Before the United States entered the Vietnam War during the early 1960’s, fewer than 1,000 Vietnamese people lived in the United States. By the time the war ended in 1975, the number of Vietnamese residents had risen to 20,000, most of whom were spouses of American military personnel serving in Vietnam. Immediately after the war ended, tens of thousands of desperate refugees were admitted to the United States. Over the next three decades, even larger numbers of immigrants came in a more orderly fashion. By the early twenty-first century, more than 1.6 million Vietnamese were living in the United States. Although these people constituted one of the most recent immigrant groups, they were also one of the most successful groups.
When the Southeast Asian country of Vietnam finally gained its full independence from France in 1954, it was partitioned into a communist North called the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and a noncommunist South, which became the Republic of Vietnam in 1955. These two ideologically opposed nations soon began a civil war for mastery of all of Vietnam. Following its Cold War precepts, the U.S. government supported South Vietnam against its northern communist enemy.
Before this period, Vietnamese immigration had been practically nonexistent. Between 1950 and 1959, only 290 people from Vietnam became permanent residents of the United States. Most of these people were language teachers and students, along with a few people in commercial businesses. As late as 1964, only 603 Vietnamese were living in the United States.
The war in Vietnam intensified during the 1960’s, when the North began working to topple the South’s government in Saigon by force. To prevent a
Although the U.S. military frowned on U.S. military personnel becoming involved with Vietnamese women, many soldiers married them. Many Americans
This slow immigration trend continued after American forces began withdrawing from South Vietnam in early 1973, while leaving behind Americans who continued acting in advisory, diplomatic, and business roles. As
In March, 1975, when it was clear that South Vietnam would fall to invading North Vietnamese communist forces, the U.S. government prepared for the evacuation of the 3,839 American citizens and their dependents still in South Vietnam. The government also planned to evacuate 17,000 of its South Vietnamese allies. However, a much larger number of Vietnamese also wanted to leave the country. The first step in evacuation program,
On April 17, U.S. president
In late spring of 1975, about 125,000 Vietnamese refugees arrived in the United States in one of the single largest short-term influxes of immigrants in the nation’s history. On May 23, 1975, President Ford signed the
Vietnamese orphans being evacuated aboard an American airliner in 1975.
Government officials originally intended to disperse the refugees through out the United States to avoid large concentrations in any individual areas. The refugees were assigned sponsors–both institutions and individuals–to help them ease into American life. Quickly, however, the refugees took advantage of their freedom by relocating to live close together in new communities. Many moved to
Members of the first wave of Vietnamese immigrants tended to be better educated than average. Many came from the middle class. A substantial number could speak some English and already had some familiarity with American culture. Most of these refugees were aided by the fact that they came as families, not as individuals. Consequently. the numbers of men and women were nearly balanced, and the immigrants enjoyed the company and support of relatives of all ages.
As the communists were consolidating their power throughout Vietnam, only a trickle of new Vietnamese refugees arrived in the United States–4,100 in 1976 and 1977 together. Another 8,859 Vietnamese immigrated to the United States as nonrefugees during these two years. In 1978, the Vietnamese government was becoming more repressive and many Vietnamese were finding life increasingly bleak, with little prospect of economic betterment. At the same time, Vietnam was becoming involved in new military conflicts. Its government invaded Cambodia to topple the murderous
Both ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese living in the south began trying to flee from Vietnam on hardly seaworthy boats in late 1978. During the following year, the world noticed the plight of these refugees, who were being called “boat people.” Risking their lives on the open sea in order to reach freedom, they were often brutally attacked by
In response to growing international pressure, Vietnam agreed in late 1979 to establish the
The United States began resettling about half of all the surviving boat people in the United States. In 1979, the first 44,500 Vietnamese refugees of this second wave were admitted. As result, the U.S. Census of 1980 showed 261,729 Vietnamese living in the United States, up from 3,000 only one decade earlier. Passage of the 1980
The demographic effect of continuing Vietnamese immigration and flight to America was reflected in the U.S. Census of 1990 that counted 614,547 Vietnamese living in the United States. By the 2000 Census, their number had doubled to 1,122,528. Census respondents who described themselves as only part Vietnamese added another 101,208 people to that figure.
In May, 1995, the United States and Vietnam established full diplomatic relations, a change that facilitated Vietnamese immigration to the United States. By the twenty-first century, the numbers of Vietnamese entering the country as regular immigrants exceeded those of refugees for the first time since the Vietnam War had ended. Between 2004 and 2008, about 30,000 new immigrants were entering the United States each year. The vast majority of them were relatives of Vietnamese already living in the United States. Of the 31,497 new Vietnamese who received permanent resident status in the United States during 2008, 28,316 were family members and relatives of existing residents, and only 2,404 were classified as refugees.
According to the 2007
The Vietnamese trend to live in large households contributed to their average annual household incomes of $54,871 exceeding the national average of $50,740, even though the average incomes of Vietnamese American individuals were lower than the national average. As a very recent immigrant group, they were remarkable in having a rate of home ownership that matched the national average of 67 percent. However, their average household size was 3.6 persons, compared to the national average of 2.7.
Vietnamese Americans have generally done well in
Overall, however, Vietnamese immigrants have shown remarkable upward mobility and achievement in the United States. In 2007, their employment rate reached the average of 65 percent. Vietnamese women were employed at the same 59 percent level as the national female population. Vietnamese held to 32 percent managerial or professional positions, compared to 35 percent on average. With 25 percent, more than the average 17 percent were employed in service professions. There was a lag of Vietnamese in educational and government services. In general, with some unfortunate exceptions, Vietnamese immigrants have succeeded well in American society. In 2008, Louisiana Republican
Do, Hien Duc. The Vietnamese Americans. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999. Written by a Vietnamese refugee, this book focuses on the experiences of Vietnamese immigrants and refugees resettling in the United States. Do, Kiem. Counterpart: A South Vietnamese Naval Officer’s War. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1998. Memoir of the man who used navy craft to help rescue 30,000 Vietnamese boat people after the fall of Saigon. Hayslip, Le Ly. When Heaven and Earth Changed Places. New York: Doubleday, 1989. This book, along with Hayslip’s second book, Child of War, Woman of Peace (1993), provides a harrowing account of one Vietnamese immigrant woman’s journey to America, revealing many facets of the Vietnamese immigrant experience. Le, Cuong Nguyen. “Vietnamese Americans: History and Context.” In Asian American Assimilation. New York: LFB Scholarly Publishing, 2007. Concise description of factors leading to Vietnamese immigration to the United States. Saito, Lynne Tsuboi. Ethnic Identity and Motivation: Socio-Cultural Achievement of Vietnamese American Students. New York: LFB Scholarly Publishing, 2002. Sociological study of the fates of first- and second-generation Vietnamese immigrant children and how they have done academically. Schulzinger, Robert D. “The Vietnamese in America.” In A Time for Peace: The Legacy of the Vietnam War. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Sympathetic description of Vietnamese refugees in America and their path to assimilation and success.
Amerasian Homecoming Act of 1987
Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1975
Nguyen v. Immigration and Naturalization Service
Orderly Departure Program