African and Asian Newcomers are the New Face of Migrants in NYC

African and Asian Newcomers are the New Face of Migrants in NYC

Editorial credit: Roy De La Cruz /

By Arya Sundaram | Gothamist

Migrants from Africa, Asia, Europe and regions outside of Latin America now make up nearly half of New York City’s newest arrivals, reflecting a sharp departure from traditional migration patterns, according to an analysis of immigration court data by Gothamist.

Central and South American migrants accounted for the vast majority of cases in New York City’s immigration courts as recently as three years ago. But that majority has eroded as migrants from across the globe flock to New York City and the United States.

The changes in New York City reflect the growing diversity among migrants crossing the U.S-Mexico border as political and economic pressures intensify in different parts of the world, and as word spreads that more asylum-seekers are being granted entry, immigration experts told Gothamist.

“This is the fundamental change in the profile of migrants arriving at the border,” said Muzaffar Chishti, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute and director of the institute’s office at NYU School of Law. “You’re just seeing the downstream of a phenomenon that’s been unfolding at the border in the last two years.”

Some of New York City’s largest and fastest-growing migrant groups — including people from China, India and Uzbekistan — are mostly making their way to the city on their own and avoiding the city’s strained shelter network, according to immigration aid workers and experts studying immigration trends.

“All of the attention is on the migrants who are in the shelters,” Chishti added. “But the more natural flow of people into New York is happening at the same time. The old route of people getting to New York organically, getting integrated through their village networks is still happening.”

The data on immigration court filings was obtained by the Syracuse University group through federal Freedom of Information Act requests and analyzed by Gothamist. The records offer one of the most comprehensive views of the demographics and destinations of newly arrived migrants in New York and across the country.

The vast majority of migrants listing addresses in New York state are still mostly concentrated in New York City — 78% in fiscal year 2023, up from 61% in 2021 and 59% in 2019.

The longtime immigrant hub of Queens is still the top destination for new migrants within New York City, but a growing share of migrants are also arriving in other boroughs. Among migrants listing addresses in New York City, the share in Manhattan tripled from 5% in fiscal year 2021 to 15% in 2023. The share in the Bronx also rose from 12% to 17% in the same time period.

The number of new migrants listing addresses in suburban and upstate counties has also undergone a major increase, even in communities where officials blocked New York City from converting local hotels into migrant shelters, such as Rockland County. One of the largest increases took place in Niagara County on the U.S.-Canada border, where the number of migrants listing addresses there rose from about four in fiscal year 2021 to 125 in 2023.

Murad Awawdeh, the director of the New York Immigration Coalition, says the data reflects the realities his organization is seeing in some upstate communities. New York City bused migrants to shelters in hotels in upstate towns, Awawdeh said.

“Others came for a community or job opportunity,” he said.

The court data doesn’t reveal the full picture. The vast majority of individuals in new immigration court cases are asylum-seekers who have been in the country for less than a year. But other groups show up in the data, such as longtime immigrants residing in the United States without legal status who became subject to enforcement actions.

Further, the address information is taken from information provided by migrants to immigration officials. But the migrants could have traveled elsewhere without updating the court. And some migrants may not know their final destination. Nearly 40,000, or 2.7%, of the 1.49 million new immigration filings in the last fiscal year had no known address on file, according to Gothamist’s analysis.

But the court data secured by Syracuse University still provides a general snapshot of the new migrants and their whereabouts. And it’s based on what occurred in a given federal fiscal year, which runs from October to September.

‘They go unnoticed. They blend in’

Adama Bah has been assisting newly arrived migrants in New York City for years and is the founder of Afrikana, a nonprofit focused on helping Black migrants. Bah says she’s noticed a diverse range of nationalities among the new migrants arriving in New York City in recent years, even as she says public attention has focused on Latin American migrants.

