Research Paper: Vietnamese Immigration in the United States and France

Every year millions of people emigrate from one country to another, this process is one of the main reasons of population problems in most countries. Some reasons for immigration are famine, poverty, religion, revolution, unemployment, dictatorships, cholera, overpopulation, war, political repression and some others. People usually immigrate to countries where the standards of living are much higher than in their native. The examples of such countries are the USA, Great Britain, Canada, France, Germany and others. To the USA immigrate people mostly from Ireland, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Poland, Italy, Israel, China, Japan, Jamaica, Vietnam, Haiti, Cuba and others. To France come people for the permanent place of residence from Algeria, Maraca, Vietnam, China, Poland and other countries.

This work is devoted to Vietnamese immigration to the United States of America and France. Are the conditions of life for the Vietnamese people the same in these countries? How differ the refugee and immigration policies in these countries? How integrate refugees and immigrants of the two countries? I am going to investigate all these questions and then draw a conclusion.

But before discussing problems dealing with Vietnamese immigration, we will get acquainted with immigration process and its consequences. Most people immigrate to another country in search for better living, it’s the main reason. As I’ve already mentioned immigration can be a great problem, because it influences social, cultural, economical and political life of native people. It results heated arguments whether immigration is good for the country.

Immigrants bring with them part of their culture, language, religion and traditions and we can’t leave this factor without attention. They are confronted with numerous difficulties such as civil rights, education, work, social services and political participation. Job skills, legal status, educational background play an important role in social, cultural and political integration. The necessity of real foreign professionals who can develop ties with their native countries on the economical level and gives a possibility for a few people to realize themselves but for the majority the situation is very difficult.

On the other hand immigrants are necessary to strengthen the economy of the country, especially in America. Most of immigrants are cheap man labor. Some American politicians are trying to simplify immigration laws, as scientists predict the labor demand in nearest future.

History of Vietnamese immigration

Under the emigration we usually understand the change of place of living. Emigration can have different reasons but usually big amount of emigrant from any country can be a sign of changes to worse inside the country. This statement is very true for Vietnam. More than thirty years of war and armed conflicts resulted big number of emigrants who leave their country. People emigrate to Southeast Asia or further. The peak of emigration from Vietnam could be traced between the end of 1970 and middle of 1980s (Cargill, 2001). There were inner reasons, which resulted such a high emigration rate. In April 1975 the government of Vietnam collapsed, the country went through the crises of the political power and finally, Saigon came under the control of communists. As a result of these events big number of political refugees had to escape from the country in order to save their freedom and lives. Changes in political structure of the county and threat of political pursuit resulted the appearance of big number of emigrants not only from Vietnam but also from neighboring countries, such as Laos and Cambodia. Last years became very difficult for political elite, doctors, teachers, lowers and everybody who had any connection to former government in South Vietnam. These people lived under the constant pressure and threat to their life. Many of them finally emigrated. Sometimes they had to do that secretively, taking risks of being caught and thrown to prison. Governmental policy was very intolerant towards the representatives of other ways of thinking. Special camps and isolated areas were created to deal with this people, where they were punished or educated according to the standards of the new government. Researches state that from 50 000 to 400 000 people passed through these camps and 205 000 died there (Cargill, 2001).

It’s not surprising that those who had an opportunity tried to leave the country by any means. In 1975 the number of people who tried to emigrate from Vietnam by sea was estimated from 70 000 to 2.5 million people (Cargill, 2001). Sad statistics shows that all refuges have reached the opposite shore, which would mean freedom and liberation for them. Many people died from drowning, some were caught by the police other became the victims of pirate attacks. The percent of refuges who died trying to emigrate from Vietnam was estimated from 10 to 50 percent of all refugees (Cargill, 2001). These numbers terrify as this means that almost the half of all emigrants who tried to escape from the country by sea died. Big number of poor Vietnamese tried to reach closest countries, where they could feel safe. Closest countries emigrants could reach were Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia and others. Those, who had more financial opportunities or could ask somebody for help went to more distanced countries, like the US for example. America, who tried to set forward its policy in South Vietnam for a long time tried to help some refugees to leave the country. American officials and voluntary organizations helped refugees to leave Vietnam and some other Asian countries. 14 000 homeless children were got out from southern Vietnam and taken to America by one organization. America did a lot to help Asian emigrants. Some American laws had been changed in order to make the process of emigration to America from Asian countries easier. At the same time, kind initiative of the state was limited by federal laws. Many refugees could never get to the US because of so called “dispersal policy”. It was a policy of limitation, established by the federal directive, which prohibited to perceive more than 3 000 refuges in one state (Cargill, 2001). France was another country, which had an important influence on the policy of Vietnam and became the destination place for many emigrants later.

