What’s the secret recipe that’s making Indian Americans tick in the US?

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What’s the secret recipe that’s making Indian Americans tick in the US?
The power of India in the US. People hold placards of Kamala Harris, as she prepares to take her oath as vice-president of America, at her ancestoral village in Thulasendrapuram. Biden places a high value on the achievements of the Indian community in the US.Courtesy: ANI

Joe Biden’s statement about ‘Indian Americans taking over the country’ highlights the contributions of Indian immigrants to the US economy and acknowledges the stellar role played by the community in fields such as education, technology and entrepreneurship.

US President Joe Biden’s recent comment on Indians “taking over the US” has focused attention on the very successful Indian American community in the US.

In a virtual meeting with NASA scientists following the successful landing of the Perseverance rover on Mars, Biden said: "Indian Americans are taking over the country. You (Swati Mohan), my Vice President (Kamala Harris), my speech writer (Vinay Reddy)."

Mohan, an Indian American scientist at NASA, leads the navigation, guidance and control operations of NASA's Mars 2020 mission.

The statement is being seen as an acknowledgment of the strides made by the relatively small community of Indian immigrants who have made the US their home. Numbering about 3.8 million, or about 1.2 per cent of the US population, the Indian diaspora in the US is the richest, most educated and among the most successful ethnic groups in that country – pulling ahead of even white Americans on most counts. More than 75 per cent of Indian Americans have arrived in the US after 1990.

An article on the website of Migration Policy Institute titled Indian immigrants in the United States from October 16, 2020 sums it up very well.

Compared with both the US- and foreign-born populations, Indian immigrants are more likely to be highly educated, to work in management positions, and to have higher incomes.

Status through employment

“Indian immigrants are notable not only for their large numbers. Compared with both the overall US- and foreign-born populations, Indian immigrants are more likely to be highly educated, to work in management positions, and to have higher incomes. They also have lower poverty rates and are less likely to be uninsured. Today, most Indians in the United States who obtain lawful permanent residence (LPR status, also known as getting a Green Card) do so through family reunification channels, either as immediate relatives of US citizens or through other family-sponsored channels, although a sizeable share gain status through employment preferences,” the report says.

The most entrepreneurial ethnic group

The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine of the US in its report titled The Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Immigration had said in 2015-16 that “Indian immigrants are the most entrepreneurial of any group including natives, and immigrant businesses represent more than a quarter of businesses in the transportation, accommodation, and recreation and entertainment sectors.”

The report takes a comprehensive look at the fiscal and economic impact of immigration and confirms that immigrants make valuable contributions to economic growth, innovation, and entrepreneurship in the US.

The US visa process has favoured the entry of mostly upper class, educated Indians, their close relatives, students with very high scores and skilled workers.

40 per cent Indians have PG degrees

According to Pew Research Center data from September 2017, about 32 per cent of Indian Americans have a bachelor’s degree and 40 per cent are post-graduates. The comparable figures for all Asian Americans are 30 per cent and 21 per cent, respectively. If all Americans are considered, Indians stand out even more as only 19 per cent of Americans have undergraduate degrees and 11 per cent have post-graduate education.

They also earn a lot more than all other ethnic groups, white Americans included. A recent survey by Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development found that the average income of Indian American families is $120,000, compared to the overall US average of $88,000.

Statista.com, a global online database of economic statistics, reports that the median household income of Asian families in the US is $98,000, while the figure for Caucasian families is $76,000.

Biden’s statement and the data above come at a time when immigration has emerged as a contentious political subject in the US, with the country sharply polarised between those who favour easier entry norms for talented immigrants and those who advocate pulling up the draw bridges.

