Immigration Explainer: What can Massachusetts expect from Afghan evacuees?

An Afghan boy greets U.S. soldiers from B Flight, 27 Squadron, Royal Air Force Regiment during a dismounted patrol in Kvoshab Village near Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.
Photo: U.S. Air Force, Tech. Sgt. Efren Lopez/Retrieved from @dvids on Flickr

August 31, 2021, marked the last day of the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. The world witnessed footage from Kabul’s airport of Afghans desperate to leave the war-ravaged country now under control of the Taliban. As the occupation ended, more than 122,000 people were evacuated from Afghanistan, including more than 5,400 U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

Two days prior, on August 29, 2021, the U.S. State Department had launched Operation Allies Welcome to help vulnerable Afghans resettle in the United States. The most likely method of entry will be “parole” after being vetted overseas. Parole is a temporary status granted for up to two years. Although parolees may have work authorization, they do not have immigration status or access to public benefits. Once paroled, Afghan nationals may be eligible to apply for immigration status, primarily a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) or asylum, both of which are severely backlogged and can take years to complete.

The SIV program was launched in 2008 to grant visas to Afghan and Iraqi nationals who worked for or on behalf of the U.S. government. Many SIV holders were interpreters and translators for the U.S. military, assisting American troops in carrying out delicate military operations. Many evacuees coming in the next year are expected to be given SIVs due to their work alongside the U.S. military.

The Biden administration plans to resettle 95,000 Afghans. This would nearly double the nearly 100,000 Afghans who moved to the United States from 1990 to 2020. Starting in 2010, SIV holders made up 67,995 of these individuals.

The State Department has identified an initial group of 37,000 evacuees to be resettled in the United States. As of September 2021, about 24,000 have already arrived, 23,000 are on U.S. military bases and 20,000 are waiting in other countries. States that have already resettled the largest number of Afghans over the last 20 years, such as California, which alone hosts one-third of Afghans resettled since 2001, Maryland, Texas and Virginia, will continue to receive the majority of these new evacuees. Massachusetts is expected to welcome and resettle 900 of this first group of Afghan evacuees.

The Immigrant Learning Center’s Public Education Institute sourced the data below from the Refugee Processing Center and cross-referenced them with state-wide data collected by the Massachusetts Office of Refugees and Immigrants. The data shows that between fiscal years 2010 and 2016, 13,086 people from 59 countries were resettled in 132 cities and towns across Massachusetts, primarily from, in order of number of refugees from greatest to least, Iraq, Bhutan, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Burma. Only a fraction of this total was comprised of refugees from Afghanistan. The top destination cities were Boston, Worcester, Springfield, Lowell and Lynn. Historically, displaced people have been resettled in places with the highest concentrations of their countrymates. It is likely that the Operation Allies Welcome evacuees will be resettled primarily in these aforementioned top cities.

Massachusetts Cities with Highest Rates of Resettlement, Fiscal Years 2010 – 2016

Number of Refugees by Country of Origin in Top Massachusetts Cities for Resettlement

Scroll sideways on the table below to view more content.

Country of OriginAll
West Springfield
Democratic Republic
of Congo

Distribution of Refugees by Country of Origin in Top Massachusetts Cities for Resettlement

Bar graph of the distribution of refugee resettlement in Massachusetts cities by country of origin

There are 13 refugee resettlement offices and affiliates in Massachusetts anticipating the arrival of Afghan evacuees. Not surprisingly, they are clustered in areas with the highest concentration of refugees.

Map of refugee resettlement offices and affiliates in Massachusetts anticipating the arrival of Afghan evacuees

Map of refugee resettlement offices and affiliates in Massachusetts anticipating the arrival of Afghan evacuees
Legend for map of refugee resettlement offices and affiliates in Massachusetts anticipating the arrival of Afghan evacuees = concentration of resettled Afghan refugees and immigrants
1. Ascentria Care Alliance, Westfield — Immigration Legal Assistance Program8. Ascentria Care Alliance, Waltham — Unaccompanied Refugee Minors Program
2. Ascentria Refugee and Immigrant Services, West Springfield9. Refugee and Immigrant Assistance Center, Boston
3. Catholic Charities — Welcome Home Refugee Resettlement Program10. Catholic Charities – Refugee and Immigration Services
4. Jewish Family Service of Western MA11. International Institute of New England, Boston
5. Refugee and Immigrant Assistance Center, Worcester12. Refugee and Immigrant Assistance Center, Lynn
6. Ascentria Care Alliance, Worcester — Unaccompanied Refugee Minors Program13. International Institute of New England, Lowell
7. Jewish Family Service of Metrowest
Task Force Pickett personnel reads stories to elementary school-age Afghan evacuee children in a classroom at Fort Pickett, with educational English alphabet posters in the background.
Photo: U.S. Marine Corps, Sgt. Corey Mathews/

Although the Fiscal Year 2022 Continuing Resolution that was passed in September 2021 does include funding to provide arriving Afghans with resettlement services and supplemental funding to resettlement agencies, it expires on December 3, 2021, and is thus a temporary patch. The resettlement community is hoping that more robust spending will be included in the final budget to provide Afghan evacuees access to permanent protection, services and benefits. For now, the majority of evacuees will be arriving in Massachusetts with “parolee” status and depend on local not-for-profit and faith-based resettlement agencies and community organizations to help them transition to their new American lives.

The sustainability of this model depends on private support to facilitate job searches, job placement, school placement, English instruction, basic financial and civic education, and arrangement of medical and social services. This initial investment in helping Afghan evacuees become new Americans will likely pay off well for both the evacuees and the community at large. Looking at the example of refugees, several research findings indicate that on average, refugees pay taxes that far exceed the relocation costs and social benefits they receive. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found in 2017 that refugees are a net benefit to government revenues, bringing in $63 billion more in revenue to federal, state and local governments than they received in benefits from 2005 to 2014. The ILC’s calculations corroborate this finding as well. Refugees, who make up less than one percent of the population of Massachusetts, contributed nearly three percent of total state taxes paid in 2015.

Massachusetts expects to resettle 900 Afghans over the course of the next year. The economic and social contributions they will eventually make will not only outweigh the initial cost of resettlement but enrich the cultural landscape and strengthen local communities.

How Immigration Has Enriched American Holidays and Traditions

May your days be merry and bright; Happy Holidays!


