Immigration to California from Asia has overtaken the long-running influx from Latin America, marking a shift that one expert says is based in economic conditions, border enforcement and deportation.
A new analysis of U.S. Census data from the Public Policy Institute of California shows that Asians are coming into the Golden State at more than twice the rate of immigrants from Latin American countries.
"The main reason is related to the economy. Most people who move are doing so because of jobs and economic opportunities," said immigration expert Hans Johnson, co-director of research at PPIC, in an interview with NBC4. "With the decline in the economy, there is less of a magnet to California and the U.S."
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Immigrants from Asia tend to be relatively highly educated, Johnson said, and thus find more job opportunities available to them.
"The highly educated, highly skilled workers are in greater demand. When we look at immigrants from India, over 70 percent have a bachelor's degree. That's far higher than from Latin America and for California natives," Johnson said.
Immigration from Latin American countries, and especially from Mexico, has plummeted since 2004-05, when about 142,000 newcomers to California came from Spanish-speaking Central and South America, an analysis from PPIC shows.
In 2010-11, the number of Latin American immigrants had dropped to a little more than 60,000.
In the same time period, immigration to California from Asia rose from about 108,000 to nearly 160,000, with the greatest portion coming from China and Taiwan, India, the Philippines and Korea.
Asians accounted for 36 percent of California immigrants in 2004 – a portion that rose to 57 percent in 2011. The opposite trend was seen for Latin Americans, whose portion dropped from 48 percent to 22 percent.
In the same period, the number of immigrants specifically from Mexico dropped from about 110,000 to about 42,000.
If current trends hold, immigrants from China and Taiwan are poised to overtake incoming Mexicans.
The change "could represent the end of an era," Johnson told the Sacramento Bee, which originally reported the new data.
The shift is being caused by immigration policy in addition to economic conditions, Johnson said.
It's become harder to get into the country from Mexico and more difficult to stay, he said, because of increasingly intense border patrols. And, within the past four to five years, a higher deportation rate nationally has also had an impact on the number of Latin American immigrants in California.
Whether the shift is an aberration related to the economy or the "new normal" remains to be seen, Johnson said.