Tag Archives: illegal immigration

Indians and Illegal Immigration

The vast majority of Indians come to the United States legally and stay here as legal visa holders. Many become permanent residents (green card holders) and then U.S. citizens. Indeed, in terms of income and education, it would be difficult to find a more successful immigrant group in U.S. history.

There are also Indians in the United States illegally. Such individuals remain a small part of the overall illegal immigrant population. Still, it is a segment worth exploring to help us better understand the immigration issue.

According to the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Indians made up only 1.9 percent of the illegal immigrant population in the United States as of January 2010. (Here is a link to that report.) There were approximately 200,000 Indians not in legal status in the U.S. out of a total illegal immigrant population of 10,790,000, according to a DHS report released in February 2011.

Table 1

Illegal Immigrant Population by Country (2010)

Country of Birth Estimated Unauthorized Immigrant Population (2010)
Mexico 6,640,000
El Salvador 620,000
Guatemala 520,000
Honduras 330,000
Philippines 280,000
India 200,000
Ecuador 180,000
Brazil 180,000
Korea 170,000
China 130,000
All Countries 10,790,000

                                               Source: Department of Homeland Security.

A Country by Country Look

One can see by examining Table 1 that Mexico dominates the overall illegal immigration population in the United States, representing over 60 percent, with 6.6 million. The next three countries have far smaller numbers of illegal immigrants in America: El Salvador with 620,000, Guatemala with 520,000 and Honduras with 330,000. These figures are as of January 2010, which means it’s possible newer data could yield slightly different results.

The Philippines has the fifth most illegal immigrants with 280,000, followed by India in 6th place with 200,000. Illegal immigrants from the Philippines and India largely come to the United States legally on visas and then overstay their visas. Unlike Mexicans, Indians cannot simply cross a border and find themselves in the United States. While it is possible some may have gone to Canada or Mexico and entered America illegally, it is more likely Indian illegal immigrants were once in some type of legal status and lost that status.

Changes in Indian Unauthorized Immigrant Population Over Time

In 1990, Indians made up an estimated 0.8 percent of the unauthorized immigrant population, with only 28,000 illegal immigrants, according to the then Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). It’s possible the 28,000 figure is a low estimate of the number of illegal immigrants from India in 1990. That is because an initial INS estimate of the number of Indians in the country illegally in the year 2000 was only 70,000. However, a few years later that figure was revised to 120,000.

Measuring the number of illegal immigrants in the United States is, by definition, not easy. It is even harder to make accurate estimates of smaller subsets of that population. Table 2 shows the overall number of Indians in the United States in the “unauthorized immigrant population” – the term used by the Department of Homeland Security – in 1990, 2000 and 2010. The numbers indicate the Indian population not in legal status has risen from 28,000 in 1990 to 200,000 in 2000.

Table 2

                                         Indian Unauthorized Immigrant Population: 1990 to 2010

Year Indian Percentage of Total
1990 28,000 0.8 percent
2000 120,000 1.4 percent
2010 200,000 1.9 percent

                   Source: Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Illegal Immigration Issue Remains Important

Whether someone is waiting for a green card or is an employer of immigrants, it would do well to remember that illegal immigration remains important in the American public’s mind. It drives the overall debate on immigration. In past years, disagreement on whether or not to provide legal status to the illegal immigrant population scuttled attempts to provide more green cards for high-skilled immigrants, including many Indians. The issue of illegal immigration is not going away.

Employers May Soon Need Approval From a Federal Database for New Hires

It is surprising that only months after taking office on a platform of smaller government, House Republicans appear poised to enact a program that some consider to be quite a big government solution to illegal immigration. The legislation is H.R 2164, sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-Texas). It bears watching in the coming weeks.

E-Verify is an electronic employment verification that allows employers to send, generally speaking, the name and social security number of a potential new hire and get back an answer from the federal government as to whether that individual is legally authorized to work in the United States.

The key issue is not whether such a system should exist. The issue is whether the federal government should require every employer in America to use E-Verify, as mandated in H.R. 2164.

