Category Archives: Immigration Blog

Indian Students to the U.S. Have Nearly Doubled in 10 Years

A surprising development in recent years is the dramatic growth in Indians coming to the United States to study. In a phenomenon that has largely gone unreported, the number of Indians studying at American colleges and universities has nearly doubled since the year 2000.

Figure 1 below shows the almost steady rise in Indian enrollment in the United States, based on figures compiled by the Institute of International Education. One can see that in the 2000/2001 academic year the number of Indian students enrolled was below 60,000, while by 2009/2010, the total exceeded 100,000.


To gain a better perspective on the numbers, one can see below in Table 1 the large percentage increase in the enrollment of Indian students in the U.S. since 2000. Between the 2000/2001 and 2009/2010 academic years the number of Indian students enrolled at American colleges and universities increased by 92 percent. That is an extraordinary figure by any measurement.

Table 1
Indian Students Enrolled at U.S. Colleges and Universities

Academic Year Number of Indian Students Enrolled
2000/2001 54,664
2001/2002 66,836
2002/2003 74,603
2003/2004 79,736
2004/2005 80,466
2005/2006 76,503
2006/2007 83,833
2007/2008 94,563
2008/2009 103,620
2009/2010 104,897

Yet the percentage increase in the enrollment of Indian students in the U.S. is even larger if one goes back to 1995. In the 1995-1996 academic year, only 31,743 Indians were enrolled to study in America. That means Indian enrollment at U.S. colleges and universities rose by over 200 percent between 1995 and 2009.



Increases in Graduate or Undergraduate Students From India?

Students pursuing graduate degrees are a primary source of the increase in Indian enrollment in the last decade. In the 2000/2001 academic year, 12,259 Indian undergraduates studied in the U.S. compared to 15,192 in 2009/2010. However, in 2000/2001, the number of Indian graduate students totaled 39,797, but rose to 68,290 by 2009-2010.

Yet those number do not tell the whole story. As Table 2 shows below, Optional Practical Training (OPT) makes up over 18 percent of Indian enrollment in the United States. OPT permits temporary employment for training that is “directly related to the student’s major area of study,” according to Immigration Customs and Enforcement.

Table 2

Indian Students in U.S. by Academic Level: 2009/2010

Academic Level Number Percentage of Total
Undergraduate 15,192 14.5 percent
Graduate 68,290 65.1 percent
Non-Degree 1,758 1.7 percent
OPT 19,657 18.7 percent
TOTAL 104,897

The Implications of These Numbers

The rise in Indian students coming to America reflects positive trends in both countries. First, since most students generally must pay a substantial portion of their education out of family or individual assets, the rise in U.S. enrollment reflects increased wealth in India. Second, the enrollment increase also indicates the rise in technology companies in both India and the United States and the importance of education in technical fields. Third, this is a good news story for American universities, showing their ability to attract outstanding students from all over the world.

A final, important implication of these numbers is that international education makes the globe smaller and a better place to live. Indians who stay in the United States after graduation have the opportunity to build a career that may involve interaction with people or companies in India. Students who complete their studies in America and return to India have acquired greater knowledge of an important market for both customers and commercial partners. And American students gain the opportunity of getting to know individuals and cultures from halfway around the world without even having to leave a college campus.

(Figures and Tables Source: Institute of International Education)

Are H-1B Visa Holders Really Only Hired for Cheap Labor? Let’s Look at the Law, Common Sense and Some Data

The argument made by critics of H-1B professionals is straightforward – the only reason companies hire them is because they will work more cheaply. In fact, the argument is central to criticism of H-1Bs and will likely never be conceded by critics, since all assertions about skilled foreign nationals rest on the premise that they work more cheaply.

One can recognize the value of permitting skilled foreign nationals to work in the United States without assuming the entry of every individual results in a storybook ending. America is an immense country with large and small employers and when tens of thousands of new people enter the U.S. labor market for the first time each year it is possible some of these individuals will be taken advantage of or will not recognize their true market value. This may be more likely to occur at some small IT services companies, which have been cited in the press.

