Patriot Number One: American Dreams in Chinatown by Lauren Hilgers:
The cost of passage to the United States varies widely depending on geography, age, and luck. Karen’s cost only a fraction of what some pay. In Fujian, where huge numbers of people left for the United States in the 1980s and ‘90s, U.S. visas were more difficult to obtain. Visa officers were more suspicious of travelers coming from Fujian, more willing to turn down applications, and human traffickers in the region could charge as much as eighty thousand dollars for their services. In the 1990s, it was not unusual for an immigrant from Fujian to make a months-long journey by boat. But after boats repeatedly proved uncomfortable and dangerous, they slowly fell out of fashion. In 1993 a boat called the Golden Venture sank in very public fashion off a Far Rockaway beach in New York, and a report issued by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1996 described repurposed fishing boats as “in danger of sinking,” their human cargo “packed into hot, poorly ventilated, and confined spaces.” Today Fujianese are more likely to travel first to Mexico or Canada and to make their way secretly over the border.
For hopeful working-class immigrants from other parts of China—from Henan or Guangdong, for example—the options are cheaper and more obtainable. Some, like Zhuang and Little Yan, manage the feat of arriving and staying in the United States by simply joining a tour group. Others pay agencies to help with their applications. Older people will apply for tourist visas, making their case with false documents, provided by their agent, that attest to the applicant’s steady employment or property holdings in China. Younger people will apply for student visas, enrolling in schools in cities or towns scattered across the Midwest, many of them switching their plane tickets after the fact and flying straight to New York.