Bosnians Come to Iowa

Immigrants from the former Yugoslavia, particularly Bosnia, reside in Iowa. Many came in the 1990s as war refugees and were granted legal permission by the United States government to resettle throughout the country. Many of the Bosnians in Iowa are actually “secondary migrants,” as they first resettled in other states before eventually moving to Iowa. The 2000 U.S. Census showed that Iowa’s Bosnian population was 5,695. A total of 6,575 Iowans are reported as being of Yugoslavian ancestry. Most are drawn to the state by jobs in the meatpacking and agricultural processing industries. They also are attracted to Iowa’s peaceful, rural family-oriented lifestyle.

True Refugees

Bosnians, unlike many other immigrants to Iowa, are generally classified legally as true refugees. This means that they were forced to flee their homeland due to ethnic conflict and did not come voluntarily to the United States like economic migrants. The road that led most Bosnians refugee—as for all refugees—to Iowa was very difficult. Many were deeply traumatized by human rights abuses that forced them out of Bosnia. Many stayed in Germany or other European countries before moving to the United States. Many would prefer to be back in Bosnia if the political situation was different. They generally resent people who think they came to America just to seek jobs.

Underemployed Professionals

Bosnia is quite well developed and cosmopolitan, and most Bosnians are very well educated and highly literate. Many Bosnians in Iowa were professionals in their home country. In fact, most were doctors, nurses, teachers and business leaders. Many would like to resume their professions in the United States, although many find themselves working in positions well beneath their skills level. Differing professional guidelines, lost or destroyed certifications and language barriers hinder many refugees’ ability to transition into similar positions in Iowa.


  • Grey Ph.D, Mark A., Woodrick, Ph.D., Anne C., Yehieli, D.P.H., Michele, Hoelscher, James. The New Iowans, A Companion Book to the PBS Miniseries “The New Americans”, Iowa Center for Immigrant Leadership and Integration, University of Northern Iowa (2003).