She pointed to major groups like Chinese, Uzbek, Georgian, South Asian, and Russian migrants. She said they frequently come to the city after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border but have largely avoided the free buses to New York City paid for by Texas officials.

Instead, she says, many migrants in those groups generally come to the city on their own dime, on buses and planes, and steer clear of the city’s crowded shelters. Upon entering, they often connect with more established immigrants from their home countries, who offer access to jobs and private shelter.

“They have community,” Bah said. “They have the infrastructure.”

And of the white migrants, Bah said, “They go unnoticed. They blend in.”

Bah’s on-the-ground observations of some of the most prominent migrant groups are reflected in the immigration court filings data. The share of new local immigration cases belonging to Central and South Americans has declined in recent years, from nearly three-quarters in fiscal year 2021 to just over half in 2023.

That comes as the share of Asian migrants with new local immigration cases increased over 10% in the same period, and the share of African migrants in the same position increased over 8%.

The data shows that an influx of migrants from Senegal, Mauritania and Guinea is largely driving the growing number of Africans with new local cases. Meanwhile, migrants from China, India, and the central and western Asian countries of Uzbekistan and Georgia are driving the increase of Asians with new local immigration cases.

Haiti and Russia also accounted for other major influxes, and the number of migrants from Central and South American countries like Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru and Colombia is also rising.

Experts say immigrants arriving across the globe are often fleeing political persecution in their home countries and seeking better economic opportunities, though the reasons vary from country to country. Youth unemployment in China remains high. And in Russia, President Vladimir Putin’s government has cracked down on dissent against his regime and the ongoing war in Ukraine. Immigration experts also note that the rise in African migration to the United States and New York City comes as Europe has tightened its border restrictions.

Chishti from the Migration Policy Institute argues that the United States’ border policies have also attracted new migrants from far-flung regions of the world.

“They have realized that if you reach the southern border, and you apply for asylum, you will be let in,” Chishti said. “That then creates the magnet.”

Several of those growing migrant nationalities — including from West Africa, China, Uzbekistan, Russia, and Ecuador — have had long-standing presences in New York City, according to John Mollenkopf, a CUNY professor and demographer studying local immigrant groups.

“A lot of people from the same hometown end up in the same neighborhood in New York City,” said Mollenkopf, adding: “There’s always an initial group that establishes a base for others.”

A new face on immigration in NYC

More than half of the new immigration court cases filed by Chinese, Uzbek, and Senegalese migrants were located in New York City in 2023. Together they are among the 20 largest migrant nationalities in the country.

New York City’s immigration courts also received large shares of new filings from Ecuadorian, Georgian and Guinean migrants.

But some of the most common nationalities among migrants across the country – based on the court filings – are less prevalent in New York City. That includes migrants from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Cuba. Likewise, even some immigrant groups that accounted for major influxes from fiscal year 2021 to 2023, such as Venezuelans and Colombians, were underrepresented in New York City.

Austin Kocher, an assistant professor studying immigration at Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, said that’s partly because some locations are more popular with migrants of certain nationalities, ethnic groups or geographic regions.

For example, Miami-Dade County in Florida — the second top destination for new migrants after New York City in spring 2023 — was then home to a much larger share of Cubans and far fewer Ecuadorians than New York City, according to a report from the Syracuse University institute.

A ‘dramatic’ shift at the border

The diversification of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border is a fairly recent trend, according to federal immigration data and experts.

Fiscal year 2022 marked the first time that a majority of migrants arrested at the U.S-Mexico border came from regions farther away, outside of Mexico and the Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. That’s according to a Syracuse TRAC analysis from last year, which reports on the “dramatic” shift in the nationalities of migrants crossing the southern border.

Mexicans were the most common group arrested along the U.S.-Mexico border from the early 2000s to the early 2010s. Since then, Border Patrols have arrested a growing number of migrants from the so-called Northern Triangle made up of the Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

But since around 2021, “there’s been a massive diversification in migrants coming to the southern border,” Kocher said.

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