Like other immigrant groups, the nation's 1.0 million Korean born are settling in larger numbers in states beyond traditional gateways like California and New York. The sizeable Korean immigrant population in Georgia nearly doubled between 2000 and 2008 and grew 40 percent in Washington state and 34 percent in Virginia.
Still, Korean immigrants are heavily concentrated in California and New York (for more information on immigrants by state, please see the ACS/Census Data tool on the MPI Data Hub). They were the seventh-largest immigrant group in the United States in 2008 after Mexican, Filipino, Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Salvadoran immigrants.
The Korean immigrant population in the United States grew rapidly during the 1970s and 1980s. Although the number of Korean immigrants in the United States continued to grow during the 1990s and 2000s, the population did not kept pace with other groups, and it has actually declined as a share of the total immigrant population during the past two decades.
Compared to immigrants overall, the Korean foreign born are more likely to be naturalized and are much better educated — over half of Korean-born adults have a bachelor's degree or higher.
This spotlight focuses on Korean immigrants residing in the United States, examining the population's size, geographic distribution, and socioeconomic characteristics using data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2008 American Community Survey (ACS) and 2000 Decennial Census, and the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Immigration Statistics (OIS) for 2008 and 2009.
Size and Distribution
Demographic and Socioeconomic Overview
Legal and Unauthorized Korean Immigrant Population
Size and Distribution
About 1.0 million foreign born from Korea resided in the United States in 2008.
There were 1,030,691 foreign born from Korea residing in the United States in 2008, accounting for 2.7 percent of the country's 38.0 million immigrants.
Relative to other groups, the Korean-born population in the United States grew rapidly during the 1970s and 1980s. Since then, the absolute number of Korean immigrants has continued to grow, but growth in the population has not kept pace with other immigrant groups. The Korean-born share of all immigrants in the United States peaked at 2.9 percent in 1990 and has since declined modestly.
In 2008, the Korean born were the seventh-largest immigrant group in the United States after immigrants from Mexico, the Philippines, India, China, Vietnam, and El Salvador (see Table 1; see also the pie charts showing the top 10 countries of birth of immigrants residing in the United States over time here).
Over half of all Korean born resided in four states.
California had the largest number of Korean immigrants (319,000, or 31.0 percent of the Korean-born population) in 2008, followed by New York (100,407, or 9.7 percent), New Jersey (64,932, or 6.3 percent), and Washington (53,322, or 5.2 percent). Together, these four states accounted for over half (52.2 percent) of all Korean immigrants in the United States.
Other states with large Korean immigrant populations included Virginia (49,616, or 4.8 percent), Texas (47,648, or 4.6 percent), and Illinois (47,435, or 4.6 percent). These seven states accounted for 66.2 percent of all Korean born in the United States.
Between 2000 and 2008, the Korean immigrant population nearly doubled in four states although most had small Korean immigrant populations.
The Korean immigrant population nearly doubled in four states between 2000 and 2008: Vermont (98 percent, from 588 to 1,162), Georgia (96 percent, from 23,188 to 45,509), Maine (94 percent, from 565 to 1,096) and Arkansas (87 percent, from 1,329 to 2,491). With the exception of Georgia, most states with quickly growing Korean immigrant populations had small numbers of Korean immigrants.
California experienced the largest absolute increase in Korean foreign born between 2000 and 2008 (from 268,452 to 319,000), followed by Georgia (from 23,188 to 45,509), Washington (from 38,172 to 53,322), New Jersey (from 51,970 to 64,932), and Virginia (from 37,036 to 49,616).
By contrast, the Korean-born population declined in 13 states with Hawaii experiencing the largest decline (from 17,202 to 15,530).
One in five Korean immigrants resided in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA, had the largest number of Korean born (212,339, or 20.6 percent) of any metropolitan area in 2008, followed by New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA (145,655, or 14.1 percent); Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV (58,225, or 5.6 percent); and Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA (44,894, or 4.4 percent).
The Korean foreign born made up around 10 percent of the immigrant population in two metropolitan areas.
In 2008, the Korean born accounted for 13.2 percent of all immigrants in the Ann Arbor, MI, metropolitan area and 9.1 percent of all immigrants in Madison, WI.
There were 1.5 million members of the Korean diaspora residing in the United States in 2008.
Of the 1.5 million members of the Korean diaspora residing in the United States in 2008, nearly two-thirds (63.2 percent) were born in Korea (excluding individuals born in Korea to at least one U.S.-born parent who was a native-born U.S. citizen at birth) and over one-third (35.1 percent) were U.S. citizens at birth.
A small number of individuals with Korean ancestry immigrated to the United States from other countries, notably Japan, China, Canada, and the Southern Cone countries of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay.