Immigrants and refugees from all over the world have brought their unique, diverse traditions to popular holidays in the United States. Some, like the Swahili names of Kwanzaa candles and the Scottish New Year’s Eve song Auld Lang Syne, have obvious international roots. Others, like mistletoe at Christmasjack-o-lanterns at Halloween and chocolate bunnies at Easter, may surprise you with their origins. Read on to learn just some of the ways immigration has shaped our celebration of Easter, Halloween, Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Years Eve. 


Pink peeps candy and a chocolate bunnyThe story of the Easter Bunny was brought to the United States by German immigrants. The mythical bunny known as an “Oschter Haws” would lay eggs outside the homes of well-behaved children. Children began creating “nests” to encourage egg laying. Later, as the number of gifts left by the bunny increased, the nests evolved into the contemporary Easter basket. Chocolate bunnies, originally handmade in rabbit-shaped molds, were also imported by German immigrants. 

Many traditional Easter treats were brought to the United States by immigrants. Russian American Sam Born founded the candy company that created Peeps, the chick-shaped marshmallow that many children (and some adults) enjoy around Easter time. Another immigrant entrepreneur, Bavarian-born William Schrafft, founded Schrafft’s Candy Company and is credited with the popularization and possibly the invention of the jellybean. Jellybeans themselves are likely a cross between Turkish Delight, a classic Middle Eastern delicacy, and Jordan almonds, an Italian treat with roots in Ancient Rome. 

Easter lilies, a flower so associated with the holiday that they share a name, came to the United States from Japan by way of Bermuda. After a Japanese missionary to Bermuda gifted some lily bulbs to a local friend, the plant took off on the island. From there, the beautiful flowers found their way to the United States. Traditionally, the lilies are significant to Easter because their growth from a dormant bulb to a full flower echoes the resurrection of Christ and the return of spring. 


The United States’ spookiest holiday has its roots in an ancient Celtic festival known as “Samhain,” during which people would build bonfires, don animal skins and celebrate the harvest. The Christian holiday All-Soul’s Day, contributed other traditions to Halloween, most notably trick-or-treating. On All-Soul’s Day, poor families in England went door-to-door to beg for “soul cakes” in exchange for a promise to pray for the household’s departed family members. As time went on, the practice evolved to include children from any background going door-to-door in search of treats, money and even ale. All-Soul’s Day, widely observed in England, and Samhain, primarily practiced among Celts, effectively merged to form Halloween. 

jack o'lanternEarly Protestant immigrants to the United States didn’t approve of the holiday’s mischief-making or pagan connections. It wasn’t until waves of Irish immigrants arrived in the 19th century, particularly in the wake of the Irish Potato Famine, that the holiday gained traction in the United States. Early Irish celebrants of All-Soul’s Day would carry a hollowed turnip with a face carved into it and a candle placed inside to ward off evil spirits. When Irish immigrants reached the New World and gained access to far more easily carved pumpkins, these turnips turned into the modern-day jack-o-lanterns. According to some accounts, the practice of dressing up in costumes began as a ruse among European Christians to confuse wandering spirits. The tradition was revived among young Scottish and English immigrants who wanted to add a little mischief to the festivities. 

Many popular Halloween candies can be traced to the innovations and confectionary skills of immigrant entrepreneurs. As noted in the section on Easter traditions, both jellybeans and Peeps were invented by immigrant entrepreneurs. Samuel Born, the Peeps inventor, also designed the machine that allowed candy companies to manufacture sweets on a stick. Almond Joy and Mounds bars were created by the Peter Paul Candy Manufacturing Company, a division of Hershey’s that was founded by six immigrants from Armenia. Bunte Candy Company, founded by German American immigrants, is credited with the first chocolate-coated candy bar. Prussian American immigrant entrepreneur Paul F. Beich gets credit for Laffy Taffy, Austrian American Leo Hirschfield created Tootsie Rolls, German American Gustav Goelit sold the first candy corn and English American Edward Dee brought Smarties to the States. In short, whatever your favorite Halloween treat is, you probably have an immigrant to thank for it! 


Lit MenorahHanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is an ancient Jewish holiday that commemorates the rededication of a Temple in Jerusalem after winning it back from the Greek occupiers in the second century BCE. Historically Hanukkah had been considered a minor event in the Hebrew calendar, but for modern American Jews, it can be one of the biggest celebrations of the year. The largest waves of Jewish immigration to the United States took place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, fueled by both economic concerns and an increasingly hostile environment in Europe. New Jewish Americans were eager to show their enthusiasm for their adopted homeland, and the subject of hard-won religious freedom seemed particularly relevant. Hanukkah is now celebrated by millions of Americans each year and has become one of the most valued traditions of North American Jewish communities. The holiday became a perfect opportunity to participate in American holiday-time feasting and gift-giving while keeping their traditions and building stable Jewish communities.  

It was also an opportunity to resist forced assimilation. Some rabbis saw emphasizing the Hanukkah holidays, particularly the food and gifts aspects, as an opportunity to keep Jewish children from being drawn into Christmas celebrations. In the mid-20th century, Jewish children were often pressured into celebrating Christmas in their schools. Jewish parents presented Hanukkah as an alternative tradition for their children to participate in.

Food traditionally associated with the holiday varies across Jewish cultures. U.S.-born people may be most familiar with the potato latke, but Jewish Hungarians traditionally fry up a cheesy version. Cheese is associated with the holiday due to the lesser known Hanukkah story of an Israeli woman named Yehudis, who was said to ply the leader of an occupying Assyiran force with salty cheeses to encourage him to drink himself into a vulnerable stupor. Jewish Italians also enjoy a fried or baked cheese pancake, called a “cassola” and made of ricotta. Italian Catholics have since adopted the dessert as a Christmas dish. Jewish Syrians prefer a variation on the latke called “kibbet yatkeen,” containing bulgur and pumpkin. For Jewish Israelis, jam-filled doughnuts called “sufganiyot” has gained popularity over the latke. Some Jewish Indians enjoy “gulab jamun,” a deep-fried, doughnut-like sweet dipped in a sugary syrup. Jewish North Africans make a similar dessert called “debla,” traditionally shaping the dough into a rose. The exact origins of Hanukkah gelt, a type of small, foil-wrapped chocolate coins, are unclear, but it may be linked to a Yemeni tradition of giving Jewish children a coin every day of Hanukkah to buy sweets.


European colonists brought Christmas to North America in the 1600s. Their observations were strictly religious, with few of the treats and trappings familiar to modern Americans. Many of the Christmas traditions that Americans cherish in the 21st century originated elsewhere, were brought here by immigrants and became American as they passed from generation to generation.

