By Sharon Simonson
International migrants are pouring into the Bay Area at the highest rate in five years, driving population growth and cultural change across the region.
More than 238,000 foreign-born people and some Americans returning from abroad moved into Santa Clara, San Francisco, San Mateo, Contra Costa and Alameda counties in the last five years — more than 92,000 came to Santa Clara County alone, according to new U.S. Census Bureau population estimates released today.
All five counties have seen their highest rates of international migration since 2010 in the last two years. People coming from overseas or outside the United States accounted for two-thirds of the population growth in both San Francisco and Santa Clara counties from mid-2010 to mid-2015. They represented not quite half of Alameda and San Mateo counties’ growth.
The region relies heavily on foreign-born technical workers to fuel its expanding industrial base. Nearly 70 percent of the software engineers at work in Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco counties were foreign-born in 2013, according to the Silicon Valley Competitiveness and Innovation Project. Not quite 60 percent of all science, technology, engineering and mathematics workers, so-called STEM talent, were foreign-born, and the proportion was rising.
Notably, Santa Clara County, where San Jose is the largest city by far, was the only county of the five to lose existing residents to other California and U.S. counties. The traditional heart of Silicon Valley has seen the outmigration of existing residents accelerate, with more than 10,000 people leaving in the last year alone, another five-year high. More than 26,000 existing Santa Clara County residents moved away in the last five years.
In contrast, Alameda County, home to Oakland and Berkeley, attracted more than 18,000 new residents from other California and U.S. counties in the last five years. Contra Costa County drew more than 22,000. Even San Francisco, notorious for its high cost of living and a domestic population loser in 2010, has added nearly 5,000 new residents in the last four years who moved from other U.S. and California counties.
The demographic changes are evident to anyone observing political developments, cultural offerings or traveling the region’s streets and watching the retail and restaurant landscape. The San Jose City Council includes two Vietnamese immigrants. Realtors say anecdotally that immigrants are fueling the housing market and home-price appreciation.
In East San Jose, where Hispanic and Vietnamese populations are prominent, a neighborhood shopping center at Story Road and Roberts Avenue includes a Subway Sandwich, a Taco Bell, Nha Hang Saigon Seafood Restaurant and Bun Bo Hue An Nam, “a relaxed destination for Vietnamese soups.” A Crawdaddy restaurant is across the street. In Sunnyvale and to a lesser extent in Palo Alto, Indian and South Asian restaurants, grocery stores and shops increasingly occupy local commercial space.
Metropolitan regions in Texas (4), California (3), Florida (3) and Washington state (2) dominate the list of 20 fastest-growing urban areas in the country. But in Texas, population growth is driven more evenly by birth rates and the in-migration of new residents from other U.S. counties and states. Only some locations, such as Harris County, home to Houston on the Gulf Coast, reported significant international in-migration. The Houston metro was the nation’s fastest growing from July 2014 to July 2015, adding not quite 160,000 new residents, including newborn babies.
Similar patterns are evident in Florida. Most population growth is coming from new residents from other U.S. and Florida counties and natural increase, the excess of births over deaths, with exceptions such as in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, where international migrants are driving growth.
Nationally, 42 percent of U.S. population growth of 12.7 million people in the last five years came from international migrants. The remaining growth came from a surfeit of births over deaths, what demographers call “natural increase.”
The U.S. population grew 4.1 percent in the five years from mid-2010 to mid-2015. Santa Clara County grew 7.6 percent to 1.92 million people. San Francisco County grew 7.4 percent to 865,000 people. Alameda County grew 8.5 percent to 1.64 million.