General comparison

Both of the countries – the US and French became the motherland for many immigrants from different countries, including Vietnam and both countries had to decide on their immigration policies.

Very often the attitude to immigrants reflects not only the part of the foreign policy of the country, but also reflects its political and social system. From the way immigrants are treated in the country we can judge about the humane values accepted there. Attitude towards immigrant accepted by the government of the country very often reflects the attitude of all citizens of the country towards strangers and foreigners. It’s not surprising that in democratic countries the government reflects the will and attitude of its population. Attitude to immigrants in general and to Vietnamese immigrants in particular is different in two countries. American immigration policy is usually defined as more liberal and pluralist. The United States of America was founded as a multicultural country, which became the motherland for many immigrants and refugees. These qualities are reflected in the immigration policy of the country. At the same time France is more closed for strangers. Its immigration policy is more static and reflects the Jacobean character. Each country has do decide on many issues while planning its immigration policy. These issues are the judicial definition of citizen, the problem of assimilation, ethnicity, racism, social interaction and socialization of immigrants and many others. The issues mentioned above are very much defined by the state policy and can be regulated by the government to big extend. But there is another dimension of attitude to immigrants and this dimension is conditioned by general human values and attitudes. The tendency to humanization of the society that became widespread in the world after WW II had influenced the attitude to immigrants also. It becomes more and more evident that creating equal economic, business and education opportunities isn’t enough to make immigrants feel comfortable in the country they’ve chosen as their second motherland. So, comparison of the immigration policies of the countries can not be reduced only to governmental regulations and social policies accepted in the society. It’s necessary also to take into account human attitude towards these issues. Despite high democratic standards, the US and France have difficulties in formulating migration policies and coordinating them with national objectives. So, comparing immigration policies in these two countries its necessary to study work of state institutions, which control immigration process and work with immigrants; to study state lows towards immigrants and study attitude toward these issue in the society, the way its expressed by ordinary citizens of the countries. Another issue, which becomes evident when we try to compare Vietnamese immigration in both countries, is the fact that immigration issue is more politicized in France than in the US. It can be partially explained by administrative approach to immigration accepted in France. Federal system of the US, stable party system and pluralist approach to social and political issues made American approach to immigration more fragmented. “The Jacobean ideal of equality before the law held by many French citizens and the liberal ideal of equality of opportunity at the heart of recent American political development explain the openness and attraction of the 2 countries for foreigners” (Revue Europeenne des migration International, 1990).

Immigration policy of two countries

Till the year 1999 France practically didn’t do anything to improve conditions of life for immigrants. This year was a turning point in the immigration policy of France. In 2000 France held the presidency of the European Unity and took appropriate measures against illegal immigration. In May 2001 all these propositions were accepted by the Council of Ministers under the Swedish Presidency. In the postwar time France was practically the only country together with America that stimulated immigration. The need in Vietnamese and other immigrants is easily explained by the lack of workers but most of immigration projects failed because France’s public administration didn’t accept such policy. Since 1973 immigration policy in France has been mostly aimed to decrease and discourage immigrants (Revue Europeenne des migration International, 1990). From this moment France policy contrasts with the American.

The United States of America is called “melting pot”, as it consists of people of different nationalities and earlier it was easy to immigrate to the USA till the danger of overpopulation didn’t appear. So, in the 1920s were created first laws determining a quota of immigrants. In 1960s and 1970s large numbers of Vietnamese refugees were admitted to the country under special laws. The law of 1965 weakened removed severe restriction for Asian immigration but in the 1990s the situation has changed a bit (Isaacs, 2000).

