Burmese Immigration to Minnesota

The vast majority of Burmese immigration to the United States has happened since 1965 and is closely related to Burma’s political history.  Burma has been ruled by a military junta since 1962. 1  In 1988, protests led by students spread throughout the country and were violently suppressed by the government, causing a few thousand Burmese refugees and students to come to the United states.  The most recent wave of immigration from Burma to the United States started in 2006, when Karen refugees were given waivers to the “material support” provisions in the Patriot Act and Real ID Act, which had previously barred them from entering the United States.  Between the years of 1988 and 2008, 38,612 Burmese refugees have resettled in the United States. 2  Between 2000 and 2011, 3,546 of those Burmese refugees came to Minnesota. 

At Sitagu Dhamma Vihara, the people I interviewed came to Minnesota through different outlets – through winning lottery visas, through connections made with the military, or through the UN.  If they had a choice, some came to Minnesota because it was reportedly easy to find work, and often they have family here.  Aung Koe said of Burmese immigrants to the Twin Cities that “90% come as refugees, 10% political asylum, some are immigrants from parents to daughters and sons.”  Working as a translator, Koe meets a lot of new Burmese immigrants to the Twin Cities.  He often asks them what their religious practice is, and if they say that they practice Buddhism, he encourages them to come to Sitagu Dhamma Vihara.