However, the law, common sense and available data indicate that, on the whole, H-1B visa holders are paid appropriately based on their age and work experience – even if this does not take place in all circumstances.

Under section 212(n)(1) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, employers must pay H-1B visa holders the higher of the prevailing wage or actual wage paid to “all other individuals with similar experience and qualifications for the specific employment in question.”

To knowingly violate this law risks heavy fines, debarment from using the immigration system for hiring skilled individuals and much bad publicity for the company. That is why one rarely hears of any company with a recognizable name found to have willfully underpaid an individual on an H-1B visa.

Think about what would be necessary for a large or even medium-sized company to (unlawfully) maintain two wage scales – one for foreign nationals, one for U.S. workers. The records would be available and accessible to government auditors on demand – and such audits are frequent these days from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Moreover, a mid-level employee in the human resources department, perhaps several of them, would have to work with a company’s general counsel office and likely an outside law firm in a conspiracy to underpay foreign nationals. All of this would risk the reputation of the company and the livelihood of the employees involved. And since employers generally pay up to $5,000 to $6,000 in legal and government fees to hire H-1B visa holders, to make this conspiracy worthwhile the amount of underpayment would have to be significant.

After all this is done, can the H-1B professional thwart this conspiracy by simply leaving the employer to work elsewhere? Yes. Do H-1B visa holders change jobs? Yes, it happens quite often, particularly when the economy is good. Immigration attorney and former INS general counsel Bo Cooper recently noted in Congressional testimony that his law firm often processes cases for clients for an H-1B professional to move from one employer to another.

Again, none of this is to deny that some individuals may be shortchanged. It’s more to explore the extent to which one can say that H-1B visa holders in general are underpaid and only hired to save money.

What the Research Shows

In a January 2011 report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found H-1B visa holders generally earned the same as U.S. professionals when compared in the same fields and age groups. For example, in the category Systems Analysis, Programming, and Other Computer-Related Occupations, the median salary for an H-1B professional was higher ($60,000 vs. $58,000) than for a U.S. professional in the age group 20-29 and the same ($70,000) in ages 30-39. (See Table 1 below.)

Table 1

Median Reported Salaries of H-1B and U.S. Workers: Systems Analysis, Programming, and Other Computer-Related Occupations

Age Group H-1B U.S. Workers
20-29 $60,000 $58,000
30-39 $70,000 $70,000

Source: H-1B Visa Program: Reforms Are Needed to Minimize the Risks and Costs of Current Program, Government Accountability Office, GAO-11-26, January 2011, Table 1.; Salaries are 2008.

In the age group 20-39 for Electrical/Electronics Engineering Occupations, the median salary for an engineer in H-1B status was higher than for a U.S. engineer – $80,000 vs. $75,000. (See Table 2.) For some reason, U.S. workers in the age 40-50 range earn more in this field than their H-1B counterparts, but since relatively few H-1B visa holders enter the U.S. after the age of 40 (less than 10 percent) and only a portion of those enter this field it is difficult to know whether the data are significant in any way.

Table 2

Median Reported Salaries of H-1B and U.S. Workers: Electrical/Electronics Engineering Occupations

Age Group H-1B U.S. Workers
20-39 $80,000 $75,000

Source: H-1B Visa Program: Reforms Are Needed to Minimize the Risks and Costs of Current Program, Government Accountability Office, GAO-11-26, January 2011, Table 1.; Salaries are 2008.

Table 3 shows in the age group 20-39, H-1B professionals earned $47,237 compared to $35,000 for U.S. professionals for jobs in college and universities.

Table 3

Median Reported Salaries of H-1B and U.S. Workers: Occupations in College and University Education

Age Group H-1B U.S. Workers
20-39 $47,237 $35,000

Source: H-1B Visa Program: Reforms Are Needed to Minimize the Risks and Costs of Current Program, Government Accountability Office, GAO-11-26, January 2011, Table 1.; Salaries are 2008.

What Do These Results Mean?