  • In the 1800s, Germanic immigrants brought the traditions of Christmas treesChristmas trees’ appeal expanded dramatically after the Industrial Revolution allowed for ornaments and special candles to be mass produced in Europe and shipped to the United States. Similarly, gift-giving began as a German tradition and increased in popularity as the price of everyday goods fell.
  • Christmas cards were popularized in the U.S. by Louis Prang, a Prussian refugee and artist. After successfully selling his elaborately designed holiday cards in the United Kingdom, he introduced his new product to the United States. He saw his cards as a way to share fine art, as well as a substitute for the more time-consuming tradition of the Christmas letter
  • The classic Christmas tune White Christmas was written by Irving Berlin, a Russian immigrant who practiced Judaism.
  • poinsettiaJoel Roberts Poinsett may have been an American diplomat and amateur botanist, but the “flor de la noche buena,” better known as a “poinsettia” in English, was native to Mexico before Poinsett sent cuttings home.
  • Mistletoe played a significant role in both Norse and Celtic druidic mythology before evolving into a modern symbol of holiday love.
  • Burning a Yule log began as a Scandinavian tradition, meant to bring luck or protection to the family in the coming year. These days, celebrants are more likely to enjoy a “bûche de Noël,” a style of cake shaped and decorated to resemble a Yule log that was popularized by Parisian bakers.
  • Saint Nicolaus, or Sinterklaas, as he was known to the German, Dutch, Ukrainian and Swiss immigrants who originally celebrated him, was expected on December 6 not the 24th. He is still celebrated on that date in communities throughout the U.S.

Some communities continue the Christmas celebration into January. After weeks of gatherings and feasts, Christians from South and Central America have a final celebration on January 6 known as Three Kings Day or the Twelfth Day of Christmas. Christians from Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Greece, Israel, Russia and several other Eastern European countries follow the Julian calendar and therefore celebrate Christmas on January 7.


Kwanzaa is the newest year-end holiday. It is the only December holiday to start in the United States, and it is now celebrated by millions around the world. It was created in the 1960s to reconnect American descendants of enslaved Africans with their heritage. Unlike other immigrant groups who could choose which aspects of their cultures and histories to preserve and which to let go, African Americans were forced to give up their traditions. After police brutality sparked the Watts uprising in 1965, Black Studies professor Dr. Maulana Karenga was inspired to create an opportunity to bring the Black community together. He researched harvest traditions across Africa to create a pan-African celebration, which became Kwanzaa. 

For seven days, observers of Kwanzaa celebrate their heritage and reflect on shared principles. The name comes from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” which means “first fruits of the harvest.” The extra “a” was added to make the word seven letters long, a number with symbolic significance in the tradition. The seven candles in a “kinara” symbolize the “seven principles” that Karenga assigned to each of the seven days of the holiday: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity) and Imani (Faith).  

Ethiopian doro wat chicken
Ethiopian doro wat chicken

Traditional Kwanzaa foods are drawn from both African and American Black communities. Groundnut stews from Ghana and “doro wat” chicken from Ethiopia are common, as is soul food or Creole dishes like black eyed peas and jambalaya. The diverse feasts tell the history of Africans and of their descendants in the Americas. On the final day, December 31, celebrants hold a traditional African feast called a “Karamu.” Kwanzaa is a secular holiday and celebrated by people of all spiritual backgrounds alongside other religious traditions. The food, greetings, symbolism and tales shared during Kwanzaa tell a story of forced migration and hard-won rights for African Americans and also build connections to the rich history and cultural traditions of Africa.

New Year’s Eve

champagne being pouredThe dawn of each new year is celebrated across the globe. Perhaps the most famous observance, the annual Times Square Ball Drop in New York City, was created by an immigrant. Prior to 1904, New Yorkers celebrated New Year’s Eve with fireworks, a tradition adopted from Chinese New Year celebrations. However, early 20th century fireworks were fast becoming a safety hazard in crowded cities. A solution was offered by Adolph Ochs, a German-born, Jewish newspaper magnate and publisher of The New York Times. Ochs collaborated with the city to start a new, safer tradition at Times Square, which had been renamed in honor of the new Times headquarters. Ochs’ idea took hold, and the ball drop has become the grand finale to New Year’s Eve celebrations ever since. Observers often toast the new year with a fizzy glass of Champagne. Clever French advertisers in the late 1800s attempted to tie the drink to a number of occasions, but it was the association with New Years that stuck. Genuine Champagne was made in the Champagne region of France and imported to the United States for the occasion, often to be sold by French immigrants.

Classic New Year’s song Auld Lang Syne was an import from Scotland by way of Canada. Scottish poet Robert Burns penned the version of the song we know today, drawing on an old Scottish folk tune. The song gained popularity in the British Isles before making the jump across the pond in 1929, when Canadian-born immigrant Guy Lombardo led an orchestra in a televised New Year’s Eve broadcast that concluded with a rendition of the song. It quickly gained popularity across the country. He would go on to end his annual broadcasts with the iconic New Year’s tune for decades after.  

And More

Those are only a handful of the ways that American holiday traditions have been influenced by cultures from around the world. You can find out more about less popular celebrations held in immigrant enclaves or how the original New Year’s resolutions were introduced in ancient Babylonia or simply make a point of participating in the many celebrations held in your community. For more information about how to celebrate our diverse history during the holidays, check out some of the resources below.

Celebrate Diversity During the Holiday – ideas and lesson plan for teachers.

Celebrate! Holidays and Anti-Bias Education

Creating an inclusive holiday environment for employers

Thoughts on building tradition as a multicultural family

Black History Month: Seven Famous Black Immigrants

We at The Immigrant Learning Center strive to inform Americans about the economic and social contributions of immigrants in our society. In honor of Black History Month, we are highlighting some Black immigrants who influenced, and are still influencing, the national conversation.

Claude McKay, Author / Journalist, 1889 – 1948

George McKayClaude McKay is famous for inspiring the Harlem Renaissance, a prominent literary movement of the 1920s. A prolific author, he wrote his first poem at the age of 10. He arrived in South Carolina from Jamaica in 1912 and published his first poems in 1917. His most famous poem, If We Must Die, was published in 1919 during “Red Summer,” a period of intense racial violence against Black people. Although he was known for the directness with which he wrote of racial issues, this poem spoke to resistance movements worldwide, and was even quoted by Winston Churchill during World War II. McKay’s most successful novel, Home to Harlem, gained recognition as the first commercially successful novel by a Black writer. Current scholars recognize him as a fixture of African-American studies. His last novel, Amiable With Big Teeth, was published posthumously in 2017.

