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University of Virginia Publication Sheds Light on Profile of Foreign-Born Virginia Residents

July 1, 2008 - As Americans celebrate the founding of our nation on Independence Day, 75 foreign-born Virginia residents, gathering with family, friends, dignitaries and visitors, will take a hard-earned oath of citizenship on the lawn at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. Those new citizens join other foreign-born Virginians who have taken their oaths in ceremonies throughout the year from Harrisonburg to Hampton.

Recognizing the importance of the foreign-born to Virginia, the University of Virginia's Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service released a study of all of Virginia's foreign-born residents, noting that new arrivals account for one-quarter of the commonwealth's population growth since 2000. In the second edition of "Stat Chat," a digest of facts about demographic topics of current interest, Cooper Center demographers report that one in 10 Virginians is foreign-born, and the percentage of foreign-born in Virginia has increased dramatically since 1970. In 2006, the top five countries of birth for Virginia's foreign-born were El Salvador, Mexico, Korea, Philippines and India.

Forty-three percent of the foreign-born in Virginia have become United States citizens through the naturalization process, which requires applicants to be 18 years of age; maintain lawful residence in the United States for five consecutive years; demonstrate good moral character, English language ability and knowledge of U.S. history and government; and take an oath of allegiance to the United States. Naturalized citizens exceed the foreign-born non-citizens and their native-born counterparts in household income and educational attainment.

Using 2006 data from the United States Census Bureau's American Community Survey, the center's demographers also found that:

  • Almost three-quarters of the foreign-born in Virginia are between the ages of 25 and 64, suggesting migration to Virginia for employment opportunities.
  • The educational attainment of the foreign-born is represented in two extremes. Overall, a larger percentage of foreign-born Virginians than their native-born counterparts has less than a high school diploma. At the same time, a larger percentage of the foreign-born has earned a bachelor's or graduate/professional degree.
  • Households headed by foreign-born persons have higher median incomes than those headed by their native-born counterparts.
  • The foreign-born population in 2006 was primarily from Latin America and Asia. In contrast, in 1900, there were few, if any Virginians from Latin America and 1 percent were from Asia.
  • The Washington/Arlington/Alexandria metropolitan region leads the commonwealth with one in every five residents being foreign-born (20 percent of the region's population). Harrisonburg ranks second (9 percent), followed by Charlottesville, Richmond, Virginia Beach and Winchester, all with 6 percent of the population foreign-born.

    "Understanding the diversity and strengths of Virginia's foreign-born population is essential to tapping their abilities to contribute to Virginia's future," said Qian Cai, director of the Cooper Center's Demographics and Workforce section. "The profiles, potential and needs of foreign-born Virginians are changing. Thorough understanding of these trends, combined with careful planning and sound public policy, will help Virginia meet their needs and benefit from their contributions."

    Other in-depth studies produced by the center's workforce and demographics section can be found in its "Numbers Count" series, including:

  • "Hispanic Immigrants and Citizens in Virginia," February 2008
  • "Virginia Public School Enrollment Trends, 2007-2011," August 2007
  • "Who's Moving to Virginia," January 2007

    A copy of "Stat Chat," and any of the section's publications, can be downloaded from www.coopercenter.org/demographics.

    For information, contact Qian Cai (pronounced Chien Tsai) at 434-982-5581 or by e-mail at qian.cai@virginia.edu.

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