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An Overview of Chinese Immigration to the United States

Updated: Apr 14, 2019

A survey of 2011 on the high-income inhabitants in 18 main Chinese cities found that 60 % of people who own assets of RMB 10 million or more have thought about emigrating. Additionally, amongst those who own assets of RMB 6 million or more who thought about emigration, 77% identified the United States or Canada as their projected destinations. China has faced a visible wave in emigration over the past decade. For the migration of highly-skilled and well-heeled Chinese, exit restrictions have been substituted by policies which aim at promoting return and transnational engagement.

The United States is by far the principal destination for Chinese immigrants, accounting 2,423,000 people in 2017. Further common destinations comprise Japan (741,000), Canada (712,000), South Korea (614,000), Australia (473,000), and Singapore (463,000). Most Chinese immigrants are living either in California (887,000) or New York (476,000); Los Angeles and New York City (Queen’s and King’s counties) being the cities with most Chinese immigrants in the United States.

Compared to the global migrant populations in the United States, Chinese immigrants are considerably better educated and tend to more often be working in management, business, science, and arts positions (56,2% in 2017). In 2015, half of Chinese migrants (not US born) in the US over the age of 25 had at least a bachelor’s degree compared to only 30% of all Americans. Remarkably, Chinese immigrants were more than twice as likely to have a postgraduate degree compared to all Americans (27 % compared to 11 %). This high educational achievement is related to the particular path used by Chinese immigrants to enter the United States. China is the principal sending country of international students to the US. In 2018 Chinese students registered in an American university accounted for 33% of all foreign students far beyond India, the second largest nationality group which accounted for only 18%. Additionally, in 2016, Chinese citizens accounted for 9 % of the 345,000 H-1B petitions (initial and continuing employment) approved by US Citizenship and Immigration Services. This is the second largest group after India.

Finally, Chinese citizens are also overrepresented in the reception of EB-5 investor visas, accounting for 48.3% of all EB-5 visas allocated in 2018. The second country which was allocated the most EB-5 visas was Vietnam with only 7.2%. The EB-5 visa programme allocates permanent residency to an investor and his family in usually five to seven years against an investment of a minimum of USD 500,000 that creates 10 American jobs in a high unemployment or rural area. The capital is refunded to the applicant once the residency is approved.

However Chinese investors are currently facing issues as waiting time for some applicants to obtain US residency have reached 15 years without clear procedures about what will occur to the investments during that time and leading to the risk for investor’s children to outgrow the age to be able to accompany their parents to the US. The reason for this delay is that there is a maximum quota of 10,000 green cards available per country ad per year while Chinese applicants are much more numerous. The issue lays in the understanding of this quota. Currently, each member of a family benefitting from the EB-5 visa programme are counted against the 10,000 available green cards when it has previously been argued that only investors should be counted. Several Chinese investors have launched a law suit against the US government in this regard. It is not clear for now how this situation will be resolved.

Author: Dr Fanny Tittel-Mosser

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