Ukrainians in America: Insights from the Center for Demographic and Socio-Economic Research of Ukrainians in the US

December 16, 2020

How did patterns of immigration from Ukraine change over the past 30 years? Where do recent immigrants prefer to settle?

The latest immigration from Ukraine, so-called fourth wave, started in 1988.  Early immigrants were mostly Jewish and a small number of Protestants.  This emigration was made possible by the Jackson-Vanik amendment to the U.S.-Soviet Trade Bill. The Amendment pressured the Soviet government to allow Jews and members of other religions to emigrate from the Soviet Union. Legal emigration for all Ukrainian citizens became possible only after Ukraine’s independence in 1991.  This Amendment has had significant effects on emigration from Ukraine to the U.S.

As of 2018, the total number of these immigrants is 320 thousand and they make up 28 percent of the 1.128 million Ukrainian-Americans.   The emigration experienced a steady increase until 2000, with a peak of 16,6 thousand in 1992, and a maximum of 18 thousand in 2000.  This was followed by a steady decline, with a temporary surge to 10-12 thousand in 2014-2017. There were five thousand immigrants from Ukraine in 2018.

If we divide the immigrants into two periods, 1988-2000 and 200-2018, we observe the following changes:

a) The composition of Ukrainian- and Russian speakers changed from 39 and 60 percent, respectively, to 47 and 40 percent.

b) The more recent immigrants have a somewhat higher level of education. Among immigrants 25 years of older, 39 percent of the more recent immigrants had four or more years of college, while this percentage was 28 for the earlier immigrants.

c) A radical change took place on the visa status of the immigrants. The three main categories of immigrants from Ukraine are: diversity program or so called lottery, refugees and asylees and immediate family of residents in the U S.  The percent of lottery visas was more less stable in the 4-16 percent range.  The refugee/asylee category dropped from 69 to 30 percent.  The immediate family visas, on the other hand, increased from nine to 32 percent.

This dynamics reflects the history of immigration from Ukraine to the U.S. Initial immigrants were admitted under a refugee visa and it took years to legalize their status.  The increase in family member immigrants is called the “chain” migration effect.  Earlier immigrants started to sponsor their families.

The settlement pattern of early immigrants was very different from that of non-immigrants. Settlement patterns of later immigrants were different from patterns of early immigrants and, surprisingly, became very similar to patterns of non-immigrants.

Most of early immigrants settled in two divisions: 40 percent in the Middle Atlantic Division (New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania) and 29 percent in the Pacific Division (California, Washington and Oregon).  A third area of settlement was the East North Central Division (Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin) with 12 percent. Very few immigrants settled in the middle of the country.  These settlement patterns reflect the general character of this migration wave and specific characteristics of the early immigrants.

This is mainly an economically-motivated migration and immigrants tended to settle in areas with good job prospects, not necessarily in areas with high concentrations of Ukrainians. As mentioned before, early immigrants were mostly Jews and Protestants. Jews settled mostly in mid-Atlantic States while Protestants settled in the three Pacific States.

Settlement patterns of immigrants after 2000 were quite different.  Percentage in Middle Atlantic States decreased from 40 to 25 percent, the proportion in the Pacific States stayed basically the same and the percentage in the South Atlantic Division (all the Atlantic States from Maryland to Florida) doubled from six to 12 percent.  Also more immigrants settled in States in the middle of the country.  Settlement of later immigrants became more dispersed and, with the exception of a higher proportion in the Pacific States, the distribution of these immigrants is very similar to the distribution of non-immigrants.

This is the situation at the macro level.  There is even a more complex dynamics at the local level.  In some cities they make up half or more of the total number of Ukrainians.  Thanks to the new immigrants, new communities were created where there were practically no Ukrainians 20 years ago.  The proportion of earlier or more recent immigrants has played a crucial role in the development of many communities.  This is topic is wide open for research.


What is the distribution of Ukrainian American voters across US states?

The two conditions for being able to vote are 18yrs or older and US citizen. Of the 1.128 million Ukrainians 63 % or 709 thousand are potential voters. The number of potential voters is directly related to the total number of Ukrainians in a State or Metropolitan Area. By this criterion, the three States with the largest number of potential voters are New York, Pennsylvania and California. One useful indicator is the percent of potential voters out of the total Ukrainian population\ in the State. For example, practically all Ukrainians, 99%, are qualified to vote in North Dakota and 96% in New Mexico. However, the total number Ukrainians in these States is very small, 4,229 in North Dakota and 2,223 in New Mexico.   Another indicator is percent Ukrainian potential voters out of the total number of potential voters.  The three States with the highest values of this indicator are New York with 0.77 percent, Washington with 0.67 percent and Delaware with 0.52 percent.


Did it have any impact on the 2020 presidential elections?

