Why are there so few Indonesian immigrants in America?
November 2, 2013 12:17 PM   Subscribe

Why are there so few Indonesian immigrants in the USA?

According to the most recent figures I've been able to find on Wikipedia, we have three million people of Chinese ancestry, one million people of Japanese ancestry, and three million people of Phillipine ancestry living in the United States.

The figure for people of Indonesian background: 95,270.

Why is this? Why hasn't the US been able to attract more people from Indonesia? Is it a lack of historical ties? Do they prefer not to immigrate? Are other countries more attractive (for whatever reasons?)

Many thanks in advance.
posted by jason's_planet to Society & Culture (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Australia seems like it would be a welcome substitution for the United States, have you compared numbers there?
posted by oceanjesse at 12:45 PM on November 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I wonder if the Wikipedia figure is accurate. I don't really know much about the Indonesian community in the US, but here in Seattle I feel like I run into Indonesian folks a fair amount.

A lot of Indonesian refugees try to make it to Australia - it's a hot topic there.
posted by stowaway at 12:48 PM on November 2, 2013

This article has some statistics from last decade. In addition to Australia, the Netherlands is a top destination for Indonesian immigrants. Most labor emigration from Indonesia is to the Middle East.
posted by mbrubeck at 12:53 PM on November 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think the medium length answer is that the US has a history of supporting very repressive regimes in Indonesia (see The Year of Living Dangerously) because those regimes were very hard on communism, and in order to avoid a flood of political refugees generated by our own policies, who would have come here and shined an unwelcome light on those policies and sought to undermine the regime we were supporting in other ways as well, we throttled down Indonesian immigration in general.

In more recent years, I think we're leery of the substantial Muslim population.
posted by jamjam at 1:42 PM on November 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's difficult for Indonesian students to get visas (we've only had a handful of Indonesian students at our school). I expect that actually moving here to live is even more difficult.
posted by wintersweet at 1:59 PM on November 2, 2013

I wonder if it has anything to do with Indonesia being a former Dutch colony? Is it easy for Indonesians to immigrate to the Netherlands, sort of in the same way it's easier for Indians to move within the UK/Commonwealth orbit?

I, too, wonder about an Australia connection. It's a lot closer, with the accompanying cheaper travel between the two.

China and Japan had a long history of immigration to the US prior to the explosion in Asian immigration post-WW2. And the US has particular relationships with Korea and Vietnam that likely influences those communities' tendency to come here.
posted by Sara C. at 2:01 PM on November 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Checkout MigrationsMap.net. The data seems a little old, but if I'm reading it correctly, folks from Indonesia tend to immigrate to Malaysia (presumably for reasons of geographic proximity plus cultural/linguistic/religious similarity), Saudi Arabia (labor demand; religious connection); the Netherlands (colonial history); the Philippines (geographic proximity plus linguistic similarity); the USA (it's actually hard to come up with a clear reason other than it being a large wealthy country); Australia (geographic proximity); and Germany (see USA). So I'll go with other countries being more attractive.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 2:03 PM on November 2, 2013

The first part is related to Indonesians themselves - Unlike other Asians that come to the US in much larger numbers, Indonesians have a nonexistent footprint here. New immigrants prefer destinations where there are local communities established. Life is made easier for them this way, in a strange new world.

As to why that hasn't happened yet, it has largely to do with the the skillset Indonesians can bring to the US. There is much less of a demand here in the US for low skilled labor given our proximity to other nations near us that fulfill our need. (Australia does not have Mexico or Central America nearby). Indonesians don't have the cultural connection that for example, the Philippines has to the US (history, affection, religion, language compatability) and that makes a difference. Indonesians also don't offer a "scientific" skillset that would be attractive in the eyes of the US government to encourage them.

Over arching, the US is a very, very difficult country to immigrate to (legally or illegally). The big exceptions are attractive skillsets, political status, or persecution.
posted by Kruger5 at 2:16 PM on November 2, 2013

Looking at it the other way around: with your examples, the US had a history of economic (the 'open door' trading policy with China & Japan) & military (the annexation of The Phillipines from Spain) imperialism in the late 19th C.

Indonesia as a country post-dates all that; prior, it was a collection of colonies of various other colonial powers of the time (notably the Dutch & Portugese).
posted by Pinback at 9:11 PM on November 2, 2013

Best answer: Maybe it's that the channels that have developed for going abroad in Indonesia are mostly focused on migrant labor rather than permanent immigration. In the data that Monsieur Caution mentions, my guess is that the numbers to Saudi Arabia and Malaysia are mainly migrant workers, not immigrants. My understanding is that there are agencies in Indonesia that recruit Indonesians to work in construction in the Middle East or as domestics throughout Southeast Asia and the Middle East. This (theoretically) mitigates risks involved in permanent immigration, like arriving in a country and being unable to find work and being unable to get to that country in the first place. According to this document recruitment agencies are licensed by the Indonesian government, a "village elder" must state that a particular person is eligible for recruitment, and the family of the recruit has to give written consent. This probably makes the process look and feel more legitimate than hopping on a plane/boat somewhere, although in actual fact migrant workers are extremely vulnerable and have virtually no labor protections.
posted by spaceheater at 12:19 AM on November 3, 2013

stowaway: A lot of Indonesian refugees try to make it to Australia - it's a hot topic there.

A diversion, but the refugees causing fuss in Australia are coming through Indonesia rather than from Indonesia. They tend to be Afghan/Iranian/Sri Lankan by nationality, but Indonesians have ended up in jail for manning the boats used.
posted by chiquitita at 12:36 AM on November 3, 2013

There were quite a lot of Indonesian students at my university in Queensland, Australia - many of whom were funded by the Australian government (AusAid scholarships) and were not from wealthy families (compared to the Chinese international students who generally were).

Here is a page giving a brief overview of Indonesian immigration to Australia - the numbers aren't huge, given the population of Indonesia and its history of civil unrest.
posted by goo at 3:16 AM on November 3, 2013

The first thing that comes to mind for me is that Indonesia has only been a nation for a little over 60 years, so there is at most 60 years of Indonesian immigration to the US that's happened. That's almost no time, compared to Filipino sailors having landed in California in 1587, Chinese people having been in California since before 1849, and Japanese people having been here since at least 1869.
posted by Lexica at 10:10 AM on November 3, 2013

As indicated above, Indonesia is a diverse country. A data point -- I'm acquainted with an Indonesian immigrant in the US. She doesn't live there anymore because in May 1998 she had to leave, since she's Chinese. Can't comment on the statistics, but ethnic demographics are an issue.
posted by Rash at 11:25 AM on November 3, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone!
posted by jason's_planet at 7:02 PM on November 4, 2013

« Older Apple Think Different commercial pulled from...   |   A car like a lightning bolt? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.