Virginia’s foreign-born population has grown exponentially since 1970 from 1 in 100 to 1 in 9 in 2012, University of Virginia researchers found in census data.
The population shift, most notably in Northern Virginia, is changing the state’s educational, political and social landscape.
The Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service released the study Tuesday, listing El Salvador, India, Mexico, the Philippines and South Korea as the top five countries of origin.
About 68 percent of Virginia’s foreign-born residents live in Northern Virginia and account for 23 percent of the region’s population.
The foreign-born population includes naturalized citizens, permanent residents, refugees and illegal immigrants.
The Richmond region accounts for 9.8 percent of the state’s foreign-born population, said Shonel Sen, a research and policy analyst at the Weldon Cooper Center.
The Richmond region is defined by the Census Bureau as including the Tri-Cities and counties from Louisa south to Prince George and from Louisa east to King and Queen. Within the region, 6.9 percent of residents are foreign-born.
According to 2012 census estimates, foreign-born residents made up 11.2 percent of the Henrico population and about 11 percent of the statewide population. The percentage of foreign-born residents was 8 percent in Chesterfield County, 7.4 percent in Richmond and 3.3 percent in Hanover County.
More than 770,000 Virginia residents were foreign-born in 2006, or 1 in 10. The population increased six years later to almost 950,000, according to the center’s research.
Across the state in the early 1900s, most foreign-born residents were from Russia and European countries including Germany, Ireland, England and Scotland. The study found that most immigrants in Virginia now come from Asia and Latin America — 42 percent and 35 percent, respectively. Europe and Africa now contribute 10 percent each to the state’s foreign-born population.
Steve Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington, said burgeoning employment opportunities in Virginia due to expanding homeland security operations and a rising information-technology industry have brought in waves of foreign-born workers and foreign-born college graduates looking for jobs.
“The main thing to appreciate is that Virginia is becoming more like America at a very rapid rate,” he said. “We have huge migrations into Virginia from all over the world because of economic opportunity.”
The Philippines, India and South Korea all have English ingrained in their educational systems and workforces, he said, which contributes to the rise in immigration to America from those countries.
“The increase in immigrants to the Virginia economy has significant implications for the preparedness of our workforce for jobs that are in demand,” Christine Chmura, president and chief economist of Chmura Economics & Analytics, said in an email.
“Over the next decade, our economy will continue to require a more highly skilled workforce. That means a larger percentage of our workforce will need a degree or credentials beyond a high school diploma.”
Chmura added that some members of Virginia’s increasing immigrant population come from a culture in which college education is not encouraged. “In particular, I’m referring to the Hispanic population,” she said. “From this perspective, an increase in immigrants in the state could decrease our educational attainment levels, which has been one of our competitive advantages over other states.”
Virginia’s demographic changes have also transformed political leanings in the state that, before President Barack Obama’s win of electoral votes in 2008, had not backed a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964. Not all minority voters are foreign-born, of course, but many have participated in the changing political landscape.
During the 2012 presidential election, when 71 percent of the state’s voters went to the polls, two-thirds of Hispanic and Asian voters backed Obama. Obama carried 93 percent of the black vote, 64 percent of the Hispanic vote and 66 percent of the Asian vote, according to exit polls reported by The New York Times.
Political influence from Northern Virginia’s large Korean community came to the forefront last month when the House of Delegates and the state Senate approved legislation to require that new Virginia textbooks note that the Sea of Japan also is known as the East Sea.
Many Koreans oppose the “Sea of Japan” designation because Japan occupied Korea from 1910 to 1945. Fairfax, a county of 1.1 million people, is 18 percent Asian and has one of the largest Korean populations among U.S. counties.
Sen. J. Chapman Petersen, D-Fairfax City, whose wife, Sharon, was born in Korea, noted the group’s political clout.
“Very few ethnic communities are organized enough to have a sustained lobbying campaign on a geographic issue that’s 10,000 miles away,” he said. “They are tough, they’re organized, and they can vote you out.”
The report also found that many immigrants come to the U.S. between the ages of 25 and 44, during the prime of their careers, and are more likely to have families here. Almost one-fifth of native-born children in Virginia have at least one foreign-born parent.
More analysis on causes of the demographic shift is on the way, according to Sen, the Weldon Cooper analyst.
“The next generation is also more diverse,” she said, “so this diversity is going to continue.”