Asian-American immigrant population broke the 10 million barrier in the US for the first time, says data released by the US Census Bureau. These immigrants, especially those from India and China, are also the most highly educated in the country.
Asians represent roughly one-fourth of the total 37.5 million immigrants in the US in 2006.
Nearly half of Asian immigrants hold at least a bachelor's degree. Indian immigrants are among the best educated immigrant populations in the US, matched only by Japanese-Americans. According to the 2000 US Census, 64 per cent of Indian-Americans held a college degree and 40 per cent held a master's or professional degree.
The percentage of native-born Americans holding a bachelor's degree is 27 per cent. Latin American immigrants, the largest migrant population, were the least educated. Only 11 per cent held a bachelor's degree.
Mark Mather of the Population Reference Bureau was quoted as saying, "Driving this are people coming from China and India. They are either coming with a bachelor's degree, or they are coming with visas and getting degrees once they arrive."
Indians represent the largest foreign student population in the US. Massachusetts, helped by the concentration of educational institutions in Boston, was the state with the highest number of college-educated (37 per cent) adults.
Jeanne Batalova of the Migration Policy Institute says this largely reflects the windows provided by US immigration law. Indians who migrated to the US in the late 19th century worked on farms and mines. When the US allowed employment-based visas in 1965 the door was opened for educated Indian migrants. "In the 1970s, as many as 90 per cent of Indian-Americans migrants had professional degrees. But their absolute numbers were small."
A further shift happened when the US liberalised student visas and the software boom brought in tech workers in the 1990s. This again biased immigration in favour of educated Indians. But, says Batalova, a balance was provided in the increasing number by immigrants being sponsored by relatives already in the US. Though family reunification normally brings in people of the same class, it also leads to greater diversity in terms of educational levels.
Whether this represents a "brain drain" on developing countries is less of a debate than it once was. Says Vivek Wadhwa, an expert on immigrant entrepreneurship at Harvard University: "The sad thing here is that with US's flawed immigration policies, the country is driving away some of the best and brightest." He suspects Asian countries may be contributing more to the US in intellectual capital than they get in foreign aid.
The triple flow of students, skilled workers and relative sponsorship are determining the educational profile of Indian-Americans. The peak of educational attainment for the Indian-American community as a whole was the 1970s, but the present figure is likely to stay more or less the same in the coming years.