Greek immigration to the USA over the last 150 years can be roughly divided into two periods. The first period, i.e. 1880-1965, is generally defined as the period of the Pioneers and is characterized by the consolidation of the Greek Community in the USA, its integration into the American social fabric and its institution building, i.e. Churches, Schools and national organizations. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which changed the way quotas had been allocated since the anti-immigration Reed-Johnson act, led to a resurgence in immigration and marked the beginning of the second, so-called New Immigration period. Some of the characteristics of the second period, 1965-2000, are the high education level of the new immigrants, a further expansion and consolidation of Schools, Churches and Communal Institutions and the establishment of new philanthropic organizations.
The total number of immigrants that crossed the Atlantic during the Pioneers period is estimated at over half a million, with the lion’s share occurring in the period 1900-1920, when over 350.000 immigrants crossed the Atlantic (Papaioannou 1985: 50). The New Immigrants totaled roughly 150.000 for the period 1965-1980 (Michopoulos 2014). During the next decade there was a steady decrease in the inflows, with 37.729 migrants settling in the USA in 1980-1989, 25.403 in 1990-99, and 16.841 in 2000-2009 (2015 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, Table 2, p.5).
Interestingly, the recent resurgence in overall emigration from Greece, which was triggered by the economic crisis, does not seem to have led to an increase in the flows towards the USA. Immigration to the USA, when compared to immigration to EU states, appears to be negligible. Thus, while the total number of Greek immigrants to the USA for the 2010-2012 period was 3.426, (Michopoulos 2014:128), the corresponding figure for Germany was 67.959 (Damanakis 2014: 141), twenty times higher. Similarly, for the five year period 2011-2015, the numbers are respectively as follows: 1.196, 1.264, 1.526, 1.388 and 1.330 (2015 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, Table 2, p. 10). In other words we have about 6.000 immigrants to the USA, while the corresponding figure for the EU is in the hundreds of thousands.
The reasons for this disparate pattern in terms of migration destinations are to be found in legal, historical and social determinants. Among the “immigration facilitators” one could certainly point to the free movement of people in the EU, which makes migration a much easier step to undertake and allows Greek migrants to enjoy access to health benefits and social welfare in the destination countries. The historical factors relate to previous strong immigration flows to some EU countries, especially Germany, in the context of the so-called guest workers migration. Existing social networks in those countries play a significant role in facilitating migration. Finally, if to the above we add the issue of geographical proximity, we may then explain the reason why not many Greeks are willing to go through the lengthy and tedious immigration processes into the USA.
In a tentative exploration of the characteristics of the recent emigration to the USA, and particularly the migration of tertiary-level students, I prepared a questionnaire which was distributed to Hellenic College students and students from other Boston area colleges and universities. The main aim of the questionnaire was to find out if the students were planning to stay in the USA after their studies or to return to Greece. The total number of completed questionnaires was seventeen, 8 from Hellenic and 9 from other universities - 3 from Tufts, 2 from UMass, Lowell, 1 from Northeastern U, and 1 from Harvard. Of the 8 Hellenic students, 3 were undergraduates and 5 graduate students. All the male graduate students were studying theology and were planning to be ordained and stay in the USA. Of the other 3 students, all female, two stated that they had found employment in the USA and would stay in the US; the third one was looking for a job and if she did not find one, she intended to enroll for a graduate degree to get more time to look for a job and stay. The picture is more complicated with the other colleges. Those who attended State colleges, i.e. UMass (2), a university for the working middle class, planned to stay in the USA after graduation. They were both studying science and it would be easy for them to find a job. On the other hand, the 3 graduate students from Tufts, a rich private university, two male and one female, all planned to return to Greece. The one graduate from Northeastern had found a job and planned to stay in the USA, while the one attending Harvard Law School had not yet decided.
An overall analysis of the data from the questionnaires shows that most students were very worried about and strongly affected by the current economic conditions in Greece. However, graduate students at elite Colleges, with good financial resources, do plan to return to Greece after their studies. On the contrary those studying social sciences and humanities at the graduate level appear to be the most concerned about the situation in Greece and sceptical about a potential return. Even if they, as well as the majority of the overall sample, expressed a willingness to return to Greece if the conditions would improve in the future, it seems that in the medium term most of them will stay in America. Some of them will become priests, others Greek School teachers, businessmen, or executives in big companies. They will all enrich the Greek American Community and will reshape it during the next few decades. We have seen many similar examples from the immigration cohort of the 1960s. Thus this new cohort will be a great benefit to the Greek Omogeneia and to Greece itself, when they decide to return or to invest in their homeland.
Damanakis M. (2014), New Greek emigration to Germany In M. Damanakis, S. Konstantinidis and A. Tamis (eds) New Migration to and from Greece [in Greek], Rethymnon: University of Crete, K.E.M.E.
Michopoulos, Aris (2014), Greek migration to the US: yesterday and today. In M. Damanakis, S. Konstantinidis and A. Tamis (eds) New Migration to and from Greece [in Greek] Rethymnon: University of Crete
Papaioannou, George (1985), The Odyssey of Hellenism in America. Thessalonike, Greece: Patriarchal Institute for Patristic Studies.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security; Office of Immigration Statistics 2015