The data show one needs to compare individuals with similar ages and fields when comparing salaries. Since U.S. professionals tend to be older than H-1B visa holders, U.S. professionals will tend to earn higher salaries. But that doesn’t mean H-1B professionals are only hired because they earn less. Recent U.S.-native-born college graduates earn less money than more experienced native-born professionals in the same field. Does that mean recent native-born college graduates are paid less than more experienced individuals because of wrongdoing by American employers? Of course not. Salaries in America are based on a variety of factors. Individuals with greater experience should be expected to earn higher salaries.


There are reforms that would make the situation better both for workers and legitimate employers. First, strengthen the rules for whistleblowers and make such rules more widely known. Second, increase portability for individuals with pending green card applications so it is easier for a professional to leave a current job if necessary. Third, increase the employment-based green card quota and/or exempt from the quota individuals who received a masters degree or higher from a U.S. university, which would move many people into permanent resident status much more quickly. The green card backlog makes it even more important that Congress refrain from enacting crippling restrictions on H-1B visas, since otherwise it would be difficult for skilled foreign nationals to work in the United States.

The debate over H-1B visas is rarely civil. But hopefully more people will agree that individuals born outside the United States have much more to offer America than, as critics assert, a willingness to work for less money.

Little Known Fact: Indians and Others on H-1B Visas Fund Scholarships and Job Training for Americans

One of the more surprising aspects of America’s debate about high skill immigration is how little attention focuses on the fees paid by employers of H-1B visa holders. Indians generally make up roughly half of H-1B professionals, though it varies from year to year, so the fee issue should be of interest to the Indian American community, particularly since it can play a role in the broader immigration policy debate.

Back in 1998, when Congress debated an increase in the H-1B quota, a compromise was reached to raise the 65,000 annual limit for temporary visas for high skilled professionals. The policy debate over increasing the annual H-1B limit centered largely on whether America and U.S. employers were doing enough to train and educate Americans for high skill jobs in the technology field. Under the legislation passed in 1998, Congress raised the H-1B quota for three years, but also assessed a $500 fee on for-profit employers each time they hired (or renewed the status of) an H-1B professional, with the money going towards scholarships and job training.

In 2000, Congress again temporarily boosted the annual quota on H-1B visas and this time raised the training/scholarship fee to $1,000. After both the fee and H-1B quota increase ended in late 2004, Congress raised the H-1B training/scholarship fee to $1,500 ($750 for smaller companies) and provided 20,000 H-1B visas annually (in addition to the 65,000 quota) for individuals who received a masters degree or higher from a U.S. university. Congress also added a $500 anti-fraud fee on each H-1B and L-1 visa.

Lots of Money Raised, But Little Attention

The money raised from this training/scholarship fee has quietly grown over the years. In fact, its growth has been so quiet that nobody seems to have realized how much money has been spent by employers on these fees and where the money has gone.

A recent study from the National Foundation for American Policy concluded:

In addition to paying skilled foreign-born professionals the same wages as comparable American workers, government data show U.S. employers have been required to pay over $3 billion in mandatory government fees since 2000. The data call into question critics’ assertions H-1B visa holders are hired to save money. Data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services obtained by the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) show from FY 2000 to FY 2011, employers have paid over $2.3 billion to the federal government in H-1B scholarship/training fees (generally $1,500 per individual), while a $500 anti-fraud tax/fee on each H-1B and L-1 visa has cost employers more than $700 million.

(A copy of the study from the National Foundation for American, where I serve as executive director, can be found here.)

Where Has the Money Gone?

There is no scandal here. No one claims the money has not gone to its intended purpose. But it is clear this topic has fallen through the cracks. Employers gain no political credit for paying the fee and neither the U.S. Department of Labor nor the National Science Foundation give much publicity to the training or scholarships that the fee funds. Nor do employers gain much credit for their individual efforts to train workers or support education.

According to the most recent annual budget document of the National Science Foundation, due to the H-1B fees assessed on each H-1B professional hired, “Approximately 58,000 students have received scholarships ranging from one to four years.” The scholarships can be as high as $10,000 and are used by U.S. undergraduate and graduate students pursuing math and science degrees.

