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Immigrants Usher-in New Era of Diversity in Utah

July 16, 2004 — Over the past 20 years, immigrants have come to Utah in unprecedented numbers and from a new direction. That’s one of the conclusions of a new study on immigration conducted by the University of Utah’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research. The study entitled Immigrants Transform Utah: Entering A New Era of Diversity is largely based on data from the decennial censuses from 1850-2000 (Bureau of the Census).

Utah ranks among those states with the very highest rates of increase in diversity and is prominent among the newly emerging gateways for immigrants. Consequently the demographic and cultural landscape of the state has been forever changed.

In the late 1800’s, the LDS Church sponsored the large and sustained immigration of Europeans to establish Zion in Utah territory. Even though economic opportunities and international events brought more diverse populations over time, Utah remained overwhelmingly white and Mormon, with over two-thirds of the foreign-born immigrating from northern and Western Europe well into the 1960s.

Forces external to Utah have since greatly accelerated immigration flows into the state and have simultaneously shifted the origin regions from Europe to Latin America and Asia. These new immigrants are not only integral to Utah’s economy, but are transforming the formerly monolithic culture and homogeneous population of the state, creating a new era of cultural, racial, and ethnic diversity for Utah.

Twenty percent of the population growth of the state in the 1990s came from this increase in Utah’s foreign-born population, while one-third of the growth came from minorities. One of the most striking affects from the increase in foreign-born residents to the state is the racial diversity it is creating. Three-quarters of the Utah foreign-born population are racial or ethnic minorities as compared to one-tenth of the native born population.

“People are immigrating to Utah for a variety of reasons,” says study author Pam Perlich. “Although economic opportunity has been the strongest draw for migrants, refugees have also settled in Utah in increasing numbers, accounting for one-tenth of the increase in the state’s foreign born residents. The global proselytizing efforts of the LDS Church as well as the growth of universities and colleges have also facilitated immigration to Utah.”

These new immigrants tend to be young (in childbearing years) and some of the groups have even higher fertility rates and larger household sizes than the native born Utah population. This reinforces Utah’s distinctive (young) age distribution.

Roughly one-third of Utah’s foreign-born population are naturalized citizens, one-third are legal residents, and one-third undocumented residents.

This Second Great Migration Wave bringing historic numbers of immigrants to Utah and the U.S. has been catalyzed and sustained by economic globalization. These forces will continue to transform Utah in ways that we cannot yet imagine.

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