The short answer is no.  I have tried to interest the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America in taking advantage of these data, but I do not think they were used in a meaningful way.  Quite a few people looked up the voter’s data on the Center’s web site. There may have been some local uses of the data, but we do not know.  Although Ukrainians in the U.S. have been engaged in politics for a long time, very few have achieved high level positions in government . It is quite telling that the first person of Ukrainian ancestry elected to the U.S. Congress is a recent immigrant from Ukraine.


What are current research priorities for the Center?

The Center has two main objectives: a) help develop scholarly research on Ukrainians in the U.S., a field that is practically non-existent; b) provide quantitative tools for effective planning and data-based decision-making for Ukrainian organizations in the U.S.  Both objectives require objective and reliable data.  A key activity of the Center has been the construction of data bases on Ukrainians in the U.S.  The main sources for the databases are census, government surveys (American Community Survey or ACS) and immigration statistics.

In order to be useful, data has to be up-to-date.  We are in the fortunate position that new data is available on a yearly basis. Recently released data from the 2019 ACS allows us to update the data base to 2018. This is a labor-intensive task.  Once we download the survey data, extract records with data on Ukrainians, process the data, construct new analysis variables, assure that the data is consistent with data from previous years and add the new file to the master database, the next step is to update all results on the Center’s web base: tables, indicators, graphs and maps:

Some research projects with this data base on the to-do list:

a) in-depth analysis of the impact of the third wave on the Ukrainian diaspora in the U.S.

b) a detailed economic analysis of the Ukrainian community

c) comparative analysis of Ukrainian- and Russian-speakers among 4th wave immigrants

d) computer and internet use of Ukrainian-Americans in comparison with all Americans.

The Bureaus of the Census has recently provided access to 100 percent old censuses: 1900 – 1910 – 1920 – 1930 and 1940.  These censuses have new and rich data on the first immigration wave from Ukraine to the U.S. We have downloaded some of these censuses and are in the process of constructing a database with these censuses.  This database will provide exiting research opportunities for scholars interested in the first wave of migration from Ukraine. We have a pilot application on the Center’s website, that allows one to extract individual census records using certain criteria like year of birth, year of arrival in the U.S., sex, mother tongue, place of birth.  I sent an article to The Ukrainian Weekly with some preliminary analyses of these data.

The census and survey data have individual records.  It is also important to be able to analyze the family structure and deal with issues of intermarriage and characteristics of husband a wife in these marriages.  We started constructing a file where individual records of family members are linked into a family record.

The immigration data base has been very little analyzed. We have three types of data: a) immigrants by type of visa; b) temporary migrants like tourists, students, workers on special visas, diplomats, etc.; c) Ukrainian orphans adopted by Americans.  For comparative purposes, the data base has similar data for Russian, Poles and Hungarians.


How does the Center collect data on Ukrainian Americans? What are some challenges associated with this type of research?

There are two types of data on Ukrainian-Americans: micro and macro data.  Micro data are mostly surveys conducted by sociologists.  Several of such surveys have been done by researchers from U.S. and Ukraine.  It would be interesting to add this type of research to the Center’s plan of work, but we have not found anybody interested in coordinating this type of research.

The Center’s work is focused on macro data: census, surveys and immigration statistics.  These data are available on the Internet, are updated on a yearly basis, are government data that are reliable and have information that allow us to identify Ukrainians or persons of Ukrainian ancestry. For every census and ACS the Bureau of the Census constructs a representative sample with individual and household records and posts it on the Internet.

The process of collecting census/survey data is as follows:

– Download the whole file for the U.S. (usually a representative sample).

– Extract from the national file all records of persons of Ukrainian ancestry

– Process the data (add variable names and value names), construct analysis data (recodes), construct (if necessary) versions of variables compatible with similar variables from previous years

– As the ACS file is a sample of a sample, the number of person-records of Ukrainian ancestry may be too small for analysis of subpopulations. In order to increase the number of records, we merge three yearly files into one file.

– Integrate the new file into the Ukrainian master file that contains data for: 1980, 1990, 2000, 2006, 2010, 2015 and 2018.

– For every new yearly file, construct a U.S. file that is needed for comparison of  Ukrainians with the total population

– Some special analytical files are also constructed, like: a) files for Russians and/or Poles, and more detailed files for a specific State or Metropolitan Area,

The immigration data is posted yearly on the Internet. Data on Ukrainians and other ethnic groups is copied manually from specific tables in the report and then integrated into a data base.

All databases are relational and in MySql format.  Specialized software is used to extract sets of variables and construct hypercubes for interactive analysis.  When needed, files are converted into SPSS format.

The main challenge of this type of research is the lack of social science researchers interested in analyzing this type of data on Ukrainians. All data is available to interested researchers and the Center can provide technical assistance in its use.

The Center also provides data and technical assistance to community organizations for marketing, specific analysis and decision making.  We have provided assistance to a Credit Union and the Diocese of a church, and would be glad to provide targeted data analysis.

If interested in data for scholarly research or applied analysis, please contact the Director of the Center:


By Oleh Wolowyna, director of the Center for Demographic and Socio-Economic Research of Ukrainians in the US at the Shevchenko Scientific Society in the United States.