Chinua Achebe, Author / Activist / Educator, 1930 – 2013

Chinua Achebe is known as the father of African literature. He became the first African author to achieve mainstream success in the Western world with his first novel, Things Fall Apart, in 1958. Prior to that, most stories published about Africa were by Europeans. Achebe’s success paved the way for many more African writers.

That first book was just the start of a long career as a teacher, writer and political activist. Not even losing the use of his legs in a 1990 car accident could derail him. He used a wheelchair for the rest of his life and continued to work for another 23 years. He immigrated from Nigeria to the United States to teach at Bard College and later Brown University, and continued to publish his fiction and poetry. To this day, he is still best known for his first novel. Things Fall Apart has been translated into 50 languages and has sold more than 10 million copies. His body of work has impacted countless people, including Nelson Mandela who once said that with Achebe’s writing for company “the prison walls fell down.”

Miriam Makeba, Singer / Activist, 1932 – 2008

Born under apartheid in South Africa and popularly known as “Mama Africa,” Miriam Makeba spent a lifetime advocating for the liberation of Black Africans and the African diaspora more broadly. After seeing her in an anti-apartheid documentary, Harry Belafonte encouraged her to move to New York City. She recorded dozens of records in English and languages of sub-Saharan Africa like Xhosa, Swahili and Sotho, and she became the first Grammy-winner born in Africa for her album An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba. She is perhaps best remembered for her traditional Xhosa song “Qongqothwane,” known to U.S. audiences as the “Click Song.” It has been covered by many artists over the years, including Cher.

When Makeba used her new platform to speak out against apartheid, South Africa revoked her passport. This only led her to advocate more passionately on behalf of Black people in both South Africa and the United States. She became an exile for the second time in her life after her marriage to civil rights activist Kwame Ture brought her under the suspicion of the CIA. While the couple was out of the country, her return visa to the United States was cancelled. Makeba would eventually return to South Africa at the urging of Nelson Mandela. There she created an orphanage and advocated for children with disabilities, HIV-positive children and child soldiers. She continued to perform until her passing in 2008, when she suffered a heart attack while performing in a memorial concert.

Kwame Ture (born Stokely Carmichael), Civil Rights Activist / Author, 1941–1998

Kwame Ture Ture came to the United States from Trinidad and Tobago at age 11 and he became a U.S. citizen at the age of 13. While a student at Howard University, Ture was jailed for 49 days in Jackson, Mississippi for his participation in one of the first Freedom Rides. Being only 19, he was the youngest Freedom Rider to be imprisoned. Undeterred, he stayed active in Freedom Rides and demonstrations before obtaining his degree in philosophy with honors in 1964. In 1965, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) sent him to “Bloody Lowndes” County, Alabama, which was infamous for lynchings. Although the population was 80 percent Black, there was only one Black registered voter. In one year, Ture managed to raise the number of registered Black voters to exceed the number of white voters by 300. In 1970, that original Black registered voter, John Hulett, was elected sheriff.

Ture became the chairman of SNCC, and in 1966 he led a group of volunteers in the March Against Fear. It was there he coined the phrase “Black Power.” In his 1968 book with Charles V. Hamilton, Black Power: The Politics of Liberation, the term is defined as, ”a call for black people in this country to unite, to recognize their heritage, to build a sense of community. It is a call for black people to define their own goals, to lead their own organizations.” He and Hamilton are also credited with coining the phrase institutional racism in that same book.

Iman, Supermodel / Entrepreneur / Philanthropist, 1965 –

Iman, born Zara Mohamed Abdulmajid, has always insisted that her looks are merely “typical Somali,” but there is nothing typical about what she’s done with them. While she was attending college in Kenya, a photographer encouraged her to pursue modeling. She took a risk and moved to the United States. It didn’t take long for her to capture the imagination of editors and designers. Eventually her face would be known worldwide.

Iman used her success to advocate for pay equality for herself and other Black models. Inspired by her own struggles to find makeup that suited her skin tone, she launched Iman Cosmetics with the tagline “Makeup for Women of Color.” Her next thriving venture was Global Chic, a popular clothing design line inspired by time she spent in Egypt as a child. Iman has two children of her own, and her philanthropic work has mostly centered on children. As CARE’s first global ambassador, she campaigned to end poverty. She has also worked with the Keep a Child Alive program, the Children’s Defense Fund and Save the Children.

Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo, Athlete / Humanitarian, 1966 –

National Basketball Association (NBA) Hall-of-Famer Dikembe Mutombo originally came to the United States from the Democratic Republic of Congo on an academic scholarship. He went to Georgetown University hoping to become a doctor, but his prospects changed dramatically when he was recruited into Georgetown’s basketball program. After graduating with a degree in linguistics and diplomacy, he was drafted into the NBA by the Denver Nuggets. His long and distinguished career was bookended by making the All-Star team his rookie year and becoming the oldest player in the NBA during his final season in 2009. To basketball fans, “Mt. Mutombo” is known as one of the best defensive basketball players of all time.

Mutombo once said, “We all are here for a purpose. My purpose is to make a difference to society, not just by being a good human being, but to contribute to lives.” He has certainly lived up to that mission. In 1997 he launched the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation to improve health care in central Africa. In 2007 the foundation opened the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital (named for his mother) near his hometown, Kinshasa. That same year, he was recognized by President George W. Bush during the State of the Union address. Mutombo also works as a spokesperson for CARE and has done extensive work on behalf of the Special Olympics, including serving on their board and starting the first Special Olympics program in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Author / Activist / Educator, 1977 –

Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie
Photo taken by Suzanne Plunkett at Chatham House London Conference, June 2018

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an award-winning, bestselling author and MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellow whose work has been translated into more than 30 languages. Her work tackles themes such as politics, religion and love in contexts such as the Nigerian Civil War, the immigrant experience in the United States and feminism. At the age of 19, Adichie left Nigeria for a scholarship in the United States. She graduated summa cum laude in communication and political science from Eastern Connecticut State University and went on to earn master’s degrees in creative writing at Johns Hopkins University and African Studies from Yale University, all while writing and publishing. Most American students between 14 and 22 have been assigned her work.

Adichie has been invited to speak around the world. Her 2009 TED Talk, The Danger of A Single Story, is now one of the most-viewed TED Talks of all time. Her 2012 talk We Should All Be Feminists has been viewed more than 2 million times, started a worldwide conversation about feminism and was published as a book in 2014. In Sweden, it was distributed to every 16-year-old high-school student. Parts of the speech were even featured in Beyoncé’s song “Flawless.” Adichie’s most recent book, Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, was published in March 2017.

