From Chinatown to Non-Gateway Destinations: New Patterns of Employment and Settlement for Recent Chinese Immigrants

Awarded Scholars:
Zai Liang, State University of New York, Albany
Project Date:
Jun 2010
Award Amount:
Project Programs:

Chinese immigrants represent the third largest immigrant group in the United States, after the Mexican and Filipino foreign-born. Although half of the immigrants from China have settled in just two states – California and New York – their numbers are increasing rapidly in small towns and cities which previously attracted relatively few Chinese immigrants. For example, between 2000 and 2006, the Chinese population in Wyoming, Nebraska, Tennessee, South Dakota, and Idaho more than doubled.  What explains the shift in destination choices for new Chinese immigrants? What consequences does this dispersion pattern have for Chinese immigrant businesses and workers, and for the communities in which they settle?

SUNY Albany sociologist Zai Liang has reasons to believe that the saturation of the Chinese-restaurant market in New York City, combined with a major rise of immigration from the Fujian province in China, has generated a push to new destinations. Fujianese business-owners have identified opportunities for the expansion of Chinese restaurants outside of traditional gateways, and Chinese employment agencies are helping them to recruit and mobilize workers to the new destinations.

In 2002 and 2003, Liang conducted a survey of migrant-sending communities in China and destination communities in New York City. His efforts centered on emigration from China’s Fujian Province, which had become the top migrant-sending province in China. This migration consisted largely of undocumented rural males, between the ages of 25 and 30 years old, with some education, and above-average family resources.  Liang was interested in uncovering the role of migration networks in initiating and sustaining migration flows from China. In the course of conducting interviews in New York City-destination communities, he observed the increasingly visible and growing presence of a Chinese-owned and operated fleet of buses carrying Fujianese immigrants not only to jobs in traditional destinations along the East Coast corridor, but to states like Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The jobs, he learned, were not indigenous to those destinations but were being “exported” by immigrant Chinese entrepreneurs who recruited co-ethnics to work for them in exchange for reasonable wages and free room and board.  The force bringing them together appeared to be ethnic Chinese employment service agencies (ESAs).

In this new research, Liang proposes to investigate the forces behind the expansion of Chinese restaurants and workers to non-gateway destinations and the mediating role of New York City-based Chinese employment service agencies. Liang is particularly interested in exploring how ESAs potentially change the employment relationship for immigrants – giving them more “choice,” in terms of location, types of jobs, and wages. He is also interested in investigating how Chinese employers (in this case, restaurant owners) carve out a business niche in the new gateways and the extent to which they maintain business and social ties in New York City.

Results of this project will be reported in a series of academic papers addressing the geography of Chinese restaurants’ dispersion to new destinations, the social and demographic correlates of business location in new destinations, and the role of ESAs in the process of employment and settlement of recent Chinese immigrants in non-gateway destinations.


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