Policy Brief Focuses on Recent Immigration in Upstate New York

By Rachel M. Teaman

Release Date: February 1, 2008 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Though proportionally fewer immigrants have settled in upstate New York in recent years compared to downstate and the nation as a whole -- with notable differences in countries of origin -- immigrants continue to make significant contributions to the region's economy and quality of life.

According to the University at Buffalo Regional Institute's latest Policy Brief, "Upstate's Recent Arrivals," 27,000 foreign nationals received legal permanent residence between 2003 and 2006 in upstate's five largest metro areas. As a proportion of the overall population, Utica saw the greatest immigrant influx of the five upstate areas (9 immigrants per 1,000 residents) during the period, while Buffalo had the smallest foreign-born gain (5.5 per 1,000 residents).

Nationally, Mexico is the dominant immigrant country of origin, while the Dominican Republic leads New York State. Neither group is prominent upstate, where top countries of origin include Canada (Buffalo), Bosnia (Syracuse and Utica), China (Rochester) and the Philippines (Albany). Indian and Vietnamese are also prevalent immigrant groups upstate.

"Immigrants have long played an important role in shaping upstate New York's culture and fueling its economy," said Kathryn A. Foster, institute director. "Though upstate's concentration of foreign-born have declined, new patterns of immigration present significant opportunities for the region."

For instance, immigrants to upstate New York are younger, on average, than those to the rest of the state and U.S. From 2003 to 2006, 28 percent of upstate immigrants (and 30 percent in Buffalo) were younger than 18, compared to 22 percent statewide and 20 percent nationally. This trend is related to upstate New York's prevalence of refugees and asylees, which comprise 30 percent of the immigrant population upstate compared to 10 percent in New York State and 12 percent nationally.

"As the region's native population and workforce ages, this young immigrant population will play an important role in filling key employment gaps in, for example, the health care, service and high-tech sectors," said Peter A. Lombardi, policy analyst with the institute and author of the brief.

Mirroring state and national trends, socio-economic status is related to the geographic distribution of immigrants across the Buffalo Niagara region. For instance, Buffalo's gateway neighborhoods have concentrations of working-class immigrant communities, which today include Vietnamese, Somali and Sudanese, as well as Yemeni in Lackawanna. Larger populations of professional-class immigrants, including Indians and Chinese, have settled in the suburbs, especially in middle- and upper-middle class neighborhoods surrounding the University at Buffalo.

In terms of accommodating immigrants, upstate areas provide services such as English language training and legal, job-placement and citizenship assistance. However, upstate metros lack a collective immigration agenda to guide policy and economic development strategies.

"If upstate hopes to tap the economic development and cultural and social enrichment potential of its immigrant populations, more can be done to bring attention to resource needs and policies that accommodate immigrant communities," Lombardi said.

"Upstate's Recent Arrivals" is the institute's 12th policy brief since it launched the series in August 2006 to inform regional issues with timely, reliable data and analysis. All policy briefs are available online at http://regional-institute.buffalo.edu.

A major research and public policy center of the University at Buffalo, the Regional Institute plays a vital role in addressing key policy and governance issues for regions, with focused analysis of the Buffalo-Niagara region. A unit of the UB Law School, the institute leverages the resources of the university and binational community to pursue a wide range of scholarship, projects and initiatives that frame issues, inform decisions and guide change.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the State University of New York. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.