Note: There is no universally recognized definition of the term diaspora. Most often, the term includes individuals who self-identify as having ancestral ties to a specific country of origin. To calculate the size of the Korean diaspora in the United States, we included all individuals who selected "Korean" (either alone or in combination with another option) in response to the two ACS questions on ancestry.
Demographic and Socioeconomic Overview
Over one-quarter of the Korean foreign born in the United States arrived in 2000 or later.
As of 2008, 27.9 percent of the 1.0 million Korean foreign born entered the country in 2000 or later, with 22.9 percent entering between 1990 and 1999, 26.4 percent between 1980 and 1989, 18.6 percent between 1970 and 1979, and the remaining 4.2 percent prior to 1970.
By contrast, 29.5 percent of the 38.0 million total foreign born entered the country in 2000 or later with 28.7 percent entering between 1990 and 1999, 20.0 percent entering between 1980 and 1989, 11.4 percent between 1970 and 1979, and the remaining 10.4 percent prior to 1970.
About two-thirds of Korean immigrants in 2008 were adults of working age.
Of the Korean immigrants residing in the United States in 2008, 8.6 percent were minors (under age 18), 67.6 percent were adults of working age (between 18 and 54), and 23.8 percent were seniors (age 55 and older).
Of the total foreign-born population in the United States in 2008, 7.4 percent were minors, 69.0 percent were of working age, and 23.6 percent were seniors.
Korean immigrant women outnumbered men in 2008.
Over half of Korean immigrants residing in the United States in 2008 were women (56.0 percent) and 44.0 percent were men. Among all immigrants, 50.2 percent were men and 49.8 percent were women.
Korean immigrants were more likely to be naturalized U.S. citizens than the foreign born overall.
Among the Korean foreign born, 54.7 percent were naturalized U.S. citizens, compared to 43.0 percent among the overall foreign-born population.
More than half of Korean immigrants in 2008 were limited English proficient.
About 15.0 percent of Korean immigrants age 5 and older reported speaking "English only" while 28.1 percent reported speaking English "very well."
By contrast, 56.8 percent reported speaking English less than "very well" (making them limited English proficient) — slightly above the 52.1 percent reported among all foreign born age 5 and older.
(Note: The term limited English proficient refers to any person age 5 and older who reported speaking English "not at all," "not well," or "well" on their survey questionnaire. Individuals who reported speaking only English or speaking English "very well" are considered proficient in English).
In 2008, 51 percent of Korean foreign-born adults had a bachelor's degree or higher.
In terms of academic achievement, Korean immigrants were better educated than other immigrants and the native born. In 2008, 51.0 percent of Korean-born adults age 25 and older had a bachelor's degree or higher compared to 27.1 percent among all 31.9 million foreign-born adults and 27.8 percent of all 168.1 million native-born adults. An additional 19.7 percent had some college education or an associate's degree compared to 16.4 percent among all immigrant adults and 30.8 percent of all native-born adults.
On the other end of the education continuum, 9.4 percent of Korean-born adults had no high school diploma or the equivalent general education diploma (GED), much lower than the 32.5 percent among all foreign-born adults and also lower than among native-born adults (11.7 percent). About 19.9 percent of Korean immigrant adults had a high school diploma or GED compared to 21.9 percent among all foreign-born adults and 29.8 percent among native-born adults.
Korean immigrant men and women were less likely to participate in the civilian labor force than foreign-born men overall.
In 2008, Korean-born men age 16 and older were less likely to participate in the civilian labor force (72.1 percent) than all foreign-born men (80.5 percent). Korean-born women (52.3 percent) were also less likely to participate in the labor force than other immigrant women (57.1 percent).
One in five employed Korean-born men worked in management, business, and finance.
Among the 297,000 Korean immigrant male workers age 16 and older employed in the civilian labor force in 2008, 21.3 percent reported working in management, business, and finance, 18.3 percent in sales, and 10.8 percent in manufacturing, installation, and repair occupations (see Table 2).
One in five employed Korean-born women worked in services.
Among the 283,000 Korean-born female workers age 16 and older employed in the civilian labor force in 2008, 19.8 percent reported working in services, 18.2 percent in sales, and 15.3 percent in management, business, and finance (see Table 2).
Korean immigrants were less likely to live in poverty than all immigrants and natives.
About 26.2 percent of Korean immigrants lived in poverty in 2008 compared to 37.9 percent of all immigrants and 28.7 percent of the native born.
Note: Poverty is defined as individuals residing in families with total annual income of less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line. Whether an individual falls below the official "poverty line" depends not only on total family income, but also on the size of the family, the number of children, and the age of the householder. The ACS reports total income over the 12 months preceding the interview date.
Korean immigrants were as likely as other immigrants to own their own home.
In 2008, 56.7 percent of Korean immigrants age 18 and older owned the home they resided in compared to 56.5 percent of all immigrants age 18 and older. The homeownership rate among Korean immigrants was still below the homeownership rate among native-born U.S. citizens (72.6 percent).
