Increasing Number of Chinese Asylum Seekers at the Mexican Border
Amidst China’s Economic Slowdown and Political Oppression, More Chinese Nationals Flee to the United States
Contrary to popular belief, China’s economy is not rebounding as quickly as anticipated, leading to a surge in individuals seeking asylum in the United States. As Chinese authorities continue to suppress freedom of speech and religion, more and more people are opting to leave their homeland in search of a safe haven.
Wang, a former cardiologist in China, arrived in Los Angeles in March after visiting Turkey and Ecuador. However, rather than pursuing a medical career in the United States, his aspiration is to become an Uber driver followed by a long-haul truck driver. Wang is just one example of the growing number of Chinese professionals defecting to the United States.
According to data from US immigration authorities cited by the Hong Kong South China Morning Post (SCMP), the number of Chinese asylum seekers at the Mexican border reached a monthly record of approximately 3,200 in April. This figure is a significant surge compared to the average of 200 per month observed at the end of 2019, prior to the pandemic. Although the numbers slightly declined in May and June, they remain close to record levels.
Inhibited Visa Opportunities and Strengthened Border Controls
Various factors contribute to this increasing wave of Chinese nationals seeking asylum in the United States via the Mexican border. China’s uneven economic recovery, the challenges of obtaining visas, and restricted legal means of entry have prompted a rise in overland travel among immigrants. These demands were stifled during the pandemic due to travel restrictions but have resurfaced as conditions improve.
In recent years, opportunities for Chinese nationals to enter the United States legally, such as through tourist visas, have significantly diminished. The rejection rate for Chinese nationals seeking tourist or business visas rose from 18% in 2019 to a staggering 79% in 2021. The Institute for Immigration Policy Research attributes this sharp increase to the travel ban imposed by the Trump administration, which remained in effect until the end of 2021.
Furthermore, China’s sluggish economic growth and strict political persecution have compelled US consular officials to scrutinize visa issuance more stringently. Rumors of Chinese individuals preferring not to return to their home country have circulated, resulting in a higher visa refusal rate compared to previous years. While the rejection rate was reduced to 30% until September 2020, it remains elevated due to ongoing concerns.
Turbulent Journeys and Dire Circumstances
As obtaining legal visas became increasingly challenging, more individuals turned to seeking asylum through the Mexican border. Chinese immigrants now embark on complex journeys, beginning with a flight from China to Ecuador. From there, they navigate treacherous rainforests on foot and endure cross-country travel in cars and buses through Mexico.
Monterey Park in Los Angeles, California, serves as a settlement for Chinese immigrants who predominantly lack English proficiency and have limited financial resources. The area boasts numerous affordable hotels, where employment agencies assist in securing jobs in restaurants and warehouses for Chinese individuals without work permits.
Dai, for instance, arrived in Monterey Park last February and now resides in a family hotel, with ten people sharing a room for only $15 per day. Unfortunately, Dai’s belongings were stolen during her three-month journey to the United States, and upon arrival, she spent 20 days in an immigration detention facility. Currently, she works as a cook for the elderly, striving for better opportunities unavailable to her in China.
Yearning for Freedom and Economic Stability
According to SCMP, many Chinese immigrants express their inability to earn sufficient income to support their families in China, leading them to seek better prospects abroad. Others cite their dissatisfaction with the Chinese government’s stringent policies, such as its relentless pursuit of “zero coronavirus” over the past three years. Some even classify themselves as dissidents seeking refuge from communist oppression.
Liang, who ran a car repair shop in Hunan, fled to the United States out of concern for his children’s safety under the Communist Party’s rule. He undertook a perilous journey through Turkey and Ecuador, bringing his three young children alongside him to provide them with a future that fosters independent thinking.
The intensifying difficulty of securing visas has further driven individuals to take extreme risks in their pursuit of asylum in the United States. Most Chinese immigrants forego the application process for visas, discouraged by the perception of low success rates. This newfound desperation has birthed phrases like “people crossing the border” and “how to walk in the rainforest” being added to Mandarin dictionaries in the United States.
As Chinese nationals continue to abandon their homeland, the implications of this exodus on global immigration landscapes and diplomatic relations remain profound.