In theory it may make sense to have such a system for checking new hires. But in practice it may be an entirely different story. A new report I completed details some of the problems with making E-Verify mandatory. (A copy of the report can be found here.)

First, it is unclear whether the system will actually reduce illegal immigration in any significant way. A government report by the consulting group Westat found about half of illegal immigrants show up in the system as work authorized, primarily, it’s assumed, by using a false identity. In addition to identify fraud the system could be thwarted by employers that decide not to submit the names of employees suspected of being illegal immigrants.

Second, the errors in the databases are likely to affect individuals here lawfully who seek jobs but are mistakenly shown by the system to be not authorized to work. This could be a major problem, since even under the current system employers often go against protocols and “pre-screen” applicants. That means individuals may not even realize why they are not called back after a job interview.

Misspellings of names and naturalization can lead to errors in the database. It is not surprising that someone with the name Mukherjee or Chidambaram is more likely to have a database error than a guy named Smith or Jones.

By some estimates foreign-born individuals are far more likely to experience problems with the Social Security or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services databases than native-born. “E-Verify error rates are 30 times higher for naturalized U.S. citizens and 50 times higher for legal nonimmigrants than for native-born U.S. citizens,” according to Congressional testimony by Tyler Morgan of the National Immigration Law Center.

Third, employers should be aware that H.R. 2164 vastly increases fines not only for employing illegal immigrants but also for what may be considered paperwork violations or a failure to submit an individual through the E-Verify system. The legislation puts in place a system more complex than simply checking new hires. An employer is also required to check existing employees under certain circumstances, including if an employee starts working on a state or federal contract or is within 30 days of work authorization expiring. A government allegation that workers were misclassified as independent contractors (and not required to be checked through E-Verify) rather than as employees could potentially trigger fines of at least tens of thousands of dollars.

The House legislation provides a short window for this to be up and running. The largest employers would be required to use E-Verify within 6 months, employers with between 20 to 499 employees within 18 months, and those with 1 to 19 employees would be required to use E-Verify within 24 months. A Senate bill, sponsored by Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) has a shorter window – one year for all employers – and requires all existing employees to be verified as well.

The House legislation could be marked up in the Judiciary Committee as early as this month. If it became law it could mark an enormous change in the operation of the U.S. workplace. Supporters of the bill view that as a good thing. Others are not so sure.

A Brief History of Indian Immigration to the United States

So much attention is paid to current policy controversies that it is easy to lose sight of history. The history of Indian immigration to the United States is, to put it simply, recent history. I’ve put together data that show the stunning change in Indian immigration to America after the 1965 act removed the national origins quotas U.S. law. The data show that more Indians immigrated to the U.S. in the 1960s than had immigrated in the prior 140 years.

Immigration from 1820 to 1959

The history of Indian immigration to the United States can be divided into two periods. The first period is the time prior to the 1965 Act. The second, after the change in U.S. law that opened the door to immigrants from India and other countries that had been mostly barred as countries of origin for U.S. immigration.

Table 1 illustrates that few people from India came to the United States in the 19th century or the first half of the 20th century. For much of that period, arduous and expensive travel likely acted as a limiting factor. Between 1820 and 1959, only 13,363 Indians immigrated to America, compared to over 69,000 in 2010 alone.

Prior to 1921, immigration to the United States was essentially open, with some literacy and health requirements introduced in the early 1900s. However, the 1921 and 1924 immigration acts sought to exclude immigration from eastern European, Asian, and African countries. Anti-Semitism in the period made Jewish immigration and, to an extent, immigration from Italy, the primary targets for exclusion, more than the relatively small amount of immigration from either Asia or Africa.

