Coming to a better life in America: Vietnamese Immigrants in the United States. Part 1

Thứ Tư, 01 Tháng Mười 201400:00(Xem: 13243)
Coming to a better life in America: Vietnamese Immigrants in the United States. Part 1

It is easy for older members of our audience to recall the events after 30 April 1975, but for our younger listeners, we provide this summary.

Within the past four decades, the population of Vietnamese immigrants in the United States has grown into one America's

largest foreign-born groups. Vietnamese migration to the United States has occurred in three periods, the first beginning in 1975 at the end of the war.

The fall of Saigon led to the U.S.-sponsored evacuation of approximately 125,000 Vietnamese refugees. This first group consisted mainly of military personnel and urban, educated professionals. Because they were associated with the U.S. military or the South Vietnamese government, they were targets of the new government.

In the late 1970s, a second group of Vietnamese refugees entered the United States in the “boat people” refugee crisis. This wave of emigration lasted until the mid 1980s. This group came mainly from rural areas and was often less educated than earlier arrivals. Many were ethnic Chinese immigrants fleeing persecution in Vietnam. 

The boat people escaped from Vietnam as a result of the new government’s implementation of economic, political and agricultural policies based on Communist ideology. These policies included “re-education”, forced relocation to the New Economic Zones (Xây dựng các vùng kinh tế mới), and torture of former South Vietnamese military personnel and those presumed friendly to the South Vietnamese cause. Most of the “boat people” fled to asylum camps in Southeast Asia and awaited acceptance by foreign countries.

There is a huge distinction between an immigrant and a refugee. Immigrants choose to come to a new life, whereas refugees are forced to flee – often, to save their lives. In total, the United States accepted 530,000 refugees and asylum seekers from Vietnam between 1981 and 2000.

The third group of Vietnamese immigrants entered the United States throughout the 1980s and 1990s under the Orderly Departure program which started in 1979. This group contained fewer refugees and included thousands of Vietnamese Amerasians as well as former political prisoners in the HO program.

Since the end of the war in 1975, the Vietnamese immigrant population in the United States has increased from about 231,000 in 1980 to nearly 1.3 million in 2012, making it the sixth largest foreign-born population in the United States. This growth occurred most rapidly during the 1980s and 1990s, when the Vietnamese immigrant population roughly doubled within each decade. Although refugees comprised the first two waves of Vietnamese immigration, later migration has consisted mainly of immigrants reunifying with relatives in the United States.

Nearly all Vietnamese immigrants (99 percent) who received a green card in 1982 were refugees. In contrast, just 2 percent of Vietnamese immigrants getting a green card in 2012 had been refugees, while 96 percent did so as a result of family ties. For the most part, more recent arrivals are family members of earlier refugees and Amerasians from Vietnam.

The Vietnamese population in the United States is comprised of approximately 2 million individuals who were either born in Vietnam or have Vietnamese ancestry.

Total remittances sent to Vietnam equaled $11 billion in 2013, representing about 6 percent of the Vietnam’s domestic product (GDP). The amount of remittances received by Vietnam has increased tenfold since the late 1990s.

Currently, forty percent of all Vietnamese Americans live in Orange County, California. Other smaller established communities exist in San Jose, Houston and the greater Washington, DC area.

Vietnamese Americans have adapted to American culture while keeping their traditions and religious values intact. Their value system includes high educational expectations and strong commitment to family ties. Because of the emphasis placed on education, a rapidly growing proportion of established Vietnamese Americans are now moving into professional, managerial, and entrepreneurial positions, especially in the high-tech sector and in locations such as Silicon Valley. In a relatively short time, Vietnamese Americans have added much to American society. Many have taken an interest in civic duty. Various cities in California, including Westminster and Garden Grove have seen Vietnamese Americans serve in public offices, while other Vietnamese have served in statewide offices in California.

Q.1. What was the attitude of the Vietnamese government towards the migration program in the early 1980’s?
A.2. Vietnamese who wanted to migrate to the US in the early 1980’s had numerous obstacles to overcome, usually involving various amounts of “tea money” to local officials. Obtaining copies of their vital records, applying for passports, and getting a place on the list of people approved for interviews with US Consular officers all cost money. In addition, they had to pay customs duties on items like medicine and clothing that were sent from abroad. And, local officials paid very close attention to people who received gifts from abroad or who were planning to migrate.

Q.2. When did the Vietnamese government’s attitude towards migration change?
A.2. Eventually, local officials observed that people who reached the US usually sent money to relatives remaining in Vietnam. The officials found it wiser to facilitate migration and benefit from these foreign remittances. When diplomatic relations with the US were restored in 1994, there was no longer a need for “special” fees to get on an interview list or obtain a passport.

Q.3. In the view of the US State Department and US CIS, when did Vietnamese immigrants become ordinary immigrants?
A.3. Until the late 1990’s, US Consular officials and US Immigration officers considered the Vietnamese visa applicants as special cases because they had survived the war and survived the difficulties imposed by the post-war government. However, as time passed and younger people began working for the State Department and CIS, visa applicants in Vietnam were treated as strictly as applicants in any other country.

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