Learn More

Because of the legacy of slavery and racism, voluntary Black immigration is a relatively recent, although growing, development. Immigrants from Africa were among the fastest-growing groups within the U.S. foreign-born population from 2000 to 2009. The Census Bureau projects by 2060 the share of Black Americans who are immigrants will rise to 16.5 percent. That means we will continue to look forward to important economic and social contributions from both native- and foreign-born Black Americans. To learn more about Black immigrants to the United States in the present day, check out our blog post What Does it Mean to Be a Black Immigrant in the United States?.


Boston COVID Tutoring

Helping families with at-home learning


Laptop with Boston COVID Tutoring logo


Families everywhere are struggling with how to educate their children during this pandemic. The problem is even more complicated for immigrant families. Parents who are not native English speakers often find it particularly difficult to navigate U.S. school systems or help children with their homework. With the move of so much instruction online, things have not gotten easier.

After a month or so of home quarantine, a team of Boston-area high school students decided they could do some good for area children while keeping themselves intellectually challenged by offering free tutoring services. In April, David Min, Nathan Bornstein, Dan Bi and Dylan Higgins launched Boston COVID Tutoring (BCT). Since then, BCT has expanded to 72 volunteers tutoring 67 elementary and middle school students in subjects including math, science, English, history, social studies and various world languages.

The Immigrant Learning Center’s students are adult immigrants and refugees who desperately want to learn English to improve their and their family’s lives in this country. We have heard first-hand from many of our students the difficulty of trying to ensure their children’s education during this crisis without abandoning their own studies. When Boston COVID Tutoring approached us for mentoring, we were well aware of the need for these services and pleased to be able to help these enterprising young adults create something that will have lasting impact. Through this partnership, The Immigrant Learning Center offers organizational guidance and oversight of the volunteer program to BCT and in return directs immigrant families to this valuable new resource. Everyone wins.

Immigrants Make Our Economy More Resilient

Globe rebounding

Immigrants are a key part of the U.S. economy in the best and worst of times. Right now, we are facing severe unemploymentstock market plunges and businesses closures due to the COVID-19 epidemic. As the United States struggles to come to terms with the challenges of both a public health and an economic crisis, one segment of the population is already in a unique position to help our recovery: immigrants. 

Welcoming immigrants is a time-tested way to ensure resilience and stability as the country moves forward. This was most recently apparent after the Great Recession of 2008 when the presence of foreign-born workers boosted the economy. They can do the same for the pandemic recovery. 

Immigrants arrive when they are needed most

Graph showing the inverse relationship of immigration and unemploymentPeople migrate to take advantage of opportunities. When there are fewer job openings, fewer people decide to uproot their lives and move. During the Great Recession, the number of new arrivals to the country decreased, and resident immigrants experienced higher unemployment than U.S.-born workers. When the economy started to recover, immigrants went back to work filling in important niches in the economy. Because immigrants tend to be more flexible in terms of location and industry, they can be an important ingredient to kick-starting the economy. This is in keeping with research that shows immigrant populations are likely to flock to areas that are in a pattern of economic growth, and immigrant labor is key in maintaining growth rates in U.S. cities. As the Cato Institute says, “Immigrants are heralds of growth, not portents of economic disaster.”

Immigrants are job multipliers

People pushing a boulder up a hillDespite the historical record, when people are losing jobs they are tempted to call for restrictions on workers entering the country. The lessons from the Great Recession show us that such measures often backfire.

With the economy shrinking, the United States capped H1-B work visas at drastically low rates. While it seems that would leave more jobs for U.S.-born workers, New American Economy found that the reverse happened. The result was a shortage of high-skilled workers, which stunted revenue and job growth at a time when it was most needed, particularly in high-tech businesses.

A similar problem occurred in agriculture when the number of foreign-born farm workers decreased. New American Economy’s research shows that billions of dollars in revenue and job growth were lost for farms and related industries such as transportation.

With this in mind, it’s no wonder that the Brookings Institution suggested that increased employment among immigrants may be an indicator of the end of a crisis and the beginning of a recovery. By keeping our doors open to immigrants, the U.S. can position itself for a quicker recovery and the chance to expand the economy in new directions.

We need immigrants now more than ever 

Images of an immigrant picking grapes, providing health care, and working in transportationThe United States is not just in the midst of an economic crisis, we are also the global epicenter of the deadliest pandemic in a century. Immigrant workers are at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19. Essential fields such as health care, sanitation, agriculture, transportation and food services are heavily reliant on immigrant workers. They are putting themselves at risk to help us all get through this crisis. There are an estimated 263,000 additional immigrant health care professionals who could be activated if the U.S. government can find a way to recognize their credentials. If this crisis continues much longer, we may need them.

The country’s reliance on immigrants has never been as clear as it is in this moment, and not just as workers. Immigrants are also business owners. In fact, one quarter of new businesses in the United States are founded by immigrants. Many of these are “Main Street” business, exactly the kind of small businesses that are hurt most by this crisis. That hasn’t stopped some of these immigrant business owners from pitching in. There are restaurants serving free meals and nail salons making face masks. Both during and after this crisis, keeping the door open to foreign innovators and investors will be crucial to getting the country back to work.

The Center for American Progress (CAP) noted that such moments of crisis provide opportunities to see where economic systems are working well and where they must be reformed. During the aftermath of the Great Recession, CAP researchers suggested the country seize upon the chance to address the ways in which the immigration system impeded economic growth. The opportunity to plan for a recovery that helps both old and new Americans grow together is possible, and the country has the data to determine best practices for moving forward. In the midst of such difficult times, the United States can remember the value of diverse population and workforce and move towards unity.

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Cultivate Kindness: Activities for Children and Teens

Picture of two children; "Sometimes it takes only one act of kindness and caring to change a person's life." - Jackie Chan

With schools closed and playdates canceled, many children and families are looking for ways to connect with neighbors, their community and the world at large. Moreover, the concerning rise in COVID-19-related xenophobia and anti-Asian incidents can leave children feeling worried for their family’s safety or the safety of others around them. Activities related to immigration, from learning about other cultures to showing support for immigrant essential workers, can be a catalyst for growing connections, promoting empathy and creating a sense of empowerment among children of all ages.

