Pakistanis only began to immigrate to North America in significant numbers since the mid-1960s, when immigration policies in both the United States and Canada abandoned racial quotas. Pakistani immigrants in the 1960s and 1970s, almost all Muslims, tended to be well-educated professionals who had been exposed to Western culture in Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi, and other major urban areas. According to the U.S. census of 2000 and the Canadian census of 2001, 204,309 Americans and 74,015 Canadians claimed Pakistani descent. Most observer believe the actual number in Canada to be well over 100,000. The largest concentrations of Pakistani Americans were in New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. In Canada, they have concentrated in the industrial centers of Ontario and in Montreal, with significant concentrations in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, and Winnipeg.
Pakistan occupies 300,300 square miles of South Asia between 25 and 37 degrees north latitude. In 2002, the population was estimated at 144,616,639. The country is divided into four regions: Punjab, Sind, Baluchistan, and the North-West Frontier Province, each reflecting an ancient cultural tradition and dominated by distinct ethnic groups, most important among them the Punjabi, Sindhi, Baloch, and Pashtun. Pakistan is bordered by Iran and Afghanistan to the west, China to the north, and India to the east. Islam provides a unifying factor and is practiced by 97 percent of the population, though there are tensions between the majority Sunni (77 percent) and the significant Shiite minority (20 percent). The Indus River Valley, site of the ancient Harappan civilization (ca. 2500–1700 B.C.), gave its name to the South Asian region known as India. Islam reached western India during the eighth century and spread rapidly throughout the Indus valley during extended periods of Muslim rule between the 11th and 19th centuries. Between about 1750 and 1947, the entire South Asian region progressively fell under the control of Britain, which ruled without representative institutions. British India included the modern countries of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. From the 1880s, Britain began to permit limited and narrowly prescribed forms of local selfrule, but this tended to be dominated by the Hindu majority in the country, particularly the Bengalis in the east. When Britain finally withdrew from India in 1947, attempts were made to partition the country along religious lines. The predominantly Muslim provinces of the west joined with Muslim East Bengal, more than 1,000 miles away, to form the new state of Pakistan. In the violence that followed perhaps 1 million people were killed and 12–14 million driven from one “new” land to the other—the greatest single uprooting of people in modern times. In 1971, civil war erupted between the eastern and western portions of Pakistan. India sided with East Pakistan in the war that led to the creation of the newly independent Bangladesh. Although Pakistan made considerable progress toward democracy in the 1980s and 1990s, military disputes with India over the Kashmir region and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism have led to the maintenance of a largely military regime.
Technically, there were no Pakistanis prior to 1947, all simply being Muslim citizens of British India. Undoubtedly, by the 1920s, when South Asian immigration was virtually halted, a few hundred had already emigrated from the region to North America. Numbers prior to the 1970s are problematic because immigrants might identify themselves by place of birth, religious affiliation, or ethnic identity. In 1947, the U.S. Congress passed a measure allowing for the naturalization of South Asians, which eventually led to a small stream of immigrants. There were perhaps 2,500 Pakistanis in the United States when the Immigration and Nationality Act was passed in 1965, repealing the limited quotas then in effect. Pakistani immigrants arriving in the 1960s and early 1970s tended to be well educated, including many engineers, scientists, and pharmacists. As a result, they generally were successful in adjusting to life in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other major U.S. cities. As they became naturalized citizens in the later 1970s, they sponsored parents and other relatives, who were generally less well educated. By 1980 the number had risen to more than 20,000, and five times that by 1990. Between 1992 and 2002 an average of more than 12,000 Pakistanis immigrated to the United States each year. About one-third of them lived in the Northeast.
Around the start of the 20th century, perhaps a few hundred Muslims and Sikhs from the Western Punjab migrated to British Columbia before the 1907 ban on South Asian immigration. Most of the Muslims either returned to India or migrated to the United States. After World War II (1939–45), the prohibition of all non-European immigration was amended to allow reunification of immediate family members, a provision that some of the earlier immigrants were able to take advantage of. In 1951, Canada’s new quota for South Asian immigrants provided for 100 Pakistani immigrants annually, slots taken mainly by Punjabi Sikhs. With few Canadian contacts and virtually no government facilities for processing requests, Pakistanis were slow to emigrate. In the first decade under the quota system, only 901 immigrated, most of them welltrained professionals. During the 1970s and 1980s immigration quickened, with many Pakistanis coming from countries such as Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania where they were perceived as outsiders and a threat to the traditional societies. Whereas most immigrants prior to 1980 were well educated, many who came after were less well educated, fleeing economic and communal instability in their homeland. Of the 79,315 Pakistani immigrants in Canada in 2001, 57,990 (73 percent) arrived between 1991 and 2001. Fewer than 3,000 had arrived before 1971. By 1980 the number had risen to more than 20,000, and five times that number by 1990. About one-third of them lived in the Northeast. Between 1992 and 2002, an average of more than 12,000 Pakistanis immigrated to the United States each year.
See also Bangladeshi immigration; Indian immigration; South Asian immigration; Sri Lankan immigration.