Introduction and Overview

Early Vietnamese Immigration History

The initial wave of Vietnamese refugees was shortly before the fall of Saigon, which included South Vietnamese military officers, government officials, professionals, business leaders and their families.

The second wave was after the Fall of Saigon, which included Vietnamese “boat people” fleeing persecution from the Communist government. Those who fled during the second wave were “boat people” because they mainly fled by boat to asylum camps in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines or Hong Kong or they fled by land through Cambodia and Thailand.

Boat People

Photo courtesy of Skip Nall/ Getty Images

The last wave of Vietnamese refugees followed 1979 when the United Nations sponsored the Orderly Departure Program (ODP) to provide a safe and legal method of departure for Vietnamese refugees and to help reunite family members.

Amerasian Homecoming Act

Later programs also helped re-education camp survivors, persecuted ethnic minorities and Amerasian offspring to leave Vietnam. (Tran et al, 2006). Pearl Buck was the first to elicit the term Amerasian and according to the Amerasian Foundation: “an Amerasian is any person who was fathered by a citizen of the United States (an American servicemen, American expatriate, or U.S. Government Employee…) and whose mother is, or was, a National Asian.” In 1987, the Amerasian Homecoming Act also helped reunite and resettle many Amerasian children and family members.

Prior to the Amerasian Homecoming Act, the U.S. Congress passed the Refugee Act of 1980 to deal with the ongoing problems of immigrating Vietnamese boat people. The Act defined what a refugee was, capped the number of refugees entering the United States per year, aided in the resettlement of refugees, and allowed refugees to apply for lawful residency after a year and to declare citizenship after four years.

Comprehensive Plan of Action

On June 1989, seventy countries adopted the Comprehensive Plan of Action to deal with the increasing number of Vietnamese boat people in camps throughout Southeast Asian and Hong Kong. This international policy reduced the number of disorderly refugee flights from Southeast Asia. When the Comprehensive Plan of Action for Indochinese Refugees ended in June, 1996, the Vietnamese in refugee camps throughout Southeast Asia were either approved for resettlement or given incentives to return voluntarily to Vietnam. By 1999, about 1.75 million Vietnamese had left Vietnam and had been resettled.