Minnesota: A Refuge for Refugees

Between one-fourth and one-half of all immigrants to Minnesota are refugees, compared to one-eighth nationwide.

Change in Foreign Born Population in Minnesota

The percent change in foreign born population in Minnesota in two decades from 1990 to 2010. 

Despite the considerable difference in immigration to Minnesota at the turn of the nineteenth century and the twenty-first century, Minnesota continues to draw in a large number of immigrants. Minnesota does not rival the number of immigrants in states such as New York or California: in 2008, the number of foreign-born in Minnesota was only 6.5%, compared to approximately 13% nationally.1 However, over the 1990s, Minnesota saw its population of foreign-born residents increase by over 130%, compared with a nationwide increase of 57%.2 The foreign-born population has continued to grow, jumping another 33% between 2000 and 2007, compared to 22% nationwide.3 As the graph above demonstrates, between 1990 and 2010, Minnesota’s foreign-born population jumped 235%. 

  1. “A New Age of Immigration: Making Immigration Work for Minnesota,” The Minneapolis Foundation, August 2010, 1. 

  2. “A New Age of Immigration: Making Immigration Work for Minnesota,” The Minneapolis Foundation, August 2010, 1. 

  3. “A New Age of Immigration: Making Immigration Work for Minnesota,” The Minneapolis Foundation, August 2010, 1. 

Refugee Arrivals to Minnesota

Total refugee arrivals to Minnesota from 2000 to 2011.

In particular, Minnesota is particularly well known for providing asylum for refugees. Between one-fourth and one-half of all immigrants to Minnesota are refugees, compared to one-eighth nationwide.4 The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees defines refugee as someone who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country."5 In 2005 Minnesota had the second largest number of refugee arrivals, after California.6

  1.  Taryn Arbeiter, Maria Ward, and Katherine Tegtmeyer Pak, “After the Welcome Center: Renewing Conversations about Immigration & Diversity in Faribault,” St. Olaf College (August 12, 2011), 3. 

  2. “Refugees,” UNHCR: The UN Refugee Agency,” accessed April 22, 2013,  http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c125.html. 

  3. "Expanding Immigrant and Refugee Funding in Minnesota: What Foundations and Nonprofits Can Do,” Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (August 2007), 5. 

Refugee arrivals to Minnesota  by Country of Origin

Total refugee arrivals to Minnesota from 2000 to 2011 by country of origin.

The majority of refugees in Minnesota come from Asia and Africa, with a smaller constituency from eastern Europe. The first wave of refugees came over at the end of the Vietnam War in the 1970s, as thousands of Hmong fled in fear of retribution for association with or aid to American soldiers. Many Hmong settled in St. Paul and environs, making it the single largest urban concentration of Hmong in the world.7 Following the breakout of civil war in Somalia in 1991, Minnesota has become the principle destination for Somali refugees.8 Other refugees to Minnesota include refugees from Vietnam, the old Soviet Union, Ethiopia, Cambodia, Liberia, and more recently, Myanmar (Burma). All together, between 1979 and 2010 over 93,000 refugees resettled in Minnesota.9 This number is, however, difficult to ascertain. Some refugees are initially settled in Minnesota but then move to another state, while other refugees initially settled outside of Minnesota and then move to Minnesota to be with family and friends or for economic opportunities.

 

  1. “Immigration in Minnesota: Discovering Common Ground,” The Minneapolis Foundation, October 2004, 12. 

  2. “Immigration in Minnesota: Discovering Common Ground,” The Minneapolis Foundation, October 2004, 10. 

  3. “About Refugees,” Twin Cities World Refugee Day: Many Traditions, One Minnesota, accessed April 22, 2013, http://tcworldrefugeeday.org/aboutrefugees-2/.