“In America, you don’t have to be upper class to make money, and you can work any kind of job for an hour and earn enough to eat for a week.”
Wang, 53, who was a cardiologist in China, arrived in Los Angeles in March after visiting Turkey and Ecuador. His goal is not to work as a doctor in the United States. He wants to become an Uber driver and then a long distance truck driver. Like the Chinese doctor Wang, who defected to the United States, the number of people leaving China for the United States is increasing rapidly. Contrary to expectations, China’s economy is not recovering as quickly as expected, and as Chinese authorities suppress freedom of speech and religion, more and more people are seeking asylum in the United States.
Chinese immigrants who crossed the Rio Grande and smuggled themselves into the United States from Mexico are emerging from the dense bush. / Reuters
The Hong Kong South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported on the 3rd (local time), citing data from US immigration authorities, that the number of Chinese asylum seekers at the Mexican border reached a record high of around 3,200 in a month April. Compared to the average of 200 per month at the end of 2019, before the pandemic, it has skyrocketed. It fell slightly in May and June, but is still close to record highs.
Ariel Ruiz Soto, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, said China’s uneven economic recovery and difficulties in obtaining visas are encouraging overland travel among immigrants, creating demand that was stifled by travel restrictions during the pandemic.
The number of ways for Chinese nationals to enter the United States legally, such as entering the United States on a tourist visa, has decreased significantly over the past few years. In 2019, 18% of Chinese nationals seeking tourist or business visas were denied by the US government. In 2021, the proportion increased to 79%. The Institute for Immigration Policy Research analyzed that “the Donald Trump administration’s travel ban for non-US citizens from China has had an impact on the visa refusal rate which remains high until it is revoked at the end of 2021 .”
Moreover, China’s slow economic growth and intense political persecution have caused the US to pay more attention to visa issuance as rumors spread among US consular officials that “Chinese people may not want to return to China”. Although the visa rejection rate for Chinese nationals was reduced to 30% until last September, this is why it maintains a higher level than before.
Annie Len, 2, from China, stands next to her mother as dozens of Chinese nationals crossing the Rio Grande River from Mexico into the United States are checked by Border Patrol. / Reuters
Because of this, more and more people are seeking asylum in the United States through the Mexican border. These Chinese only travel by plane from China to Ecuador. After that, they move through the rainforest on foot and then cross Mexico by car and bus. As the number of refugees from China has increased sharply since December last year, new phrases such as ‘people crossing the border’ and ‘how to walk in the rainforest’ have been added to the Mandarin dictionary in the US states
Chinese immigrants to the United States settle mainly in Monterey Park in Los Angeles, California. Monterey Park is famous for being a settlement of Chinese immigrants who do not speak English and have hundreds of dollars on hand. Hotels here are affordable, and there are dozens of similar hotels clustered together. Employment agencies arrange jobs in restaurants and warehouses for Chinese without work permits.
Dai, 47, who arrived in Monterey Park last February, is staying with her husband in a family hotel where 10 people stay in one room for $15 a day. Dai had all his belongings stolen during the three-month journey from China to the United States. After arriving in the United States, he spent 20 days in an immigration detention facility. Currently, she spends her days serving as a cook for the elderly. “I left China because I couldn’t do much work as a cook or nanny in China,” she said.
According to the SCMP, some Chinese who visited the United States said they were unable to earn enough money to support their families in China and were shocked by the “zero coronavirus” that the Chinese government has pursued over the past three years last Others described themselves as dissidents who came to the United States to escape communist oppression.
A 33-year-old Chinese woman who arrived in Los Angeles a month ago introduced herself as being from Wuhan. “I have no future in China if my job and family background are not good,” he said.
Liang, 36, who ran a car repair shop in Hunan, came to the United States because he did not want his children to be terrorized by the Communist Party. He said, “I walked and walked a dangerous road so that my children could have their own minds as they grew up.” He brought his 10-year-old daughter and his 7-year-old and 6-year-old sons to the United States through Turkey and Ecuador.
The SCMP said, “Most Chinese immigrants say they did not apply for a visa that would allow them to fly to the United States after hearing that the visa success rate was low.” It shows a new level of desperation that sets people on fire. risk.”
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