Iranian immigrants Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Iranian immigration to the United States is a recent phenomenon and has taken place primarily since 1975. The Islamic fundamentalist revolution of the late 1970’s that transformed Iran into a theocratic state was a major world event that increased Iranian migration to the United States and created some negative stereotypes of Iranians among Americans. Some large Iranian American communities have developed, most notably in the region of Los Angeles.

The first recorded immigrants from Iran to the United States arrived during the 1920’s, when 208 people from Iran (or Persia, as the country was then generally known) came to the United States. Their numbers increased over the next four decades but still remained comparatively small. Immigration and Naturalization Service data show only 9,059 people coming from Iran during the 1960’s. In the 1970’s through the 1990’s, Iranian immigration shot up dramatically. Between 1970 and 1979, 33,763 Iranians immigrated legally to the United States. During the 1980’s, this figure went up to 98,141 and decreased only slightly, to 76,899, during 1990’s. Between 2000 and 2008, 67,915 new residents came from Iran.Muslim immigrants;IraniansIranian immigrantsMuslim immigrants;IraniansIranian immigrants[cat]IMMIGRANT GROUPS;Iranian immigrants[02880][cat]SOUTH AND SOUTHWEST ASIAN IMMIGRANTS;Iranian immigrants[02880]

By 1980, the Iranian-born population of the U.S. amounted to 130,000 people, compared to only about 24,000 a mere ten years earlier. More than 70 percent of this 1980 population had arrived during the second half of the 1970’s, so they were an extremely new group. They were concentrated on the West Coast, with four out of ten Iranian residents of the United States living in CaliforniaCalifornia;Iranian immigrants alone and one out of five living in the Los AngelesLos Angeles;Iranian immigrants-Long Beach metropolitan area. The Iranian-born population continued to expand into the twenty-first century, growing from slightly more than 204,000 in 1990 to more than 290,000 in 2000 and to about 328,000 in 2007.

Revolution and Immigration

Much of the immigration from Iran to the United States resulted from political unrest in Iran and as a consequence of people fleeing the Iranian Revolution of 1978-1979 and the creation of the Islamic Republic in 1980. As a state devoted to the majority religion of the Muslim immigrants;ShiasShia form of Islam, the Iranian republic has been intolerant of minority religions. While an estimated 98 percent of Iranians are Shia Muslims, immigrants to the United States have disproportionately contained adherents of Iran’s minority religions, which include Muslim immigrants;SunnisSunni Muslims, ZoroastriansZoroastrians, Jews, Baha’is, and Christians. Between the time of the revolution and 1990, the easiest way for an Iranian to obtain legal permission to enter the U.S. was by obtaining refugeeRefugees;Iranians status. Even after that time, Iranian refugees entered the United States at a rate of about 2,700 per year. From 1990 to 2008, nearly 50,000 people from Iran were admitted to the United States as refugees. However, not all these people were included in the official immigration statistics, because they were all accepted as refugeesreceiving legal permanent resident status.

Another important way that Iranians have entered the United States has been to come as Foreign students;Iraniansstudents and then apply for legal residence. Generally, Iranians who have sought student or other types of visas have usually gone to Turkey;and Iranian immigrants[Iranian immigrants]Turkey first, became the United States closed its embassy in Iran after 1979. Before the revolution, Iran went through a rapid period of development, so that it has many well-educated people. In addition, many Iranian high school students had already studied English by the early 1970’s, and knowledge of this language has made it easier for Iranian students to gain admission to American colleges and universities.

The period of tension between the United States and Iran immediately following the revolution created some problems for Iranians living in the United States. With the tacit approval of their new government, Iranians seized the American embassy in the capital of Tehran. They held Americans captive there for 444 days, creating an international crisis that contributed to U.S. president Carter, Jimmy[p]Carter, Jimmy;and Iranian hostage crisis[Iranian hostage crisis]Jimmy Carter’s electoral defeat in 1980 and caused strong anti-Iranian sentiments to sweep across the United States. The U.S. responded by instituting an “Iranian Control Program,” which scrutinized the immigration status of nearly 60,000 people studying in the United States. In addition, even Iranian immigrants who were opposed to the new government in their country sometimes experienced open expressions of public hostility.

Iranians in the United States

By 2007, the geographic concentration of Iranian immigrants had grown greater. About 60 percent of them lived in California;Iranian immigrantsCalifornia, with more than one-third of Iranian-born people in the United States living in the Los Angeles;Iranian immigrantsLos Angeles-Long Beach metropolitan area and another 7 percent in nearby Orange County. Outside California, the largest numbers of Iranians could be found in Texas;Iranian immigrantsTexas (home to about 6 percent) and in New York State;Iranian immigrantsNew York State (also about 6 percent). However, there were at least some Iranians in most of the states.

Because of their generally high levels of education, Iranians in the United States have tended to work in white-collar, professional occupations. In 2007, more than one-fifth of them worked as managers, officials, or proprietors. Other common occupations included salespeople, professional and technical workers, and physicians and surgeons. The most common industrial concentrations were in educational services or medical services. However, compared to native-born American Women;Iranianwomen, Iranian women have shown relatively low labor force participation. In 2007, only about half of Iranian-born women in the United States were in the labor force.Muslim immigrants;IraniansIranian immigrants

Further Reading
  • Ansari, Maboud. The Making of the Iranian Community in America. New York: Pardis Press, 1992. Useful overview of the growth of the Iranian immigrant community in the United States.
  • Bozorgmehr, Mehdi. “Iran.” In The New Americans: A Guide to Immigration Since 1965, edited by Mary C. Waters, Reed Ueda, and Helen B. Marrow. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007. Best available short overview of Iranian immigration, written by a highly respected authority on this topic.
  • Dumas, Firoozeh. Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America. New York: Villard, 2003. Warmly personal memoir of the experiences of an Iranian American.
  • Karim, Perssis, and Mehid M. Khortami, eds. A World in Between: Poems, Stories, and Essays by Iranian-Americans. New York: George Braziller, 1999. Anthology of literary works by Iranian immigrants that illustrate the experiences of Iranians in the United States.
  • Naficy, Maid. The Making of Exile Cultures: Iranian Television in Los Angeles. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993. Examination of how Iranian television has influenced group identity in the large ethnic community in Los Angeles.
  • Sharavini, Mitra K. Educating Immigrants: Experiences of Second Generation Iranians. New York: LFB Scholarly Publishing, 2004. Emphasizes the importance Iranian immigrants place on education for their children and looks at the relative success of Iranian ancestry students in American schools.

Arab immigrants


Israeli immigrants

Los Angeles

Muslim immigrants

Pakistani immigrants


Religions of immigrants

Categories: History