The process of immigration of Vietnamese people to the United States started in 1975 and continues till now. The first wave of immigration is connected with the failure of Thieu regime in 1975 when Vietnamese people weren’t sure in their future and future of their country. They were looking for better living for them and their children. A lot of people started a dangerous and far trip to the USA and by 1980 more then 130,000 Vietnamese arrived in a new country (Isaacs, 2000). Most people arrived secretly and they practically didn’t have money to start a new life. A lot of Vietnamese were not fate to see their second motherland, as their boat journeys were dangerous and attended with storms, shortage of water and food and pirates. The percent of Vietnamese immigrants between 1980 and 1990 grew 142 percent (Isaacs, 2000). More than 80 percent of modern Vietnamese Americans were born not on the territory of the United States and it explains why Vietnamese culture is still very important in Vietnamese communities. Practically all the traditions have been preserved. Such strong cultural ties with motherland distinguish Vietnamese Diaspora from other minor groups such as Italians, English and Irish.

Close connection with Vietnam encouraged most Vietnamese Americans to take jobs that were similar to those they had in their native country. Mostly it was fishing and it caused tolerant attitude of native population and other immigrants at first but soon the Vietnamese began to succeed in their fishing business and to compete with native population. Attitude suddenly changed and a lot of cases of racial violent towards Vietnamese Americans took place. “Boston had 339 civil rights crimes reported in 1980 with many of them targeting Vietnamese immigrants.”(Hamilton-Merritt, 1993)

The history of Vietnamese Diaspora in the USA is rather short and numbers only 25 years but still its history is rather progressive and dynamic. In the early 90s the Vietnamese community of Southern Californian was created and was the push for further steps. This community gives a possibility for the development of Vietnamese immigrant, youth hand employment programs and united more than 300 other Vietnamese organizations (Rutledge, 1992). A lot local Vietnamese organizations and institutions such as Vietnamese radios and temples were created.

“One 1977 survey found that more than six in ten of those immigrants who had held white-collar jobs in Vietnam held blue-collar jobs at the time of the study…less than one in five of those who were employed as professionals in Vietnam had been able to find similar work in the United States” (Rutledge, 1992). In the early 90’s almost one fourth of Vietnamese immigrants were living in poverty and even starvation. The median family income for the Vietnamese in America was about $30,000 while for the Europeans it was more than $37,000. It can be explained by racism towards Vietnamese immigrants, low English vocabulary and lack of connections in professional sphere (Rutledge, 1992).

The existence of unique Vietnamese culture in Diaspora in the USA doesn’t mean that American culture wasn’t adapted to the Vietnamese. Most Vietnamese Americans wear American clothes, listen to modern American music and eat American food. At the same time Vietnamese people have strong ties with their families and communities, it gives simple explanation to the existence of such communities as Orange Country in California, where Vietnamese and Asian population prevails.

Now it’s just the time to turn to the history of Vietnamese immigration in France. Different historical processes that took place in America and France explain changes of immigration policy and attitude to immigrants of these two countries. After World War I France needed volunteers for its army and factory and from this period the history of Vietnamese immigration into France began. There were a few waves of Vietnamese immigrants, which arrived in France with different purposes.

The organization of social, political and legal institutions of Vietnamese immigrants has always had variable character and absolutely differs from the USA. During World War I Vietnamese people could easily enter the territory of France and become members of the Allied Forces that fought against Germany. The Vietnamese who came through the war had all rights to live in France and build their lives. They used their Asian traditions to establish strong Vietnamese communities where they could continue their cultural practice. The ties in community are rather strong even now and although the government doesn’t stand for the development of these communities, Vietnamese people have created some institutions. For example, the organization of bookshops and libraries helps people to keep in touch with their native country.

