Tibetan Refugees Outside of the United States:
It is incredibly difficult to determine the number of Tibetan refugees.  First of all, census statistics are unreliable and only conducted every ten years.  Most current information about the number of Tibetan refugees was collected in the late nineties. Secondly, children who are born into exile are not always taken into consideration with these numbers. Finally, several biases exist in the reporting of certain numbers.  For example, the Chinese government has an incentive to deflate the number of refugees to delegitimize the fight for Tibetan freedom (Grunfeld 1996, 190-192). 

In 1996, there were about 125,000 Tibetans living outside of China. The prominent Tibetan populations mostly reside in other countries in southern Asia: India, Nepal and Bhutan (Grunfeld, 1996: 192). India has the largest Tibetan refugee population - 85,000 in 1998 (Tibet, 2009).  Significant communities have been established in India, “agricultural settlements, agro-industry centers, handicraft centers and more than 80 schools” (Korom, 1997: 102). The greatest destination for Tibetan refugees in India is located
in Northern India in Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama and the government-in-exile are located.

Other countries where significant numbers of Tibetan refugees seek asylum include Switzerland, Canada and the United States (Tibet, 2009). Most Tibetans (around 6 million), still live in Tibet, under control of China and the government of the People’s Republic of China who “oversee strict political, economic, and                                                                                                                            cultural control” (Korom, 1997:
Photo courtesy of Dismal World, 2009

Tibetan Refugees In the United States:
Tibetan immigration to the United States did not truly begin on a large scale until the enactment of the 1990 Immigration Act. This bill did not grant refugee status to Tibetans, but provided for 1,000 immigrant visas for Tibetans living in exile in India and Nepal. Thus no official Tibetan migration to the United States occurred until 1992, although small groups had been brought to the United States in previous years. In the early 1990’s, 25 resettlement sites were established in the United States and the Tibetan U.S. Resettlement Project, with the cooperation of the Tibetan government-in-exile, created seven categories within the refugee population in order to divide up the visas equally, including both destitute and highly educated individuals (Hess, 2006). Within the last decade and a half, the Tibetan population in the United States has risen from 700 to almost 9,000 (MacPherson & Bentz, 2008).
In the most recent waves of Tibetan immigration to the United States, individuals have tended to cluster in key urban centers, including New York, San Francisco, Boston, Portland, and Minneapolis (MacPherson & Bentz, 2008). Minneapolis was named one of the 25 resettlement sites and the first group to arrive included 160 Tibetans, who soon became citizens and were able to bring their families. The Twin Cities developed a reputation for being a welcoming city and for providing many job opportunities, thereby attracting more refugees. By 2001, the Tibetan population in Minnesota had reached almost 1,000 (Hughes, 2001). In 2008, the community had grown to 2,000 and is now the second-largest Tibetan population in the U.S. (Haugen, 2008).


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Photograph by Wonderlane, Creative Commons License (Attribution No Derivatives)


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