Representation is Important

Providing children with media that positively portrays a diverse range of people is a simple and effective way of promoting equity. Research shows when children see diverse characters in a variety of roles they are less prone to stereotyping, and children who see themselves and their lives accurately represented have higher self-esteem. As one quarter of children in the United States have at least one immigrant parent, positive representations of immigrants are crucially important today.

Many schools and libraries are providing free access to extensive collections of ebooks and audiobooks, but how do you find content your children will enjoy that promotes equity? The Anti-Defamation League’s “Books Matter” collection offers 801 suggestions covering topics from gender to race to religion and more, and each comes with a discussion guide. Online bookseller Alibris has a collection of more than 500 nonfiction children’s books about immigration. There is even a collection of award-winning young adult novels with protagonists from a variety of cultures, from Asian to Latinx to Middle-Eastern, curated by California State University Long Beach.

Disney: Andi Mack
Andi Mack is an example of a coming-of-age story featuring an Asian character.

With many children turning to screens to fill their time, you can help them prioritize shows and games that reinforce compassion. Common Sense Media’s collection of TV shows, games, apps and websites is an excellent resource for preschoolers to teens. Their list of TV shows that inspire empathy helps kids learn the value of putting themselves in someone else’s shoes. The games that support kindness and compassion list helps kids see other viewpoints, celebrate others’ traditions and learn how tough it is to be bullied or discriminated against, and the empathy games, apps and websites list is full of options that teach kids to think about how other people feel and to emphasize the value of human relationships.

Above all, you are the secret ingredient. Engage children and teens in discussions about the importance of diversity and visibility. Encourage them to ask questions about who gets represented and why.

Knowledge is Power

Whether it’s across an ocean, across the country or across town, every family has stories of moving in their history. Hearing family stories about being a newcomer somewhere connects children with their past and can spark compassion for others. To help guide you, Scholastic offers Exploring Family Heritage, a collection of articles and lesson plans for children in grades pre-K through eight. Teaching Tolerance offers a lesson plan for children in grades K through five called Understanding My Family’s History.

China Paper Cutting Museum entrance
Children can learn about the invention of paper and the introduction of a beautiful art form in a virtual tour of the China Paper Cutting Museum. Photo credit: Google Maps

For inspiration, your family can explore Meet Young Immigrants, a collection of stories from Scholastic about children recently arrived in the U.S. The University of Minnesota has collected more than 250 first, second and third generation Immigrant Stories representing more than 50 different communities. If you are feeling ambitious, you can even add your own.

Discussing their own heritage can spark children’s interest in other cultures. You might start with your own family’s heritage, or the home countries of your children’s immigrant friends and classmates. Maybe they’d like to start with learning where your immigrant neighbors are from using this interactive map from the Migration Policy Institute. Once you’ve settled on your destination, you can take your children on virtual tours of many museums and cultural sites around the world. These “field trips” will help make other countries and cultures come alive.

Support is Empowering

Two children enjoying coloring in our Drawing Support pages.
Two children enjoying coloring in our Drawing Support pages.

Even when homebound, children can actively show support for their immigrant neighbors. Younger children will enjoy decorating our coloring pages about immigrant neighbors and essential workers and proudly displaying them in windows, perhaps next to their “bear hunt teddy bear 

Older children and teens can learn more about addressing stereotyping and scapegoating. The Anti-Defamation League’s guide to discussing coronavirus and prejudice is a good place to start, and this article from Vox, Why pandemics activate xenophobia, gives the historical and cultural context for a bigger, in-depth discussion.

In addition to the historical context, Facing History’s Coronavirus: protect yourself and stand against racism also offers the scientific perspective. Offering what is currently known by the scientific community, it encourages reflection about the consequences of discrimination. Providing young adults with factually correct information and opportunities to reflect on the consequences of discrimination makes them less likely to pass on false information and encourages them to challenge coronavirus-inspired racism if, or when, they encounter it. Facing History provides techniques for standing up to racist and hateful speech, both online and in person. They also offer tips and best practices that teens can use when participating in online activism. These activities can give your children agency and empower them to create a safer and more welcoming world.  

As the pandemic underscores the interconnected and interdependent nature of our global community, it is even more important to instill in our children an understanding and appreciation of the diverse cultures that make up our country and the world. By highlighting immigration, we can cultivate a global mindset, empathetic understanding and, above all, kindness. 

Resources Mentioned

For all: 

For children: 

For teens:

Other Resources:

Drawing Support: In-Home Activities for Children

Two children coloring

The Coronavirus outbreak can be a difficult topic to address with children. This can be especially tough in families that may be vulnerable to anti-Asian or anti-immigrant discrimination that has been falsely equated with the outbreak, or for those where parents are out working essential jobs even while school and other activities have been shut down, a reality for many immigrant families.

A coloring page and a teddy bear in the windowTo help your children understand and show support for New Americans who have been affected by this crisis, below we offer coloring pages and discussion starters to guide conversations with children as you are coloring. For more on each theme, we also provide links to related online stories. Finally, we encourage everyone to proudly post the finished products in your windows as a show of support. The activity allows children to learn how to take positive, affirming action in difficult times, and can help open up conversations about how to support our communities against both public health risks and xenophobia.

Please share your artwork with us by tagging @ilctr (Twitter) or @immigrantlearningcenter (Facebook) using hashtags #DrawingSupport and #IStandWithImmigrants.

We Stand With Our Immigrant Neighbors at Six Feet Apart!  

Discussion starters:

  • How can we show kindness to our neighbors, even when we can’t visit each other?  
  • Why is it important to support people who are new to our country and to our community? 
  • Do you understand why we must stay apart from other people right now? 

You can help your children continue to absorb the message of building friendships under difficult circumstances by listening to Lotus and Feather, a Chinese tale about a young girl who makes a unique friend after a mysterious illness causes her to lose her voice.  

We Support Immigrant Essential Workers

Discussion starters:

  • Why do you think some people have to go to work right now but other people are staying home? 
  • What do you think about people who come to the U.S. from other countries so that they can work? 
  • How can we say “Thank you” to people when you can’t talk to them face to face? 

Continue the lesson with stories and videos. We recommend Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch, a story that shows how a small act of kindness can change a life, and Daniel Tiger: Everyone’s Job is Important in Different Ways to help children understand why some certain workers are especially important at this moment in time.  

We encourage families to display the completed coloring pages in their windows as a sign that your household stands with immigrants and essential workers during this difficult time.  

More Resources

Three ways immigrants are fighting COVID-19

Immigrants working as a nurse, picking grapes, and playing the cello.

