IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

The way Asian Americans fill out federal forms is about to change

An updated directive adds new race categories in federal data collection, providing a host of options for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.
The White House
Nicolas Economou / NurPhoto via Getty Images

Federal agencies will now be required to differentiate among Asian American and Pacific Islander groups when collecting data, according to an updated directive from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. 

The new standards push agencies to update their forms, like an application for a Social Security card, for example, to include new choices beyond the umbrella terms Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander, an OMB official told NBC News. 

Under the Asian category, users will be given the following options:  Chinese, Asian Indian, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese or another group (for example, Pakistani, Hmong, Afghan).

The Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander category will have more detailed choices as well: Native Hawaiian, Samoan, Chamorro, Tongan, Fijian, Marshallese or another group (for example, Chuukese, Palauan, Tahitian).

Groups listed are based on those with the highest population counts in the 2020 census, and agencies will also be encouraged to provide “write-in boxes” on the “another group” option so that people can further specify. 

“And the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to advancing racial equity and inclusion through improved data collection, research, access, and disaggregation efforts. Better data leads to better and more informed policies that reflect the needs and priorities of the AA and NHPI communities,” an administration official said.

Disaggregation efforts in the AAPI community have spanned three decades, and experts say the collection of more detailed data is long overdue. It can be monumental in understanding the needs of different communities, they said, and getting more resources to the most vulnerable.

“The collection of accurate data that more meaningfully represents our communities is a foundation to build collective progress on in the form of stronger policies, programs and investments across every sector — which in turn will positively impact our communities in all spheres, from health and education to access to jobs and public resources,” Akil Vohra, director of policy for AAPI Data, said in a press release. 

Agencies have 18 months to publish their plans implementing the new standards, the directive said, and five years to complete the updates. They can request an exemption to this directive if the burden of collecting the detailed data outweighed the benefit, or presented privacy concerns, the OMB official said.

Changes will also be visible on the next census, including brand new categories: Middle Eastern or North African, and Hispanic or Latino.

“We applaud the federal government for releasing these long-needed revisions for standards that more adequately recognize and honor the diversity, strength and needs of our communities,” Karthick Ramakrishnan, founder and executive director of AAPI Data, said in the release. “Today’s announcement represents a vital step forward in the movement for data equity, with particular benefits for the diverse Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander communities we support through our work.”