Statistics reveal Latvian migration to U.S.

The article in the Feb. 25 edition of Wisconsin Dells Events, a weekly newspaper serving the Lake Delton community of central Wisconsin, told a sad but simple story.

Twenty-three-year-old Māris Trigubjuks, in the United States on a work visa, died when the car he was driving apparently smashed through a steel gate and landed in an abandoned gravel pit after rolling over several times.

Trigubjuks, who according to a sheriff’s department report had not been wearing a seat belt, was thrown from the vehicle. His body was found Feb. 20.

It was a tragic end to a young life far away from home. Trigubjuks was one of the hundreds of young Latvians who each year come to the United States to work or study. Recently, some of their individual stories have been become well known in Latvia and in Latvian communities abroad thanks to the documentary films Atrasts Amerikā and Sprīdītis Amerikā vai Does It Look Like Happiness?

But just how many individuals from Latvia have come to the United States in recent years is revealed in statistics tabulated by the federal government. The 2002 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics was issued in October 2003 by the Office of Immigration Statistics. The federal government divides foreigners into two broad categories, immigrants and nonimmigrants. The latter are those who don’t intend to stay permanently in the country.

According to the statistics, a total of 10,773 Latvian citizens came to the United States in 2002 for nonimmigration reasons, including 4,096 (or 38 percent) who came as tourists. A total of 449 arrived as students. Sixty-seven came because they were engaged to be married to U.S. citizens.

(The U.S. government statistics don’t distinguish immigrants by ethnic background, only by their country of birth or citizenship. The federal statistics also list immigrants from the former Soviet Union, but those numbers are not reported here.)

A total of 1,988 Latvian citizens like Trigubjuks were admitted as temporary workers and for other work-related reasons. Of those, 1,689 were exchange visitors admitted on J1 visas, which are visas for nonimmigrants coming to the United States for teaching, studying, researching or similar activities. While only 82 Latvians came to the United States in 2002 under the H-1B visas reserved for people with specialized skills, a quarter of those were for persons with computer-related abilities.

Two places Latvians turn to for information about visiting or living in the United States are the Embassy of Latvia in Washington, D.C., and the American Latvian Association, based in nearby Rockville, Md.

The ALA frequently receives e-mails from Latvia, usually about opportunities to work in the United States, said Juris Mežinskis, head of the association’s information and social welfare offices.

“Some of them already have been here as tourists or guest workers and want to return,” Mežinskis said. But ALA doesn’t have information about specific jobs. Instead, Mežinskis said, the association suggests Latvians turn to employment agencies registered with the Latvian government.

Latvian nonimmigrants tend to be young, according to immigration statistics, with half under the age of 34 and a quarter ranging in age from 25-34. That’s a characteristic that may explain why many recent arrivals from Latvia don’t get involved with local or national organizations.

“The ALA is an exile organization,” Mežinskis said, “but we always are interested in getting new arrivals involved.” But sometimes, he added, it seems that new arrivals find it uncomfortable to work with ALA and other exile organizations because they are generally young and are not yet on their feet materially.

Assistance to Latvian citizens is the most noteworthy part of the Latvian embassy’s consular work, said Uvis Blums, first secretary for consular affairs.

The most frequent requests are for new Latvian passports, notarizing of documents, preparation of temporary travel documents and information from archives in Latvia.

But sometimes, Blums said, the embassy has to deal with situations where a Latvian citizen has been arrested or has been jailed.

“We also help in those sad moments,” Blums said, “when it’s necessary to transport remains back to Latvia.”

While the lion’s share of individuals from Latvia who arrive in the United States come only for a limited time, some intend to stay. A total of 684 immigrants from Latvia were admitted into the United States in 2002, the figures show. That was a decrease from 2001, when 712 were admitted, but still the fourth highest number in the past decade. The greatest number of immigrants from Latvia, 762, was admitted in 1994. In all, 6,613 immigrants from Latvia were admitted from 1992-2002.

Of the 684 immigrants from Latvia, nearly half (329) were immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, most of them spouses. A total of 154 were considered refugees or asylum seekers.

According to the U.S. government’s definition, “A refugee is an alien outside the United States who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of nationality because of persecution or a wellfounded fear of persecution.” A person seeking asylum, on the other hand, already is in the United States.

Since the end of World War II, a total of 41,404 individual refugees and asylum-seekers born in Latvia have been granted permanent resident status by the United States. More than 38,000 of those entered the United States before 1960. Since 1991, a total of 2,757 refugees and asylum-seekers from Latvia have become permanent residents. A total of 154 of those were in 2002.

Fifty-four refugee applications were received in 2002 from individuals who said they could not return to Latvia. A total of 20 applications were approved, but 18 were denied. The number of refugee applications charged to Latvia has declined since 1999, when 167 were received by U.S. authorities.

Only 10 people from Latvia, meanwhile, were granted asylum in 2002. However, 56 new applications were received by U.S. authorities.

Some other statistics about Latvians in the United States show that:

  • In the decade from 1993-2002, a total of 2,725 persons born in Latvia have become naturalized U.S. citizens, 376 of them in 2002.
  • Twenty-five individuals from Latvia were deported from the United States in 2002, while another 13 were removed for other reasons.
  • American citizens adopted 34 orphans from Latvia in 2002. Of those, 80 percent were younger than 4 years.
  • Of the Latvian nonimmigrants, the greatest number (about 27 percent) arrived in the United States through New York. About 16 percent arrived through Chicago and 14 percent came in through Newark, N.J.

In all, legal immigrants to the United States in 2002 totaled 1.06 million from around the world, while nonimmigrant admissions totaled 27.9 million. Nonimmigrant admissions saw a substantial decrease of 15 percent from 2001, no doubt in part because of travel concerns after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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