Immigrants have been a key part of maintaining the health and well being of Americans in good times and bad. Irish immigrants were key supporters of the Union Army during the American Civil War. Bracero workers from Mexico formed the backbone of food production in the United States during World War II, and immigrant entrepreneurs from around the world were a driving force in rebuilding the economy after the Great Recession

As the global epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic shifts to the United States, immigrants in this country are right where they have always been: on the front lines working tirelessly to ensure our communities stay safe, healthy and supported. Immigrants are over-represented in direct health care, life science research and other industries that have been deemed essential, such as food/agriculture and transportation. As such, there are many ways that new Americans are keeping the country going in this life-or-death crisis.

Health Care 

Immigrants are vital to the health care industry. While the foreign-born make up just 13.7 percent of the U.S. population, they are a full 35.2 percent of home health care workers, 28.5 percent of physicians, 18.5 percent of lab technicians and 15 percent of registered nurses. Immigrants are even more critical in rural areas, which depend disproportionately on foreign-born physicians. As the number of COVID-19 cases in the United States increases, immigrants make a convenient target for people who are frightened and looking for someone to blame. It’s important to note that so many immigrants are stepping up and taking on the risk of infection to keep hospitals running and treat patients.

Behind the scenes, foreign-born researchers are leading the charge to find a cure for coronavirus. In fact, the first potential vaccine to enter clinical trials was developed by Moderna, Inc. The company was founded on research by Derrick Rossi, a Canadian immigrant and a 2015 ILC Immigrant Entrepreneur Award nominee, and the current CEO, Stephane Bancel, is from France. They, like so many others, were drawn to Massachusetts to work in one of the life science industry’s most successful global hubs. Without drawing such international talent, this promising vaccine might never have been developed.

Another company that has entered clinical trials with a potential vaccine, Gilead Sciences, is carrying out its research in both the U.S. and Wuhan province, China. Under the leadership of Executive Vice President for Pharmaceutical Development and Manufacturing Dr. Tiayan Yang, an immigrant from Taiwan, Gilead hopes to adapt medicines that were originally used to treat MERS and SARS outbreaks. Dr. Joseph Kim’s “typical immigrant story” also draws attention to the benefits of immigration in the face of a crisis. Kim’s company, Inovio Pharmaceuticals, is also working on a vaccine, and reportedly gave President Trump the “most optimistic answer in a March 2 meeting.

Essential Services

In the past few weeks, immigrants have shown their inherent social value as essential workers in a variety of fields, including food and grocery services, transportation, sanitation, agriculture and maintenance. Foreign-born workers are again over-represented in all these fields. They make up almost 50 percent of maid services and 25 percent of janitors are immigrants. These professions, which already face health care risks, are even more dangerous as it becomes imperative to clean workplaces, public spaces and health care centers in order to contain an infectious disease.

As many of us maintain social distance and rely on weekly grocery store trips or food deliveries, we are reliant on new Americans who make up 22 percent of food service workers and 17 percent of delivery drivers, as well as a staggering 42.5 percent of all agricultural workers. Even as circumstances become more and more uncertain, immigrants are on the job, day after day, to make sure that their communities stay safe, clean and well fed.

Lifting Spirits

With no clear end in sight for the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s not surprising that many people feel anxious or afraid. Throughout it all, many immigrants are offering messages of hope, unity and a sense of community. Immigrant organizers have been on the frontlines of mutual aid networks in cities like Boston, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles to assist vulnerable neighbors with daily tasks, health care access and financial support. While these groups are first and foremost there to help with material needs, they are also an important way of showing community members that they are cared for and valued. “In times like these, people really do want to help, and it’s so important to push back against the isolation and turning inward and selfishness that can come in times like these if we don’t remind everyone that we have everything we need to support one another,” said Ria Peebles, a Washington D.C. area organizer who is coordinating relief with both U.S.-born and immigrant communities.

As cultural events go online, immigrants are among those finding ways to share art and culture with a public that is staying home. The annual Pittsburgh Irish Festival is leading the charge to put massive, multi-artist events online. Musicians, from Haitian rapper and three-time Grammy winner Wyclef Jean to Chinese-Parisian-American classical cellist YoYo Ma, are making their music available for free. Ma has even dedicated his free performances to the workers who are on the front lines of the crisis as a way to send them encouragement and cheer. His is a powerful example of how everyone can pull together in this time to give each other hope and encouragement.

Vulnerable to Prejudice 

Even with all that foreign-born workers and community members are doing to address the many impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak, there have been increased incidences of prejudice and violence toward immigrants. Those of Asian heritage are particularly vulnerable, as their ethnicity is erroneously linked to the likelihood of infection. Americans can combat this fear and prejudice by reminding ourselves of all the ways in which our immigrant community members are working hard at this time to keep the whole country moving forward. Whether it’s in health care, essential sevices or providing us with the hope and inspiration we need to keep going, immigrants should be thanked, not threatened.

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Understanding Immigrant Trauma

Word cloud related to "immigrant trauma"

In order to understand immigrant trauma, it is necessary to understand acculturation. But what exactly is it? Clinical psychologist and director of the mental health counselling program at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education, Dr. Usha Tummala-Narra, describes psychological acculturation as “the dynamic process immigrants experience as they adapt to the new country.” For some immigrants, this process can be swift and easy, but for many immigrants acculturation can be extremely stressful. Factors that may contribute to this stress include language barriers, financial struggles, changing gender roles and downward social mobility in their adopted homeland.

Inter-generational Culture Clashes

Acculturative stress can be particularly difficult when the two cultures are in conflict. This is especially true for the 4.5 million citizen children who have undocumented parents. Dr. Tummala-Narra says that “first-generation immigrants may experience less psychological distress than second-generation immigrants.” American behavioral acculturation occurs rapidly for children, and Dr. Nakamura writes that “parents may feel that their children are becoming too American too fast, and children may feel their parents don’t understand them.”Child and parent may have different expectations for the child’s autonomy and supervision, and children may view their parents as an obstacle in achieving their goals. While acculturation to American culture is “successful” in these cases, this success and overacculturation can lead to new levels of stress and intergenerational disagreements when the two cultures are in conflict with one another.

Additional Stressors

Man in distress

Dr. Tummala-Narra has seen a rise in acculturative stress for her patients due to uncertainty surrounding immigration policy, and fear of deportation is noted as the presenting problem in many instances. In addition, some immigrants experience racism, xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment, and this discrimination can be a key cause of acculturative stress. It is therefore no wonder that immigrants of color experience higher levels of acculturative stress, or that many immigrants feel like they have to hide their ethnic identity.

