Korean Americans

ABOUT: The history of Koreans in America began when some 7,000 Koreans were recruited and brought to Hawai’i as plantation laborers, from 1903-1905. They were brought in to meet the labor demand on the Hawaiian plantations after a series of laws barring Chinese labor immigration were enacted. Before the door was completely closed in 1924 due to the National Origins Act, about 1,100 Korean “picture brides” were brought in.

These brides were better educated than their male partners, and brought life and hope to the predominantly bachelor community. They actively took part in church activities and independence movements that helped free their homeland from Japanese colonial rule. Students and political exiles constituted the third group of early Korean immigrants and they provided significant leadership in the pre-World War II Korean American community. Syngman Rhee, who later became the first president of the Republic of Korea, and Ahn Chang Ho, another political activist, are well known examples.

American intervention in the Korean War (1950-53) triggered the second wave of Korean immigration. American soldiers stationed in Korea brought home Korean brides, arranged adoption of war orphans to American homes, and sponsored students to come to the United States. Between 1951 and 1964, approximately 6,500 brides, 6,300 adopted children, and 6,000 students came to this country. The number of Koreans who have immigrated to this country as adopted children, or brides of Americans, since the Korean War is more than 100,000 for each respective group.

After 1965, students-turned professionals were able to apply for permanent residence visas in the United States under provisions of the Hart-Cellar Act. Since 1970, close relatives of permanent residents or citizens have comprised an overwhelming majority of the Korean immigrants coming to America. A total of 778,899 Korean immigrants were admitted to the U.S. between 1941 and 1998. Korean immigration peaked during the 1980s and annual admittance has steadily declined since 1987.

Source: Chang, Edward Taechan. 2003. “Korean Americans” Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <korean.shtml> (December 5, 2022).

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