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The Persian Diaspora

Since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, millions of Persian Speaking peoples have migrated to other parts of the Middle East, to the US, Europe, and other areas of the world.

Persian Diaspora Census, 1996
Prepared by: Iranian Christian International
Iranian Christians Report by ICI
Eastern Europe50,000
Egypt & North Africa20,000
Philippines, Korea & Japan 50,000
Russia & Other Former Soviet Union Countries50,000
South Africa5,000
Spain & Portugal15,000
The Netherlands6,000
The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)50,000
United Arab Emirates & Bahrain560,000
United Kingdom80,000
United States of America1,560,000
Centra & South America & Other Parts of The World100,000

Iranians in the United States

A different kind of Immigrant

Most Iranians who immigrated to the United States following Iran's 1978-1979 revolution do not fit into the typical stereotype of an immigrant (poor, oppressed, not knowing English, etc.). Many came to the United States with money, had already studied English, possessed a good education, and had strong backgrounds in business.

Most Iranians in the United States are working, and many own their own businesses. At the same time, there are still many Iranian immigrants who have not learned English, particularly older people and women.

Desire to assimilate

Unlike many other people groups, Iranians do not isolate themselves from other cultures. A very gracious people, many are friendly and desire cross-cultural relationships. Unfortunately, this desire to assimilate to an American lifestyle also shows up in a general preoccupation with materialism.

At the same time, Iranians do not neglect their own culture. With the largest concentration living in Los Angeles, a large Iranian community known as Little Persia has emerged in an area just west of Hollywood.


Of all the Muslim people groups, the Iranians are perhaps the most open to other views. After suffering from religious oppression in Iran, many are disillusioned with Islam. They are suspicious of religious dogma and/or fanaticism, and value freedom of religion.


Population: Approximately 2 million

Religion/s: Muslim, Jewish, Armenian Christian, Zororastrian, and some

Persian Christians

Language: Farsi (many speak English)

Geographical locations: Highest concentration in California (est. 700,000) - primarily located in San Fernando Valley and Orange County; second highest in Washington DC area (est. 100,000)

Profile: Assimilation

The desire to assimilate into American culture opens many doors for ministry. Eight Iranian women who either live alone or with busy families are finding their needs met through ESL classes and times for fellowship and relationships. Several women say that those ministering to them in this way are angels that God has sent to them-to take care of them, to visit them and to help them in various ways Ð more than their own families have helped them. Several Iranian men and women have also been attending a Sunday afternoon "Seekers" class on "Knowing God".

Hearing God's word and worshipping in their "heart" language of Farsi can be particularly meaningful to these Iranians. One Iranian man who professes to be a believer, and came to Christ through an American church, desires fellowship and discipleship in the Farsi language. Another Iranian man has been attending an American church and is seeking to deepen his understanding of Christ and Christianity in Farsi.

Demographical profile of the Iranian immigrant community in the United States based on the 1990 US census

From a small beginning of perhaps no more than 15,000 individuals in 1965, the Iranian population of the United States grew rapidly to 121,000 in 1980. 1990 estimates are between 800,000 to 1,100,000.

The marked increase in immigration can be explained through two important events. First due to the substantial wealth of the country prior to the 1979 revolution, many families and the government chose to send students abroad for higher level education. By 1977, Iran had more students abroad than any other country in the world at 227,497. By 1979 in the US alone, there were 51,310 college students, ranking first amongst foreign nationalities. Second, after the revolution in 1979, not only did many of these students opt to remain in the US, but many of their relatives also decided to join them, later becoming naturalized citizens (or residents).

Based on the 1990 census figures, one can draw a fairly accurate portrait of this community:

  • Although coming from a non-English speaking country, 84% of Iranian-Americans speak fluent English.
  • 46% have a bachelors degree or higher, which ranks the group not only higher than any other recently-arrived immigrant group, but also higher than natives in terms of educational achievement.
  • This high academic achievement has undoubtedly contributed to the high occupational and financial accomplishment of Iranians as well. 43% of Iranians are in professional and managerial positions, 35% in technical and administrative, 10% are in various services and the balance are spread over farming, craft and laborers.
  • 48% of the Iranian-American community are dual income earners and 22% own their own businesses.
  • Median family income is $55,501 (substantially above the national average of $35,492) and per capita income is $18,040.
  • 92% of Iranians have a mortgage.

References: Demographic data of Iranians in the US, Iranian American Republican Council.

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