People from Asia have been coming to the United States in significant numbers since the 1850s. First lured by the California Gold Rush, then by the promise of jobs, Asians came primarily to the west coast of the US and Hawaii. The first limitations on immigration in U.S. history focused on Asian people, via the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) and the outright prohibited immigration from Asia between 1924 and 1965. Despite these barriers, Asians came to the US as relatives of previous migrants, as spouses of the military, as adoptees, and as refuges of war. Because the US fought several wars in Asia between the 1950s and 1970s, much of the immigration to the US from that region is fallout from armed conflict. The Korean War (1950-53) and the Vietnam conflict (1954-1975) impacted the people of Asia more than Americans due to the destruction and pollution of the landscape and the separation of families, as well as the corporal casualties of bombs and bullets. Related to these conflicts has been the common practice of Asian women marrying US servicemen. The War Brides Act (1945) circumvented the US prohibition on immigration from Asia and the Holt Act (1955) permitted adoption of orphans from Asia. The reopening of immigration policy in 1965 allowed Asians to reapply for other kinds of visas, aided by the Refugee Act (1980).
Pacific Islanders are often grouped demographically with Asians, but they have a very different immigration history — one defined by colonialism, not war. Starting in the 1890s the US deliberately expanded its overseas territories to include Pacific Islands as military bases and trading ports. The Philippines was a direct colony of the United States from 1898 to 1946. Other Pacific Islands, like Guam and American Samoa, are still colonies of the US today. In addition, the nations of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau signed the Compact of Free Association (COFA) with the United States bringing economic and military benefits to all parties. As a result, many Pacific Islanders have had an easier visa process, encouraging many people to come to the US to join family members or for education and economic advancement.