What can we learn from the experience of Vietnamese Americans?
Policy makers should see integration and upward mobility, and not simply placement and survival, as goals of resettlement of refugees. Our research on the integration of Vietnamese refugees in the United States shows that this population has demonstrated high levels of upward mobility. Drawing on these experiences, a careful and well-organized plan for the reception of involuntary migrant groups--stages of integrationlies at the core of our recommendations. For this, the case of Vietnamese Americans is instructive and produces concrete policy recommendations for the future.
From 'boat refugees' to resettlement and successful adaption
Vietnamese Americans have shown high levels of upward mobility since the large-scale global movement of refugees to North America in the 1970s. Research shows that this advancement was brought about by the structure of the refugees' social networks and resettlement policies that encouraged the development and use of those networks. Subsequent research indicates that the socioeconomic adaptation and upward mobility of members of this group have continued in a favorable direction over the decades, but that these vary according to the social organization of specific Vietnamese communities and available economic opportunities.
As seen in Figure 1, Vietnamese refugee resettlement began with an initial wave immediately following the collapse of South Vietnam in April 1975. However, the exodus of Vietnamese that became known as the 'boat people crisis' at the end of the 1970s resulted in an expansion of US refugee policy for the next two decades. More specifically, because of the South-East Asian refugee crisis led the US Congress to pass the most comprehensive piece of refugee legislation in US history, the Refugee Act of 1980.
By the twenty-first century, though, the movement of Vietnamese refugees to the US, as well as other countries, had essentially ended. Although there was some limited non-refugee migration in these later years, even this trickle was closely linked to refugee resettlement because the non-refugee migrants often came through family connections in the US.
When Min Zhou and I published Growing Up American: How Vietnamese Children Adapt to Life in the United States (https://www.russellsage.org/publications/growing-american-1) [i] (#_edni) twenty years ago, we found that many Vietnamese children were doing exceptionally well in US schools...