Examining past budgets finds over 100,000 U.S. workers have received training via the H-1B fees paid by employers. In its annual budget document the Department of Labor describes its H-1B-funded job training initiatives as targeting “skills and competencies in demand by industries for which employers are using H-1B visas to hire foreign workers.”

Table 1

College Scholarships and Job Training Funded by Employers

Through H-1B Fees: FY 2000 to FY 2011

College Scholarships through National Science Foundation 58,000
Job Training through Department of Labor 100,000 +

Source: National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Labor, National Foundation for American Policy.


Thirty percent of every H-1B fee goes to scholarships provided to U.S. students through the National Science Foundation. Fifty percent of the fee is allotted to training programs. That means every time an H-1B visa holder is hired (or his/her status is renewed), $450 goes to fund a scholarship for a U.S. student and $750 is sent to provide job training for a U.S. worker.

It is good that U.S. workers and students receive training and scholarships. Whether that money, particularly $3 billion worth, should come directly from employers when they hire H-1B professionals is less clear but it has been U.S. government policy for a decade. If these fees are to continue, then they should figure more prominently in the debate over skilled immigration. The fees call into question the assertions made that 1) employers hire H-1B visa holders to save money and 2) companies do not help educate and train students and workers. There is one point everyone should agree on – even in Washington, $3 billion is a lot of money.

Where Does India Rank on Immigration?

Americans like rankings. The rankings of college football teams help determine the sport’s national champion. Every week, Americans can read the rankings of movies at the box office or which songs or albums have sold the most. Having become Americanized, it is likely immigrants and the children of immigrants are curious about where their family’s country of origin ranks in immigration to the United States.

The 2010 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, compiled by the Office of Immigration Statistics, Department of Homeland Security, contains a wealth of information, most of which receives little attention in the press. Below I’ve put together some of the highlights of the yearbook and where immigrants from India rank among immigrants from other countries.

Overall Immigration to the United States

In the United States in 2010, 1,042,625 persons obtained legal permanent resident status, according to the Department of Homeland Security. The statistics include people who came from abroad to receive legal permanent resident status in 2010 and also persons here already in another status (i.e., student, temporary worker) who changed their status to receive a green card. As shown in Table 1, the leading countries were Mexico, China (People’s Republic), India, Philippines and the Dominican Republic. Individuals are designated in this tabulation by their country of birth.

Table 1
Immigration to the U.S. (2010) – All Categories, by Country of Birth



Persons Obtaining Legal Permanent Resident Status in 2010 – All Immigration Categories

1 Mexico 139,120
2 China  70,863
3 India 69,162
4 Philippines 58,173
5 Dominican Republic 53,870

Source: Table 10, 2010 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, Office of Immigration Statistics, Department of Homeland Security. Note: Country designation is by country of birth.

Family Immigration

There are two types of family immigration. Immediate relatives are the spouses, minor children and parents of U.S. citizens. India ranked 5th in 2010 for most individuals immigrating as immediate relatives, behind Mexico, the Philippines, China and the Dominican Republic. (See Table 2)

Table 2
Immediate Relatives – Immigration to the U.S. (2010) by Country of Birth

Rank Country Persons Obtaining Legal Permanent Resident Status in 2010 – Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens
1 Mexico 88,572
2 Philippines  33,746
3 China 24,198
4 Dominican Republic 22,218
5 India 21,831

Source: Table 10, 2010 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, Office of Immigration Statistics, Department of Homeland Security. Note: Country designation is by country of birth.

The second type of family immigration includes the family-sponsored preference categories: unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, spouses and children (minor and adult) of legal permanent residents, married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and siblings of U.S. citizens. As Table 3 shows, India ranked 5th among countries in individuals immigrating to the United States in the family preference categories in 2010.

Table 3
Family Preference Categories – Immigration to the U.S. (2010) by Country of Birth

Rank Country Persons Obtaining Legal Permanent Resident Status in 2010 – Family Preference Categories
1 Mexico 34,114
2 Dominican Republic  31,089
3 Vietnam 18,027
4 Philippines 17,849
5 India 14,636

Source: Table 10, 2010 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, Office of Immigration Statistics, Department of Homeland Security. Note: Country designation is by country of birth.

