Chinese Filmstar’s Immigration to the U.S.


Internationally famous actress/director Joan Chen immigrated to the US when she was 19 in 1981.She was a film star in China. Her parents, both medical doctors in China, won a Sloan Kettering fellowship to do research in New York. While in the US, they made plans to bring Joan to the US.
She landed in New York City on August 26, 1981.

Her immigration story shows one of many different pathways taken by foreign nationals from all parts of the world to come to the US. Initially, her reason for her immigrating to the US was vaguely educational. She enrolled at State University of New York (SUNY) in New Paltz where she got a tuition waiver.

Then she settled in southern California, working as a hostess in a Chinese restaurant in San Fernando Valley. One of her classmates was a stunt woman, working in the film industry. Joan told her classmate that she was a movie star in China and her friend suggested she find an agent and so Juan visited the Bessie Loo Agency. Though Guy Lee, an actor and agent who worked at the Bessie Loo Agency, was not so impressed with her career back in China, he called her later for a possible job in a fast-food chain’s commercial. After a few months, she got another call to audition for another bit part and got the role.

Hollywood movie producer Dino De Laurentiis saw Joan in a parking lot and wanted her for his movie. She met with the producer and got the part after a screen test. Though she was getting acting jobs, she has a immigrant dilemma. She was in the US legally on a student visa, but not authorized to work.
In 1985, she got married to Chinese American friend who worked in the film industry. She got a green card by being married to a US citizen. She then became a naturalized US citizen in 1989. Her marriage lasted four years.

She acted in many movies and it brought her great notice and attention. After sometime, she became frustrated by not getting good roles. She then turned to directing in the late 1990s. She not only directed, but also was an executive producer, producer and co-writer. During the last decade, she returned to China to star in many Chinese films. She also acted in two Australian films.

Joan lives with her husband, Dr. Peter Hui in San Francisco. He is an interventional cardiologist. They have two daughters, Angela, 11, and Audrey, 7. Joan has lived 28 years in the US, working and raising a family. In recent years, she has been traveling to China quite often to film and to visit her parents, who still live in Shanghai. Her husband, Dr. Hui’s immigration story is different. He was born in Beijing. Hui’s father hired a snake head and took the two of them out in the hidden compartment of a sampan, initially to Macao, and then to Hong Kong, when he was five. Then he came to the US when he was 11.

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