San Jose is No. 1 metro area for immigrants
Sama Acharya, owner of Urban Momo in San Jose, came to the United States in 2015. She and her husband first moved to San Francisco and then relocated their business to San Jose. Photo by Robert Eliason.

    San Jose tops the list of U.S. metro areas where immigrants look for a better life.

    That’s according to a study released this month from the George W. Bush Institute that shows immigrants thrive in technology centers. San Jose is categorized as a fast-growing suburban area within a large metro region that draws immigrants from throughout the country. The study defines the San Jose metro area as San Jose, Santa Clara and Sunnyvale.

    The report examines immigrant satisfaction based on factors such as median household income, housing status and language proficiency. It used data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 American Community Survey and analyzed the nation’s 100 largest metro areas.

    San Jose-Silicon Valley NAACP President Bob Nuñez said San Jose’s pull goes beyond the tech industry. He said immigrants are drawn to the area for a high-quality education for their children, as well as economic and job opportunities.

    “(It’s) a desire to be able to dictate their own destiny,” Nuñez told San José Spotlight.

    The Baltimore metro area ranks second and the San Francisco metro area, which includes San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley, ranks third in terms of immigrant well-being. The study reveals San Jose also ranks first among the nation’s biggest metro areas for median foreign-born household income at $136,154. San Francisco ranks second, with a median foreign-born household income of $102,953.

    Dennis King, executive director of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Silicon Valley, said a diverse community is an underrated factor and another draw for immigrants looking for guidance.

    “Most of the immigrants in our community have come home, essentially, to an infrastructure that was set before them, either from people from their nation or from their communities,” King told San José Spotlight. “There are infrastructures created, both formally and informally, among a number of different (service) organizations, but also just among the people themselves.”

    The study shows San Jose is the top metro area for Asian foreign-born immigrants, a group which makes up 24.5% of the general population based on 2020 data. San Jose ranks 17th for Hispanic foreign-born immigrants, which make up 8.4% of the general population. Overall, immigrants make up 39.1% of the area’s population, more than 770,000 residents, a number topped only by Miami.

    San Jose remains costly

    But the study doesn’t tell the whole story, Nuñez said. Immigrant families who flock to San Jose are facing the same high costs as everyone else, he said, with families of color being displaced in the process. The report shows San Jose still ranks No. 1 nationally in terms of living standards for immigrant residents, even when median foreign-born household income factors in living and housing costs.

    Yet, the wealth gap persists: data from the 2022 Silicon Valley Pain Index revealed roughly 11% of Latino residents live in poverty and saw an average drop of $404 in annual income last year. Residents say minimum wage is increasing far too little each year, as San Jose—with the worst housing shortage in the nation—remains one of the most expensive areas to rent.

    People are leaving California—not just the Bay Area—because they’re finding it difficult to maintain their standard of living here,” Nuñez told San José Spotlight.

    San Jose Chamber of Commerce CEO Derrick Seaver said immigrants moving to San Jose face the same cost of living and affordable housing challenges as others in the region. He said those issues are further exacerbated by the recent supply chain disruptions.

    “Immigrant residents of our region have not been immune from these challenges,” he said.

    Even with those setbacks, Seaver said San Jose still provides strong opportunities for immigrants, including the ability to start small businesses. The study reveals long-term impacts of a large immigrant population include more startup businesses, universities and cultural markers, such as foodie culture.

    “Nearly every economic sector of this area has deep contributions from the immigrant community,” Seaver told San José Spotlight. “Many small, medium and large businesses in our area were founded by immigrants who utilized entrepreneurship as a path to economic mobility.”

    Joint Venture Silicon Valley CEO Russell Hancock said Silicon Valley’s tech industry attracts residents from across the nation, supporting both tech workers and food and janitorial workers at tech companies. Joint Venture is an economy and quality of life research group.

    “This is a very productive economy,” Hancock told San José Spotlight. “Tech is a huge ecosystem unto itself, and it has a lot of room for… hundreds or even thousands of different roles.”

    Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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