Table 1

Indian Immigration to the United States: 1820-1959

Year Immigrants from India
1820 to 1829 9
1830 to 1839 38
1840 to 1849 33
1850 to 1859 42
1860 to 1869 50
1870 to 1879 166
1880 to 1889 247
1890 to 1899 102
1900 to 1909 3,026
1910 to 1919 3,478
1920 to 1929 2,076
1930 to 1939 554
1940 to 1949 1,692
1950 to 1959 1,850
Total 13,363

Source: Table 2, 2010 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, Office of Immigration Statistics, Department of Homeland Security. Note: Country designation is by country of last residence.

The 1965 Act Changed Everything for Indian Immigration

Under the 1924 Act, which requires a separate, more extensive discussion, immigration from the “Asia-Pacific triangle” was limited to an overall ceiling of 2,000. As a result, extensive immigration from India was not possible. It should be noted that Congress legislated various exemptions from the quotas that enabled individuals to immigrate outside of the quotas.

The 1965 Act made several changes to U.S. immigration law but the most important was to eliminate the national origins quotas. Table 2 shows the dramatic change produced in Indian immigration as a result of the 1965 Act. One can see how Indian immigration has climbed post-1965. From 1960 to 1969, 18,638 Indians immigrated to the United States, in the 1970s, 147,997 immigrated. Indian immigration totals increased as well in the next three decades.

Table 2

Indian Immigration to the United States: 1960-2009

Year Immigrants from India
1960 to 1969 18,638
1970 to 1979 147,997
1980 to 1989 231,649
1990 to 1999 352,528
2000 to 2009 590,464
Total 1,341,276

Source: Table 2, 2010 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, Office of Immigration Statistics, Department of Homeland Security. Note: Country designation is by country of last residence.

Table 3 shows that from 1950 to 1959, America received only 1,850 Indian immigrants. In contrast, from 2000 to 2009, 590,464 Indians immigrated to America. The 1965 Act, combined with the rise of Indian students and employment-based immigration to the United States, produced a dramatic change in the number of people coming from India to America.

Table 3

Indian Immigration to the United States: Pre- and Post-1965 Act

Year Immigrants from India
1950 to 1959 1,850
2000 to 2009 590,464

Source: Table 2, 2010 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, Office of Immigration Statistics, Department of Homeland Security. Note: Country designation is by country of last residence.

Can Immigration Policies Become More Open?

While immigrants and employers deal with the daily reality of overcoming immigration policies aimed at restricting, rather than promoting, migration, there are those who have called for liberalizing the world’s policies on the movement of people. In their book Exceptional People: How Migration Shaped Our World and Will Define our Future, authors Ian Goldin (Oxford), Geoffrey Cameron (Oxford) and Meera Balarajan (University of Cambridge) call for a fundamental change in immigration policies.

The authors argue that freeing up migration around the world would reap benefits. The authors note that according to the World Bank, “Increasing migration equal to 3 percent of the workforce in developed countries between 2005 and 2025 would generate global gains of $365 billion.” More radically: “Completely opening borders, some economists predict, would produce gains as high as $39 trillion for the world economy over 25 years.”

The authors are realistic enough to note that nothing like complete open borders is going to happen anytime soon. Their detailed history of migration around the world explains that until about 100 years ago, “open borders” was mostly the policy around the globe. The advent of World War I, nationalism, and the increase in modern transportation made such policies politically untenable.

Yet Goldin, Cameron and Balarajan explain that even if borders were not completely open, more migration, particularly if it was done in an orderly, legal way, can achieve positive results: “A small increase in migration would produce a much greater boon to the global economy and developing countries than free trade and development assistance combined.”

The authors call for an international body to help facilitate more open migration policies. Such calls are likely to fall on deaf ears. “So long as nationalism can legitimately trump more universal claims of international cooperation, world development, poverty alleviation, and human freedom, the project to advance an agenda for the liberalization of migration will be stalled,” the authors note.

Goldin, Cameron and Balarajan do not discuss the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), which has provided a degree of openness on skilled migration through a multilateral body. The United States, for example, committed, in essence, to maintain its policies on H-1B and L-1 temporary visas in exchange for greater market access in other sectors. To date, no cases have been filed against the United States for failing to honor those commitments, although it’s possible that could change.

