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MIT maps Austin immigrants: Where do people come from and what do they do?

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MIT maps permanent visa applications for Austin. Tumi/Facebook

For the past few months, we've watched the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's You Are Here project turn data into beautiful visual representations. Picking favorite cities across the country, a group of MIT mathematicians, artists, designers, computer scientists and educators is analyzing the little aspects of life that, when together, make for a vibrant and rich culture. From mapping the worst streets for Austin bike wrecks to the best mode of transportation in Portland (something we hope they will do here), the team has issued (roughly) a map a day about different cities.

"I wanted to create maps that would not only give a more complete picture of a city, and also help people to make their city a better place to live," explains Sep Kamvar, LG Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at MIT and director of the Social Computing Group at the MIT Media Lab. 

Last week, Kamvar and his fellow MIT researchers analyzed permanent visa applications for Austin for 2012 and 2013. On the heels of the presidential visit and an increasingly heated debate about border control, this is an interesting look at the type folks who ask the U.S. government to become a part of our bustling mini-metropolis. Who are they? Why travel from the ends of the earth to start life anew in Austin, Texas? What jobs do they do once they get here?

 Who are they? Why travel from the ends of the earth to start life anew in Austin, Texas? What jobs do they do once they get here? 

Using data from the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, You Are Here analyzed the 283 permanent visa applications for Austin over a two-year period. Of those 283 requests, 87 percent were approved.

So who applies for these visas? The overwhelming majority come from Asia. Indians applied for the most, accounting for 140 of the permanent visas to live and work in Austin. Rounding out the top 10 are China (24 applications), Canada (19 applications), Mexico (14 applications), Taiwan (9 applications), South Korea (7 applications) the UK (5 applications), Germany, France and the Philippines (4 applications each).

Not surprising considering Austin's reputation as a technology hub, the vast majority of applicants are coming to work in IT, followed by finance and retail. The top companies listed on the applications include Freescale Semiconductor, Inc. (it had 82 applications, by far the most) as well as Ascendant Technology and PayPal.

These newly minted Austinites are landing some pretty technical job titles, too. (Let's just say you aren't going to see many creative positions in the bunch.) Immigrants who secure a permanent visa are most likely to join the local workforce as software developer (No. 1), engineering manager (No. 2) or electronics engineer (No. 3). Among the outliers are a chef, two art directors, one middle school teacher and an interior designer.

With a goal of creating 10,000 maps, the You Are Here project will likely return to Austin in the coming months. But just what will they uncover? That, says Kamvar, remains to be seen. "By and large, we decide to map what we feel is important or interesting to us," he says. "The process is a very intuitive one. Our hope is that if something feels important or interesting to us, it will ... feel that way to others." 

To see the full list of countries, job titles and sponsoring companies, head over to the You Are Here website. While you're there, take a peek around — it's a fascinating look at the little things that play such an important role in the culture of American cities.

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