Business Times - 24 Dec 2010

Asian immigrants in US making a difference


NEW demographic data recently released by the US Census Bureau, based on a sample taken between 2005 and 2009 (aka the American Community Survey), points out that America's younger population is becoming more 'diverse', which is the politically correct way to say that it's becoming less white.

Hence about 48 per cent of the newborns in the US last year were members of minority groups, compared with only 20 per cent of those over 65. That means that, unlike many European societies where low birth-rates and political opposition to immigration make it more likely that their population will not only shrink but will also become older, the new waves of legal and illegal immigration into the US will ensure that the country's population will continue growing and getting younger.

That is certainly good news as far as America's demographic trends is concerned. But then the new data also suggests the majority of new immigrants in the US are blacks and Hispanics who have graduation levels (starting with high-school) below those for whites. That raises concerns that American society and economy could face a shortage of educated people in the coming years, making it more difficult for the US to compete with the emerging Asian countries whose education levels are rising.

There is also another interesting piece of data. While as expected, Mexico remains the large source of legal and illegal immigration to the US, China is now occupying the second place, followed by the Philippines and India. Indeed, other Asian countries, including Vietnam and South Korea, are also among the top 'sending' countries.

While the entire American Community Survey will be published next February, the expectation is that it will demonstrate that the existing demographic trends are accelerating. That means the Asian American population is probably growing above the current number of 15 million people and is rising above 5 per cent of the US population - with the largest ethnic sub-groups being Chinese, Filipinos, Indians, Vietnamese, Koreans, and Japanese.

And contrary to the stereotype of smart and successful Asian-Americans, some of them are in poverty. But as a community, Asian Americans have the highest median income and are more likely to complete higher education; in fact, Asian Americans are the highest group by percentage with graduate degrees. That suggests that Asian Americans are overall a successful and smart group of immigrants.

For example, Indian Americans, the third largest group of Asian Americans, have a very high rate of academic achievement among American's ethnic groups and have been very visible in the Silicon Valley and other high-tech centres on the West Coast.

When pundits assert that whites are becoming a minority in California, they seem to imply that the state, like the rest of America, is being transformed into a Third World country. Indeed, most Americans envision California as being swamped by illegal Mexican immigrants turning the state into Mexifornia; and as California goes, so does the rest of the country. That explains, in part, why more Americans are supportive of placing restrictions on immigration.

But, in fact, that California is becoming less white has also to do with the growing Asian American population whose members are joining the educated and professional middle class and whose children excel in their academic work and - in some respects - are doing better than the whites. And that is one of the driving forces in transforming California into a global high-tech centre.

The educational achievements of Asian Americans seem to be consistent with the results of the study comparing the performance of 15-year-olds published by the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) that placed 15-year-old students from East Asian countries on the top for mathematics, sciences and reading in their national language. American students racked up generally average scores.

Interestingly enough, Asian American and white American students achieved similar high scores and together as Team America (and by excluding the scores of American students from other ethnic groups), they could have raised the total American score and placed the US students in the second or third place in the Pisa ranking.

Americans need therefore to start looking on immigration in a very different way. And they certainly should not be so obsessed with the demographic prospect that American whites are becoming a minority. Asian Americans as well as other immigrants groups are not only making the US population larger and younger, but more diverse and interesting. They are also helping to make America more educated and prosperous and more prepared to succeed in the global economy of the 21st century.

Copyright © 2010 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.


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