There are varieties of definition and geographical data presented by organizations and individuals for classifying the ethnic groups in Asia.
Definitions by country
Anglophone Africa and Caribbean
In parts of anglophone Africa, especially East Africa and South Africa, and in parts of the Anglophone Caribbean, the term "Asian" is more commonly associated with people of South Asian origin, particularly Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans.
The Australian Census includes Central Asia. The Australian Census includes four regions of Asia in its official definition. Defined by the 2006–2011 Australian Census, three broad groups have the word Asian included in their name: Central and Southern Asian, South-East Asian and North-East Asian. Russians are classified as Southern and Eastern Europeans while Middle Easterners are classified as North African and Middle Easterners.
The Canadian Census uses the term 'Asian' pan-continentally and the list of visible minorities includes "West Asian", "South Asian", "Central Asian" and "Southeast Asian". The Canadian government uses "West Asian" in its statistics; however people from the Arab countries of Western Asia are counted in a separate "Arab" category.
New Zealand's census undertaken by Statistics New Zealand defines the Asian to include people of Chinese, Indian, Korean, Filipino, Japanese, Vietnamese, Sri Lankan, Cambodian and Thai ancestries. In less formal contexts, the term Asian often does not include South Asian people.
In the United Kingdom, the term "Asian" is more commonly associated with people of South Asian origin, particularly Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans. The UK usage of the term "Asian" is reflected in the "ethnic group" section of UK census forms, which treat "Asian" and "Chinese" as separate (see British Asian). Most respondents to the UK 2001 Census of non-Chinese East Asian and Southeast Asian descent chose to write-in their ethnicity in the "Other Ethnic Group" category rather than the "Other Asian" category, reflecting the association of the word Asian in the UK with South Asian. Despite there being a strong presence of East Asians in the United Kingdom there are considerably more South Asians, for example the 2001 Census recorded 1.05 million people of Indian origin and 247,000 of Chinese origin in the UK. Peter J. Aspinall of the Centre for Health Services Studies, University of Kent, recommends privileging the term "South Asian" over the term "Asian", since the term "Asian" is a "contested term".
In 1968, an Asian activist conference decided on favoring the name "Asian American" over the competing terms: "yellow", "Mongoloid", "Asiatic" and "Oriental", since the Filipinos at the meeting thought they were "brown" rather than "yellow" and the conference thought the term "Oriental" was Eurocentric, since they originate from lands "east" only from Europe's standpoint and, since the term "Oriental" suggested to them "passivity".
Earlier Census forms from 1980 and prior listed particular Asian ancestries as separate groups along with White and Black or Negro. Previously, Asian Americans were classified as "other". But the 1980 Census marked the first general analyses of Asians as a group, combining several individual ancestry groups into "Asian or Pacific Islander." By the 1990 Census, Asian or Pacific Islander (API) was included as an explicit category, although respondents had to select one particular ancestry.
In 1930 and 1940, Indian Americans were identified as a separate race, Hindu, and in 1950 and 1960 they were racially classified as Other Race, and then in 1970 they were classified as White. Since 1980, Indians and all other South Asians have been classified as part of the Asian ethnic group. Sociologist Madhulika Khandelwal described how "....as a result of activism, South Asians came to be included as 'Asians' in the census only in the 80's. Prior to that many South Asians had been checking 'Caucasian' or 'Other'."
Respondents can also report their specific ancestry, e.g.: Okinawan, etc. Someone reporting these ancestries but no race would be classified as "Asian". Unlike South Asians, Jewish Americans, Israeli Americans, Arab Americans, Iranian Americans and Central Asian Americans have not lobbied to be included as Asians by the U.S. Census Board.
In normal American usage Asian does not refer to the people from the Pacific Islands who are usually called Pacific Islanders. The term "Asians and Pacific Islanders" or "Asia/Pacific" was used on the 1990 US Census. However, in the 2000 US Census, the Asian or Pacific Islander category was separated into two categories, "Asian" and "Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander".
Arab States of the Persian Gulf
In the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, the term "Asian" generally refers to people of South Asian and Southeast Asian descent due to the large Indian, Pakistani and Filipino expatriate population in these countries. However, there are instances where the term is used solely to refer to those of South Asian descent.