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Indian population ballooning in Washington

Immigrants from India are settling here faster than any group except the Salvadorans.

india Updated: Nov 23, 2006 17:19 IST

The once small Indian immigrant population, which for decades expanded at a slow but steady rate, has ballooned over the last decade in the American capital and its suburbs.

Immigrants from India are settling here faster than any group except Salvadorans, The Washington Post said Wednesday.

Many Indians were among the recent wave of high-tech professionals who entered on temporary permits for skilled workers. When their spouses, children and siblings followed, their numbers soared, it said.

Backed by these growing numbers, Indians have been seeking a bigger voice in politics and business, through groups like the Indian American Leadership Initiative (IALI), which aims to put more Indian Americans into elective office, and TiE-DC, a networking club that helps connect Indian executives in the region with new businesses, funding and deals.

Hidden behind the $87,369 median income for Washington area Indian households - higher than the median income for whites, other Asians, blacks and Hispanics, according to new Census Bureau figures - there are some problems.

Hundreds of thousands of South Asians are in US illegally, largely by overstaying tourist or student visas, the Post said citing Deepa Iyer, executive director of South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow, a Washington-based advocacy group. Their opportunities are more limited.

But the agendas of TiE-DC and IALI reflect the population's extraordinarily high achievements. About eight in 10 have college degrees, a higher proportion than for whites and other Asians. About seven in 10 are in professional and managerial jobs. And there are more than 8,300 Indian-owned businesses in the region.

Like many other immigrant groups, Indians often view starting a business as the quickest way to amass wealth.

According to the 2005 Census Bureau figures, the numbers have grown to 107,000 Indians in the Washington area, about 80 percent of whom are immigrants.

This makes them second only to the 165,412 Salvadorans here, according to the Census. Many in the Indian community put their numbers even higher, saying the Census figures do not reflect illegal immigrants and others who do not respond to Census takers, the Post said.

Many new Hindu and Jain temples and Sikh gurdwaras have also appeared across the region. At Sri Siva Vishnu in Lanham, the region's largest Hindu temple, members are connected through an electronic newsletter sent to about 18,000 families.

In the past decade, four Sikh gurdwaras have opened in Burke, Gainesville, Herndon, and Sterling - catering to the fast-growing number of Indian Sikhs in Northern Virginia.

"The Sikh population in Washington was very small just a few years ago, but now our numbers are among the largest of Indians," Manbir Singh Kathuria, president of Singh Sabha Gurdwara told the Post.

Last year, 26,962 Indians were issued family-sponsored visas to immigrate to the US, according to the State Department. Indians sponsored more family members than Koreans, Vietnamese, Salvadorans and any African groups, a key factor behind the rapid growth of the Indian community.

Immigrants sponsored by relatives instead of by large companies often have a more difficult time finding good jobs.

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