Tag Archives: U.S. immigration

Indian Entrepreneurs Fit into an American Tradition

America is a nation of immigrants. But it is historically has been a nation of entrepreneurs. Because of geography and U.S. immigration laws it was not possible for Indian immigrants to play a large role as entrepreneurs in the U.S. economy. However, the rise of Indian business people in America, especially since 1990, fits into a long tradition in America.

Early History of Immigrant Entrepreneurs in America

American history is fueled by the story of entrepreneurs. “The history of the United States lies in entrepreneurial ambition,” notes the Babson Entrepreneur Experience Lab. “The first colonies established in the New World sought to take advantage of new access to raw materials, agricultural lands and trade routes. More importantly, immigration to America offered the chance to escape class and persecution and to create opportunities for oneself; it was seen as the ‘land of opportunity.’ In particular, economic growth and entrepreneurial opportunities were found in owning land, various mercantile activities and exploration.”

Entrepreneurs Introducing New Methods and Technologies

Individual entrepreneurs, both native-born and foreign-born, have influenced how Americans communicate from the time of the telegraph up to the modern-day advent of mobile phones. In 1844, Samuel Morse won a federal grant to demonstrate the feasibility of the telegraph, though initially it could only transmit about 1,000 feet. When the federal government showed little interest in expanding the capability of the technology, Morse licensed private companies that within 6 years had built a “comprehensive network between major commercial centers.” According to Gerald Gunderson, author of An Entrepreneurial History of the United States, “Merchants extended their operations over a much wider area as the delays and uncertainty of working in distant markets fell. The telegraph took Americans a long way toward creating a national market by eliminating much of the disadvantage of distance.”

Entrepreneurs have also helped introduce new methods of operating businesses that later became common practice. Andrew Carnegie, an immigrant from Scotland, is famous for producing steel. “Carnegie’s challenge in 1870 was to develop an organization that improved efficiency as rapidly as possible,” explained Gunderson. “This turned not so much on inventing technology to produce steel, as on building an organization whose instinctive, primary focus was to reduce costs. Some of Carnegie’s innovations are so widely employed today they have become standard topics in management textbooks. One was the development of profit centers.”

Indian Entrepreneurs Emerge in America Post-1965

Between 1820 and 1959, only 13,363 Indians immigrated to America. This was due to the long distances but also because of immigration legislation passed in 1924 that severely limited immigration from eastern European, Asian, and African countries.

The 1965 Act eliminated the national origins quotas, opening the door to the immigration of Indians, Chinese and many others. The rise of Indian students in the United States helped lead to more family and employment-based immigrants and, as a result, that helped lead to more immigrant entrepreneurs.

A study I did for the National Venture Capital Association in 2006 examined publicly traded companies that had received venture capital. (See study here.) The study found, India, with 32 companies (22 percent), ranked first as the country of origin for immigrant-founded venture-backed public companies, followed by Israel with 17 companies (12 percent), and Taiwan with 16 companies (11 percent). Canada, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, China, Iran, and two dozen other countries were also among the countries of origin of the immigrant entrepreneurs on the list.

A study just released by the National Foundation for American Policy examining the top privately-held venture-funded companies. It also found India was the leading source country for immigrant entrepreneurs. (See study here.) Today’s Indian entrepreneurs are fitting into an American tradition of influencing society through entrepreneurship that goes back hundreds of years in our country’s history.

A Thanksgiving Special: Immigration to America in the Days Before H-1Bs, Green Cards and Illegal Immigration

Immigration policy in America is difficult to understand. But it is a little easier to understand if one knows about the early history of U.S. immigration. To help people comprehend better what the world was like before the days of H-1Bs and Green Cards, below is a brief history of immigration during the decades before and after the first Thanksgiving.