Last year Indian ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu accepted Legion of Merit honour bestowed to Indian PM Narendra Modi by former US president Donald Trump. The award is a acknowledgement of India’s influence and commitment within the global fraternity.
Last year Indian ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu accepted Legion of Merit honour bestowed to Indian PM Narendra Modi by former US president Donald Trump. The award is a acknowledgement of India’s influence and commitment within the global fraternity.Courtesy: ANI

No immigrant group more successful

“No political issue is hotter than immigration. And no immigrant group has been more successful than Indians in the United States,” said Larry Summers, former President, Harvard University and Former US Treasury Secretary at the launch of a book titled The Other One Percent: Indians in America by Sanjoy Chakravorty, Devesh Kapur and Nirvikar Singh.

Singh hypothesises that there is nothing really extraordinary about the success of Indians. "There is no 'secret sauce. There are no peculiarly Indian cultural traits (that make Indian Americans more successful than others)…. They came very carefully selected. They were not coming from poverty. The simplest policy prescription may be this: Make sure everyone has access to education," he told the media.

The immigration of Indian Americans really began in 1965 when the US lifted caps it had placed on immigrants from some countries. Since then, the visa process has favoured the entry of mostly upper class, educated Indians, their close relatives, students with very high scores and skilled workers.

"Your path to success as an immigrant depends a lot on what you bring in and what your constraints are in your new home… Without educational resources and a stable financial background, migrants typically get stuck. Socioeconomic factors are much more determining than any cultural traits," Singh added.

80 per cent of second-generation Indian Americans are under the age of 25 years. This means their political influence is likely to grow further in the years and decades to come.

Population share to double by 2030

The Indian American population is expected to almost double to 2 per cent of the US population by 2030. They are mostly concentrated in New York, New Jersey, Washington DC, California and Texas.

Many of them work in the IT sector, the financial services companies, as doctors, lawyers and in managerial positions in big companies. A large number of Indians are also entrepreneurs, especially in the motels business.

The Other One Percentsays Indian Americans support the Democrats by a 10:1 margin and play a key political role in states such as Texas and Georgia, among others. Also, 80 per cent of second-generation Indian Americans are under the age of 25 years. This means their political influence is likely to grow further in the years and decades to come.

Voters at a polling booth during the US elections last year. Scores of Indians have taken to public service and this is also reflected in Biden’s choice of officials in the White House.
Voters at a polling booth during the US elections last year. Scores of Indians have taken to public service and this is also reflected in Biden’s choice of officials in the White House. Courtesy: ANI

Indians taking to public service

That influence is already evident in Biden’s appointments. “It is impressive to see how many Indian-Americans were ready to enter into public service. There have been so many additions since we launched our Government Leaders list last month on Presidents' Day. I am so proud to see our community is going from strength to strength," M Rangaswami, a leading diaspora voice in the US, told PTI.

Some of the important Biden appointees are Uzra Zeya, Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, State Department; Mala Adiga, Policy Director to Dr Jill Biden; Aisha Shah, Partnership Manager, White House Office of Digital Strategy; Sameera Fazili, Deputy Director, US National Economic Council (NEC); Sumona Guha: Senior Director for South Asia at the National Security Council, White House; and Sabrina Singh: Deputy Press Secretary, Vice President White House.

“We are thrilled that this administration reflects the diversity of America by including an unprecedented number of South Asians. The Biden-Harris administration's inclusion of South Asians in key senior staff roles will undoubtedly inspire countless South Asians to aspire to public service and run for public office. This is a proud moment for our community," Neha Dewan from South Asians for Biden told PTI.

Coming of age

Indian Americans are coming of age in the US and beginning to exert influence in the public sphere. Two Indian Americans, Nikki Haley and Bobby Jindal, have already ruled states such as Louisiana and South Carolina as governors.

There is a buzz about Haley preparing for a presidential run in 2024. If that happens, there is every possibility of the US Presidential race narrowing down to two women of Indian descent – Haley versus Harris.

That will validate the statement by Jon Huntsman, former Governor of Utah and United States Ambassador to China, when he said: “In the last half-century, Americans of Indian descent epitomize how new waves of immigrants have been renewing our communities and our economy. ”

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