Korean immigrants age 18 and older (47.2 percent) were more likely than other immigrants (44.3 percent) but less likely than natives (50.8 percent) to reside in a household with a mortgage or home loan.
More than one in four Korean immigrants did not have health insurance.
Among all Korean immigrants, 27.5 percent did not have health insurance in 2008 — lower than the share of all immigrants (32.9 percent) but higher than among the native born (12.9 percent).
About 251,000 children under age 18 resided in a household with a Korean immigrant parent.
In 2008, about 251,000 children under age 18 resided in a household with an immigrant parent born in Korea. Most of these children (76.9 percent) were native-born U.S. citizens.
About 16.3 million children under age 18 resided in households with an immigrant parent in 2008, of whom 85.6 percent were native-born U.S. citizens.
Note: Includes only children who reside with at least one parent and households where either the household head or spouse is an immigrant from Korea.
Legal and Unauthorized Korean Immigrant Population
There were about 270,000 Korean-born lawful permanent residents in 2008.
The 270,000 Korean-born lawful permanent residents (LPRs) in the United States in 2008 made up 2.1 percent of all LPRs, or green-card holders (12.6 million). The Korean born are the 11th largest country of birth for the total LPR population. Mexico leads the list (26.9 percent or 3.4 million), followed by the Philippines (570,000 or 4.5 percent) and India (520,000 or 4.1 percent).
More than 215,000 Korean immigrants gained lawful permanent residence in the United States between 2000 and 2009.
Between 2000 and 2009, about 10.3 million immigrants obtained LPR status, including 215,070 Korean born. The Korean born accounted for 2.3 percent (or 25,926, including 67 from North Korea) of the 1.1 million immigrants who received lawful permanent residence in 2009.
The number of Korean immigrants receiving LPR status in 2009 was lower than in 2008 (26,666) and higher than in 2007 (22,405).
More than half of all Korean immigrants receiving lawful permanent residence in 2009 were admitted as work-based immigrants.
In 2009, 54.7 percent of Korean immigrants receiving lawful permanent residence were admitted as work-based immigrants or their family members. About 45 percent or 11,671 Koreans were admitted as family-based immigrants — principally as the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens (10,011 or 38.6 percent) and as family-sponsored immigrants (1,660 or 6.4 percent). About 54 Koreans (including 42 from North Korea) obtained LPR status as asylees or refugees.
For comparison, among the 1.1 million immigrants overall who became LPRs in 2009, 47.4 percent (535,554) came as U.S. citizens' immediate family, 18.7 percent (211,859) as family-sponsored immigrants, and another 12.7 percent (144,034) as employment-based immigrants. About 15.7 percent (177,368) of new LPRs were refugees and asylees who were admitted in prior years and adjusted their status to LPR in 2009.
As of 2008, 170,000 Korean-born lawful permanent residents were eligible to naturalize.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service's Office of Immigration Statistics (OIS) estimates the Korean born accounted for 2.1 percent of nearly 8.2 million LPRs eligible to naturalize in 2008.
Those 170,000 Korean-born LPRs who were eligible to naturalize in 2008 made up 62.9 percent of all Korean-born LPRs. Roughly 23,000 Korean-born LPRs naturalized in 2008.
In 2009, the United States admitted 25 refugees from North Korea.
Of the 74,602 refugees admitted to the United States in 2009, 25 were from North Korea. Virtually no Korean immigrants were accepted as refugees.
Roughly 2 percent of all unauthorized immigrants in the United States were from Korea in 2009.
OIS has estimated that 200,000, or about 2 percent, of the approximately 10.8 million unauthorized migrants in January 2009 were born in Korea.
The number of unauthorized immigrants from Korea increased 14 percent between 2000 and 2009.
The estimated number of unauthorized immigrants from Korea grew from about 180,000 in 2000 to about 200,000 in 2009, an increase of 14 percent.
For information about ACS methodology, sampling error, and nonsampling error, click here.
Hoefer, Michael, Nancy Rytina, and Bryan Baker. Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: January 2009. January 2010. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics. Available online.
Monger, Randall and Nancy Rytina. 2009. U.S. Legal Permanent Residents: 2008. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics. Available online.
Ruggles, J., Steven, Trent Alexander, Katie Genadek, Ronald Goeken, Matthew B. Schroeder, and Matthew Sobek. 2010. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 5.0 [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota. Available online.
Rytina, Nancy. 2009. Estimates of the Legal Permanent Resident Population in 2008. October 2009. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics. Available online.
U.S. Census Bureau. 2008 American Community Survey. Accessed from Steven Ruggles, Matthew Sobek, Trent Alexander, et al., Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 3.0. Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota Population Center, 2004.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics. 2008 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics. Various tables. Available online.