The immigration issue is not going away. Factors beyond the control of elected officials propel both the issue and individual migration decisions. “A growing supply of migrants will result from greater pressure and propensity for people to move,” the authors note. “The pressure to migrate arises from the push and pull factors (whether economic, social, or political) that make migration attractive, whereas the propensity to migrate is related to individuals’ ability and willingness to bear the costs of moving.”

Goldin, Cameron and Balarajan conclude by placing their call for more open immigration policies in historical perspective: “Genetic and other evidence has placed the old arguments for ethnic purity in the dustbin of history. The ethical justification for discriminating on the basis of nation-states is also becoming moribund. While the world may still hold tightly to its national categories, as an excuse for restricting human liberties, they are being eroded by the tides of history. We contend that the idea of freer movement . . . will end up like the other big ideas that emerged from the margins of impossibility into the realm of the self-evident.”

Immigrant-Founded Companies on the Fortune 500

A new study from the Partnership for a New American Economy shows immigrants and their children have played a significant role in starting key companies in the United States. The study found more than 40 percent of current companies listed on the Fortune 500 were founded by either immigrants or their children. (The study can be found here )

The Partnership for a New American Economy was started by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, along with the mayors of Philadelphia, Los Angeles, San Antonio and Phoenix, and the CEOs of Microsoft, Walt Disney, Marriott, Boeing and News Corporation. The study’s conclusion advocates changes to America’s immigration laws: “To compete, we must modernize our own immigration system so that it welcomes, rather than discourages, the Fortune 500 entrepreneurs of the 21st century global economy. We must create a visa designed to draw aspiring entrepreneurs to build new businesses and create jobs here. We must give existing American companies access to hire and keep the highly skilled workers from around the world whom they need to compete. And we must stem the loss of highly skilled foreign students trained in our universities, allowing them to stay and contribute to our economy the talent in which we’ve invested.”

Table 1 and Table 2 give a sample of the more than 200 companies in the Fortune 500 started by immigrants or their children. Some on the list may make you smile, such as Alexander Graham Bell, an immigrant from Scotland, the inventor of the telephone credited with founding AT&T, or Thomas Edison, a son of immigrants, who invented the light bulb and started General Electric.

There was only one Indian immigrant or child of immigrants on the list (Vinod Khosla, Sun Microsystems) for a simple reason: The Fortune 500 are the largest companies in America and it normally takes many years for a business to grow that large. The exceptions are some recent technology juggernauts, such as Google and eBay. Indian immigration to the United States remains relatively new, essentially post-1965. In another decade or two it would not be surprising to see a number of companies on the Fortune 500 that were started by Indian immigrants or their children.

Table 1

Immigrant-Founded Companies on the Fortune 500

Company Immigrant Founder Country of Origin
AT&T Alexander Graham Bell Scotland
Pfizer Charles Pfizer, Charles, Erhart Germany
Kraft Foods James L. Kraft Canada
Fluor John Simon Fluor, Sr. Switzerland
Kohl’s Maxwell Kohl Poland
Colgate-Palmolive William Colgate England
Sun Microsystems Vinod Khosla, Andy Bechtolsheim India, Germany
BJ’S Wholesale Club Max and Morris Feldberg Russia
EBay Pierre Omidyar France
Google Sergey Brin Russia

Source: Partnership for a New American Economy; companies had at least one immigrant founder.

Table 2

Fortune 500 Companies Started by the Children of Immigrants

Company Founder with Immigrant Parent(s) Country of Origin
General Electric Thomas Edison Canada
Ford Motor Henry Ford Ireland
IBM Herman Hollerith Germany
Boeing William E. Boeing Germany
Home Depot Bernie Marcus Russia
United Parcel Service James Casey Ireland
Apple Steve Jobs Syria
CBS William S. Paley Ukraine
Office Depot Jack Kopkin Russia
Harley-Davidson William S. Harley England

Source: Partnership for a New American Economy; companies had at least one founder who was a child of an immigrant parent or parents.