When acculturative stress combined with prejudice strikes, immigrants are less likely to seek out mental health services, says Dr. Nadine Nakamura, of the University of La Verne in California. If they do seek out care, there are numerous barriers such as “difficulty finding transportation or child care and communication problems—not just language differences, but cultural nuances that a clinician might not recognize,” Dr. Nakamura writes.

Strategies to Mitigate Immigrant Anxiety, Fear and Trauma

This 37 minute presentation, “Strategies to Mitigate Immigrant Anxiety, Fear and Trauma,” was part of the 2018 webinar Tackling the Hidden Crisis: Immigration Anxiety and Trauma.

Heritage and Acculturation

Chinatown sceneOne solution to combat this stress is to ensure immigrants have consistent access to their “heritage” culture. While it is acculturation to the host culture that gives access to society and institutions for first-generation immigrants, it is the heritage culture that can provide access to cultural resources and support, as well as address trauma. For second-generation immigrants and citizen children, familiarity with one’s heritage culture and native language can ease familial conflict and improve grades and literacy.

Ultimately, acculturative stress can be overcome if it is understood that ethnic identity, which includes heritage culture and racial identity, and national (i.e. American) identity are not mutually exclusive and can successfully coexist.

More Resources

Presenting with Politics: The Psychological Effects of Current Immigration Policy and Sentiment, a recording of Dr. Usha Tummala-Narra’s presentation in our 2017 webinar One Year Later: Immigrant Trauma and How to Deal with It.

Immigrant Identity: Mind and Motivations of Foreign-Born Students, Dr. Usha Tummala-Narra’s presentation from our 2016 webinar Student Success: Models and Tools for K-12 and Adult Educators.

Helping New Americans Find Their Way, an academic paper by Tori DeAngelis, Dr. Nadine Nakamura, and Dr. Usha Tummala-Narra in American Psychologist 42.

More curated, on-demand resources addressing immigrant trauma, including other resources from our own webinars.

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The Oscars Highlight the Contributions of Immigrants

Oscar statues

Hollywood is one of the most iconic symbols of America and, like so much of America, it wouldn’t be what it is today without immigrants. Even in the midst of debates about diversity and representation, it is apparent that immigrants “get the job done” in filmmaking and other performing arts. In fact, one out of every eight workers in the movie industry is an immigrant, including some of Hollywood’s biggest names like Lupita Nyongo, Ryan Reynolds and the Hemsworth brothers.

The 2020 Oscars

It’s no secret that the 2020 Academy Awards (Oscars) have come under fire for failing to keep up with an increasingly diverse industry. Yet the fact that so many heavyweight contenders this awards season are either immigrants or international stars seems to have gone unnoticed. Three out of the five nominees for best leading actress are from overseas: Cynthia Erivo (United Kingdom), Saoirse Ronan (Ireland) and Charlize Theron (South Africa). Also hoping to take home a statue this year are best adapted screenplay nominee Taika Waititi (New Zealand), best original screenplay nominee Sam Mendes (United Kingdom), best director nominee Bong Joon-Ho (South Korea), best leading actor nominees Antonio Banderas (Spain) and Jonathan Pryce (United Kingdom), and best supporting actress nominee Margot Robbie (Australia).

These artists follow in the footsteps of some of last year’s biggest winners like Egyptian-American Rami Malek, who won best actor for his portrayal of singer Freddie Mercury, director Alfonso Cuarón of Mexico, who swept three categories with Roma, and British best actress winner Olivia Colman.

Immigrants were there from the start

Ingrid Bergman
Swedish-born Ingrid Bergman won three Academy Awards in the 1940s and 50s.

German immigrant Carl Laemmle founded Universal Pictures in 1912. Polish immigrant Samuel Goldwyn got his start at Universal and went on to create Goldwyn Pictures in 1916. In 1924 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) was born when Goldwyn merged with Mayer Pictures, founded by Ukrainian immigrant Louis B. Mayer. Three years later, Mayer spearheaded the creation of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, which presented its first Academy Awards in 1929.

German-born Emil Jannings was the first person to receive the award. Over the years, many other immigrants have made their mark. In the 30s, Frank Capra (Italy) won three Oscars for best director. In the 40s and 50s Ingrid Bergman (Sweden) won three Oscars for acting, and Miyoshi Umeki (Japan) became the only Asian woman to date to win an Academy Award for acting. Meanwhile, Sam Spiegel (Austria/Poland) took home three best director Oscars. Immigrants were essential to creating the American film industry, and have continued to contribute to its success ever since.

Hollywood now

The positive impact of immigrants in the trillion-dollar creative sector is unquestionable. In addition to the many famous immigrants in Hollywood, there is an ecosystem of writers, videographers, production assistants, costume designers, choreographers, editors, technicians, makeup artists and photographers, many of whom are foreign-born. In total, there are currently some 400,000 immigrants working in creative or artistic jobs, and 25,000 are actors, producers or directors.

The desire to draw talented entertainment professionals to the United States is so strong that the industry has its own visa category: the O1-B visa. One of the most flexible visa categories in the U.S., it’s reserved for “individuals with an extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievement in the motion picture and film industry.” Unlike other visas that have annual limits that are far exceed by the demand for them, there is no cap on how many O1-Bs can be issued. In addition, the O-2 visa was created to allow for staff or assistants to accompany an O1 visa holder to the U.S. At a time when so many restrictions are being placed on other visa categories, these unrestricted visas are a sure sign the country remains determined to welcome artists with open arms.

Why is this important?

The entertainment industry is both beloved and wide-reaching. Film and television content are among the country’s most lucrative exports. By some estimates 70 percent of U.S. studios’ annual revenues come from international sales. The United States presents itself to the world through these works, which both inform and are informed by the rest of the world. International artists bring perspectives and stories that can help American companies capture more of the large, global market.

In addition to the economic impact, the cultural impact of this industry is hard to overestimate. Like it or not, Hollywood influences our cultural identity. Our movies and TV shows are part of our shared experience and help form Americans’ sense of who we are. For many audience members around the world, it is the only frame of reference for what it means to be American. It is a beacon that draws many of the world’s greatest artists to the United States. This country’s strength has always been our ability to welcome talented people and incorporate their diversity of perspectives, regardless of where they were born. The performing arts are simply the most visible way to demonstrate the value that immigrants bring to the U.S. economy and culture.