Pakistani immigrants Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Pakistani immigration only became a distinctive part of South Asian immigration during the 1960’s. The United States has never been a primary destination for Pakistani immigrants, but they have formed distinctive subgroups in certain areas of settlement. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, their Muslim identity became problematic.

Pakistan did not exist as a distinct nation until 1947, when both it and India were formed from British India. The reason for the split was primarily religious. Though it had a secular government, India became a Hindu-majority state, while Pakistan became a primarily Muslim state.Pakistani immigrantsMuslim immigrants;PakistanisPakistani immigrantsMuslim immigrants;Pakistanis[cat]SOUTH AND SOUTHWEST ASIAN IMMIGRANTS;Pakistani immigrants[04060][cat]IMMIGRANT GROUPS;Pakistani immigrants[04060]

In terms of U.S. government statistics, no separate statistics of Pakistani immigration were kept until after 1981. Before that year, Pakistanis were grouped under “Other South Asians.” Of the South Asians, only Indian immigrants had their own separate category. Statistics are further confused by the emergence of Bangladeshi immigrantsBangladesh as a separate country in 1971 out of what was previously known as East Pakistan, the eastern wing of the two-part country formed in 1947. Bangladeshis and Pakistanis were grouped together until 1973, though probably very few Bangladeshis did immigrate at that time. In 1973, fewer than two hundred Bangladeshis were counted in the United States.

Before 1947, Pakistani immigration would have been counted as Indian. At the beginning of the twentieth century, there had been a small-scale immigration of farmers and farm laborers to Southern California, mainly to work in the newly developed rice farms of the Sacramento Valley, but no other significant influx.

First Growth

After independence, most Pakistani emigrants went to the United Kingdom. British law at that time allowed previous colonials unfettered entry into Great Britain. Other Commonwealth countries, especially Canada and Australia, also had generous provisions for other Commonwealth immigrants. By contrast, U.S. immigration policy allowed little possibility for Pakistani entry.

This policy began to change after 1965, when passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 allowed professionals and other people with needed skills entry. A slow trickle of Pakistani professionals began to take advantage of the liberalized immigration policy, aided by tightening restrictions in the United Kingdom and lack of job opportunities in their native country. The tendency of Pakistan to drift into undemocratic military regimes also alienated a number of professionals and skilled workers.

The main professions of these immigrants were in medicine and engineering. In 1971, just over two thousand immigrants joined the five thousand or so Pakistanis already in the United States, mainly in the larger population centers of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Numbers edged up during the 1970’s and 1980’s but never reached more than six thousand per year. Some also came as students or tourists and then changed their status while in the United States.

At first, the trend was for single men to come, establish themselves, then sponsor spouses to join them, or return to Pakistan, marry, and bring their spouses back with them. Those who failed to qualify as doctors or pharmacists in the United States reinvented themselves as small businessmen, often running convenience stores or gas stations. Taxi driving was a favored occupation among those who came with less education.

Subsequent Development

The turning point in numbers came in 1991, when the annual immigration suddenly jumped to 20,355. The "Lottery, green card"[Lottery, green card]lottery system allowed a number of unskilled Pakistanis to immigrate. Meanwhile, provisions for wider family sponsorship allowed a number of brothers, sisters, and parents to enter. Pakistani society is very family-oriented, with the extended family being the norm. During the 1990’s, some 124,500 Pakistanis were admitted, making the Pakistani community the ninth-largest of all Asian communities.

Certain stresses began to manifest themselves as a second generation grew up in the United States. The arranged marriage system was still enforced where possible to maintain cultural identity, but spouses from Pakistan found it difficult to adjust to new gender roles within American culture. Divisions between religious groups, especially Muslim immigrants;SunnisSunnis and Muslim immigrants;ShiasShias, kept communities divided. Though Pakistanis mixed easily with other South Asian Muslims, they found it difficult to mix with Muslims from the Middle East or of African origin. The desire for fair-skinned spouses was especially troublesome, fed as it was by the Bollywood movie culture.

The September 11, 2001, September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks;and Pakistani immigrants[Pakistani immigrants]terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., and the subsequent involvement of Pakistan on the American political stage were especially problematic for both the existing community and new immigrants. Numbers of immigrants actually declined, with 51,600 entering between 2001 and 2004 and 14,900 in 2005. Persian Gulf states absorbed a growing number of Pakistani migrant workers, who were much more at home there in a Muslim culture. Also, immigration to the Commonwealth countries continued at quite high levels. Movement among the worldwide Pakistani diaspora was also a significant feature.Pakistani immigrantsMuslim immigrants;Pakistanis

Further Reading
  • Aswad, Barbara C., and Barbara Bilgé, eds. Family and Gender Among American Muslims: Issues Facing Middle Eastern Immigrants and Their Descendants. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996. Sociological study with a chapter devoted to the problems of South Asians, especially in terms of family ties, marriage, and education.
  • Leonard, Karen. The South Asian Americans: The New Americans. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997. Studies the impact South Asian immigrants have made on American culture.
  • McCloud, Aminah Beverly. Transnational Muslims in American Society. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006. Places Pakistani immigration in the wider context of Muslim South Asians and distinguishes the various religious subgroups.
  • Narayan, Anjana, and Bandana Purkayastha. Living Religions: Hindu and Muslim South Asian-American Women Narrate Their Experiences. Sterling, Va.: Kumarian Press, 2009. Written in light of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, individual women narrate their experiences as South Asian immigrants and how they challenge borders and stereotypes.
  • Prashad, Vijay. The Karma of Brown Folk. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000. Interviews and analyses of South Asians, piecing together how their image as a successful immigrant group has been constructed.
  • U.S. Census Bureau. Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2007. Washington, D.C.: Author, 2006. Includes separate figures for Pakistani immigrants from 1981.
  • Waters, Mary C., and Reed Ueda, eds. The New Americans: A Guide to Immigration Since 1965. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007. The chapter on South Asia, by Nazli Kibria, sufficiently discusses Pakistani immigrants.
  • Williams, Raymond B. Religions of Immigrants from India and Pakistan: New Threads in the American Tapestry. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988. Studies various religions and how they have adapted to and influenced American culture.

Asian immigrants

Asian Indian immigrants

Canada vs. United States as immigrant destinations

History of immigration after 1891

Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965

Muslim immigrants

Religions of immigrants

Sidhwa, Bapsi

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