The Nepali-speaking community in New York is one of the newest groups of immigrants from South Asia. Most of us were born in Nepal, but the community also includes Nepali-speaking immigrants and refugees from Bhutan, Tibet, India, Burma, and other countries.
While the first Nepalis started coming to the US in the 1960s, the community grew exponentially in the last decade with people seeking safety and security away from the decade-long war between the government and the Maoist rebels, as well as better livelihoods. The migration to the US has also been fueled in part by the “diversity visa” lottery that allows people from countries without high rates of immigration to come to the US as permanent residents. Bhutanese refugees resettled from Nepali refugee camps have further increased the pace of growth of our community.
The newer immigrants have not fared as well as those who came earlier. They have limited resources, including less education and limited English skills, and are employed in informal sectors. Increasingly anti-immigrant laws and policies have exacerbated the situation so that the majority of Nepalis in New York, including those with higher education, must endure exploitation and violations of human rights, including extremely low wages, long hours, hazardous work environments, and in some cases, even abuse by employers. The economic crisis has affected our community members as many lost jobs, or had to work longer hours for less pay. A heightened sense of uncertainty is often exploited by employers and employment agencies. Unfortunately, very few members of our community qualify for any safety net, such as unemployment benefits or food stamps.
As members of a relatively new community, Nepalis have often been overlooked by service providers or researchers working with and studying Asian or South Asian populations. Little research had been done on our community in any regional or national capacity within the United States. The paucity of data created challenges to understanding and meeting the needs of this emerging community. Therefore, in 2006, Adhikaar undertook a multi-year participatory research project to help us understand how to best serve the needs of our community, as well as inform other organizations, service providers, and decision-makers. In 2010, we published the report based on our findings – Snapshots of the Nepali-Speaking Community in New York: Demographics and Challenges. Some of the highlights of the findings include:
- More than four out of five Nepali-speaking women, men, and children in New York City immigrated less than a decade ago.
- More than nine out of ten people in the community are in the prime working years between ages 18 and 55.
- More than two-thirds of the respondents reported annual household income of $30,000 or less.
- One-third of those who were married were separated from their spouses, and almost half of those with children were separated from them.
- Two-thirds of the respondents and their family members faced challenges in accessing social services and health care.
We continue to use participatory action research to document the needs of our community and add our voices to create solutions. Domestic work and nail salon industry are two of the sectors with high concentration of Nepali-speaking women. Therefore, we have led the first national survey of domestic workers, in partnership with the National Domestic Workers Alliance, as well as the first survey of Nepali-speaking nail salon workers.