Associative practice is the main method of organizing communities for the Vietnamese. Their main aim is not just to preserve cultural heritage, religion and political views but it serves as a tool to build solidarity among people of this community. Such form of organizing communities can be rather dangerous for the government and so during the colonial period France promulgated a number of laws to restrict the development of communities but it didn’t help very much. In the 1920s and 1930s these organizations were the center of anti-colonial and national ideas. After the year 1954 and then the year 1975 most Vietnamese have lost hope to come back home. From that time and till now the Vietnamese community is the part of Vietnamese people living in France, it helps them to be closer to their motherland and to avoid denationalization (Isaacs, 2000).

Vietnamese Diaspora

There is even a special term for the Vietnamese who live outside Vietnam in a diaspora, they are called “Overseas Vietnamese”. This term is usually used for Vietnamese Americans or Vietnamese Europeans who were born outside Vietnam or migrated there after the unification of their native country in 1975. The term was used even before year 1975 and we can often hear that in a such way are called members of the Vietnamese diaspora who come for visits or business. Present-day Vietnamese diaspora numbers about 3 million Vietnamese people all over the world. More than 300,000 have left their motherland for America, Germany, France and other countries before the year 1975 (Cargill, 2001).

Vietnamese immigrants can be divided into some categories. To the first category we can refer Vietnam who have been living in neighboring countries, such as China, Laos or Cambodia for centuries. The second category is connected with Vietnamese people who migrated to France during French colonization and their place of residence are French-speaking areas, such as Québec. The third category is the most numerous and includes all the Vietnamese who escaped after 1975. These Vietnamese live all over the world but mostly in industrialized countries, such the USA, Australia and countries of Western Europe. After the collapse of Soviet Union, most Vietnamese who worked there stayed for permanent residence and they form the fourth category. The fifth group includes brides who marry foreigners and then follow them and so migrate.

As I’ve already mentioned about 3 million Vietnamese are immigrants and now it’s necessary to find where the Vietnamese emigrate in most cases, so we need some kind of statistics. The United States is the second motherland for most Vietnamese immigrants as there live 1,223,000 Vietnamese and it’s more than one third of all Overseas Vietnamese. In Cambodia and Laos live about 600,000. The third place takes France as it counts about 250,000 Vietnamese people. Then comes Australia with 174,000, Canada with 151,400, Russian Federation with more than 150,000, Germany with 83,520, Taiwan with 65,00 and so on (Peters, 2005).


This statistics help us one more time see that that processes of Vietnamese immigration are different in such countries as the United States of America and France. According to the statistics of the year 2000 more then 1.2 million Vietnamese live in America and these figures are great in comparison wit hall Vietnamese immigrants. Vietnamese Americans prefer to live in metropolitan areas, such as California and Texas. Areas where Vietnamese population prevails include Orange County, California, San Jose, California, Houston and Texas. Most Vietnamese who inhabit these territories escaped from Vietnam in 1975 to avoid the communist government in Vietnam and most of them don’t accept current Vietnamese government. But stricter attitude of France doesn’t mean that Vietnamese immigrants doesn’t have a possibility to read books in their native language, watch TV programs and so on. In recent years French government’s attitude is more tolerant and even aimed to create corresponding conditions for the national development of Vietnamese people. There are a lot of libraries, bookshops and other institutions of Vietnamese literature in France and especially in Paris. Vietnamese books and these institutions show us that The Vietnamese don’t forget their culture and preserve their identity. The modern nation of Vietnam is being formed on modern Vietnamese literature in France but all in all Vietnamese diaspora in France develops separately from all other Vietnamese and Vietnam itself.

As we can see attitude to Vietnamese immigrants is different in the United States of America and France. The immigration policy of the USA in most cases is aimed to improve the conditions of life for immigrants and help them to preserve their national, religious and political identity. Such loyal policy is easily explained by the fact that America was founded as a mixture of different nations. France’s position is a bit different. Its policy is much more static and being afraid of strong national spirit of Vietnamese people French immigrant policy isn’t aimed to develop the identity of the Vietnamese. Immigration question is a difficult one for both the government of the country and people but we should understand that very rarely people are read to leave their motherland when they are doing well. People are looking for better living in a new country when they have troubles and we should remember about it and be tolerant to them.


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