Employment-Based Immigration

Table 4 shows India was the leading source country for employment-based immigrants (green card holders), ranking ahead of China, South Korea, Mexico and the Philippines. This reflects the large proportion of H-1B visa holders who were born in India and have worked in the United States while waiting for their priority date to receive permanent residence.

Table 4
Employment-based Preference Categories – Immigration to the U.S. (2010) by Country of Birth

Rank Country Persons Obtaining Legal Permanent Resident Status in 2010 – Employment-based Preference Categories
1 India 31,118
2 China  17,949
3 South Korea 11,642
4 Mexico 11,535
5 Philippines 6,423

Source: Table 10, 2010 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, Office of Immigration Statistics, Department of Homeland Security. Note: Country designation is by country of birth. Includes “Other Workers” category in which an undergraduate degree is not required.


The data show that India ranked 3rd overall in immigration to the United States in 2010. Close to half of Indian immigration came through the employment-based preference categories. However, the data show family immigration also remains an important source of immigration to the United States for Indians.

Green Cards or H1B Visas? That’s the Question Posed at Recent House Hearing

Should Congress raise the limits on H-1B temporary visas or only for green cards? That was the question at a House immigration subcommittee hearing, held on March 31st. And the question may foreshadow the course of future legislation. Given that typically half of H-1B visa holders were born in India, the issue is of importance to the Indian-American community.

As those who have gone through the immigration process as either an employee or an employer know, the primary difference between an H-1B temporary visa and an employment-based green card is the answer to the query: “How long can you stay?” If you have a green card, you can stay in the United States the rest of your life, so long as you don’t commit a crime that makes you deportable or leave for an extended period of time. And even those exceptions essentially disappear if you become a U.S. citizen.

In contrast, an H-1B visa generally only allows an individual to stay in the U.S. for up to 6 years (renewable after three years), with the only exception being that the immigration service can grant an extension of H-1B status if a green card application is pending.

At the hearing, former Democratic Congressman Bruce Morrison, a Washington, D.C. consultant, represented the IEEE, the electrical engineers professional group. He summarized the difference between green cards and H-1B visas like this: “With ‘green cards’ you do not have to write endless rules regarding portability and prevailing wages. The job market sorts all this out. Employers keep their workers by providing an attractive employment opportunity. Employees keep their working conditions up by having options. That is the better way to attract and keep foreign-born talent without adversely affecting American workers or exploiting the foreign born.”

Morrison added, “In short, there are no problems for which green cards are not a better solution than temporary visas. And there are no problems with the H-1B program itself that a system built on green cards will not help to fix.”

There is considerable debate about the extent to which H-1B temporary visas results in either harm for American workers or exploitation of foreign workers. However, at the hearing, the tone was considerably negative among both members and witnesses toward H-1B visas, while generally positive toward increasing the number of green cards for highly skilled foreign nationals. The only defender of H-1B visas was Bo Cooper, former general counsel of the Immigration and Naturalization Service and now a partner at the law firm of Berry, Appleman and Leiden LLP.

Cooper noted that given the long waits for employment-based green cards due to years of backlogs and the long processing delays even when a number is current, it may never be wholly realistic to have a U.S. immigration policy that relies solely on green cards and eschews H-1B temporary visas. For example, in addition to the need to bring individuals into the country on projects or shorter-term assignments, it can take several months, in some cases years, to complete the highly bureaucratic labor certification process for employment-based green cards with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Cooper testified, “The H-1B is often the only way to get highly skilled foreign professionals on the job quickly, when the economy needs them. The H-1B is often the only way to bring in a person with pinpointed skills to perform a crucial temporary assignment. And it is overwhelmingly the only way to bring bright foreign talent across the bridge to permanent residence, and a permanent role as contributors to the U.S. economy.”

It remains unclear whether Congress will pursue legislation that includes more green cards, more restrictions on H-1B visas, or a combination of the two. The bottom line is that the debate on this issue is not over. It really has just begun.