young kid that Americans can do anything. I believed him then, and I believe it now,” said Bobby Jindal, the Republican governor of Louisiana. On June 24, he announced his candidacy for the presidential race in 2016, becoming the first Indian-American to become a major contender. Nikki Haley, the Republican governor of South Carolina and another Indian-American, is also mentioned as a vice-presidential candidate. In the not-too-distant future, an Asian American may become the most powerful person in the U.S.
Nikkei staff writers Tomoko Ashizuka, Michiko Kageyama in New York and Yuichiro Kanematsu in Silicon Valley contributed to this story.