Non-Traditional Immigrant Destinations: Who Is Moving Where and Why?

Other External Scholars:
Mary M. Kritz, Cornell University
Douglas T. Gurak, Cornell University
Project Date:
Nov 2006
Award Amount:
Project Programs:

While scholars and the media have paid considerable attention to patterns of migration to the United States, very little is known about the migration of immigrants within the U.S. after their arrival. The 2000 census revealed a striking new pattern: during the 1990s, immigrants began resettling in large numbers outside of traditional gateway cities. In cities like Raleigh, Reno, and Memphis – all cities without a substantial immigrant presence historically – the number of foreign-born residents grew by 200 percent or more between 1990 and 2000. A growing share of these new arrivals are undocumented and unskilled. Designing policies to ease their integration into new communities will require understanding the forces driving this dispersal of immigrants across the country.



Demographers Mary Kritz and Douglas Gurak will investigate this geographical shift in immigrant settlement patterns using 1980, 1990, and 2000 Census data. Kritz and Gurak aim to answer two major questions: Which immigrant groups are migrating to non-traditional destinations? And which non-traditional destinations are attracting this new wave of internal migration? The investigators will test alternative hypotheses drawn from the theories of spatial assimilation, human capital, and social networks. Are specific national-origin groups pioneering the move to non-traditional regions of America? Are highly skilled immigrants more or less likely to resettle in new cities and suburbs? Does linguistic and cultural integration increase the likelihood that immigrant families will venture into non-traditional areas? And how have different immigrant groups decided where to settle? As demand for unskilled laborers in the Northeast and Midwest dries up, immigrants may be seeking out cities where job growth in low-skill sectors is rapid and housing costs low. On the other hand, there is some evidence that social networks are channeling immigrants into cities where other co-ethnic immigrants have clustered into distinct communities. Kritz and Gurak will use the three waves of census data to determine why immigrants began to disperse across the country in the 1990s, and what factors determined where they chose to resettle.


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