Opposition to Immigration

Opposition to immigration has always existed in America, with the degree of practical obstacles to those immigrating influenced by the country’s economic circumstances and Americans’ perceptions of international events. A political cartoon once showed two Native American (Indians) on a shore watching the Pilgrims arrive at Plymouth Rock. One knowingly says to the other: “Illegal immigrants.”

Although the first settlers to America at Jamestown and Plymouth were immigrants they were not breaking any immigration laws, since none existed. In fact, it would be a long time before those coming to America would face any serious impediments or legal restrictions.

Early History

In 1607, the first immigrant-settlers to America arrived in Jamestown. To say these first settlers experienced hardship would understate the case. “The hard winter of the Starving Time [1608] reduced a population of about 500 to barely sixty . . . Everything from the horses . . . to rats, snakes, mice and roots dug from the forest were consumed, and emaciated survivors took to eating the dead.”

In 1610, the surviving settlers decided to abandon Jamestown but were soon met at sea by ships with supplies and new settlers and chose to return to the colony. The settlement became important as an example of self-government. While King James and later his son, Charles I, retained the authority to enact laws and govern the colony, the settlers had the right, they believed, to decide purely local matters and established an assembly of burgess.

Plymouth Rock

The first immigrants at Plymouth Rock endured many hardships. Unlike the Jamestown settlement, which was organized by the Virginia Company, the Pilgrims sailed to America as a group of like-minded religious individuals and families seeking freedom to worship without interference from governmental authority. “The First Thanksgiving marked the conclusion of a remarkable year. Eleven months earlier the Pilgrims had arrived at the tip of Cape Cod, fearful and uninformed,” writes Nathaniel Philbrick, author of Mayflower. “They had spent the next month alienating and angering every Native American they happened to come across. By all rights, none of the Pilgrims should have emerged from the first winter alive . . . ”

The immigrants quickly learned a lesson about food production and private property that three centuries later Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong failed to grasp, resulting in the unfortunate deaths of millions in 20th century China and the Soviet Union. The lesson was simple – people work harder when they own property and can enjoy the fruits of their labor for themselves and their families.

Nathan Philbrick explained: “The fall of 1623 marked the end of Plymouth’s debilitating food shortages. For the last two planting seasons, the Pilgrims had grown crops communally – the approach first used at Jamestown and other English settlements. But as the disastrous harvest of the previous fall had shown, something drastic needed to be done to increase the yield. In April, Bradford had decided that each household should be assigned its own plot to cultivate, with the understanding that each family kept whatever it grew. The change in attitude was stunning. Families were now willing to work much harder than they had ever worked before . . . The Pilgrims had stumbled on the power of capitalism. Although the fortunes of the colony still teetered precariously in the years ahead, the inhabitants never again starved.”

Early Colonial Period

Historian Bernard Bailyn estimates total migration to Colonial America between the founding of the Jamestown colony and 1760 of “at least 700,000,” including slaves forced to America against their will. The scale of immigration from 1630 to 1775 was large given the population size of America and the sending countries. Even in the 1630s and 1640s, concerns about religious persecution sent another 21,000 Puritan immigrants to New England. Between 1630 and 1660, an estimated 210,000 British immigrants came to America. Approximately 75,000 German immigrants arrived between 1727 and 1760, while about 100,000 to 150,000 Scotch-Irish came to the colonies from 1717 to 1760.

The pace of immigration increased after 1760. Bailyn calculates approximately 221,500 arrivals between 1760 and 1775, an average of about 15,000 a year compared to about 5,000 annually in earlier decades. And here is an amazing figure: about 3 percent of Scotland (40,000 people) and 2.3 percent of Ireland (55,000) came to the colonies from 1760 to 1775.

A Correct Prediction of How Immigration Would Transform America Into a World Power

A prescient writer in the London Chronicle in 1773 understood the significance of the large flow of migrants from Britain: “America will, in less than half a century, form a state much more numerous and powerful than their mother-country…”

And this turned out to be true. As we now know, the early immigrants and their descendants became the people who fought for American independence, giving us the country we have today.

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.