Indo-Americans a growing force
The Indian diaspora is today the third largest Asian community in the US, is upwardly mobile and is on its way to becoming a political force in that country.
Cherian Samuel, a scholar at the Institute of Defence Studies and Anlyses (IDSA), made the observation here during a seminar Thursday on Indo-US relations, organised ahead of George W. Bush's visit.
Samuel said Indian Americans totalled about 1.7 million in the US according to the 2000 census, their numbers having gone up by an incredible 106 percent since 1990. It grew at a rate of 7.6 percent annually in the last 10 years.
"In the process, Indian Americans replaced Japanese Americans as the third largest Asian community in the US after the Chinese (2.7 million) and Filipinos (1.9)."
He said much of this was fuelled by the technology boom in the 90s when Indian techies made their way to the US in large numbers. The number of H1-B visas issued to India jumped from 2,697 in 1990 to 15,228 in 1995 and to 55,047 in 2000.
"The number of Indians getting Green Cards every year has also more than doubled since 1999," Samuel said. "And Green Cards are one step away from citizenship which gives full voting rights.
"No doubt," he added, "Indian Americans will become a political force in the years to come."
Samuel pointed out that Indian Americans were much above the median on a score of indices. Sixty-four percent of them were college educated as against the national average of 27 percent.
The average median family income for the Indian American community was estimated at $70,000, against the average family income of $50,000.
The Indian community was also upwardly mobile and included a large number of professionals.
To take a point, Samuel said, 38 percent of all physicians in the US were of Indian origin, as were 10 percent of all medical practitioners.
The American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin was the largest ethnic medical organisation in the US, with an active membership of over 9,000 doctors and representing more than 38,000 doctors of Indian origin.
One in every nine Indians in the US was a millionaire, comprising 10 percent of the estimated 1.2 million US millionaires, Samuel said.
"Many of them are located in Silicon Valley. About a third of engineers in the Silicon Valley are of Indian descent. It is estimated that 35 percent of the technical workforce of Boeing is Indian American.
"And between 10-30 percent of the workforce in Microsoft and NASA are of Indian origin. There are also over 5,000 Indians on the faculties of US universities. This list can go on and on."
Quoting a Merrill Lynch market study, Samuel said that Indian Americans had a net worth of $90 billion. "Given the right (Indian) government policies, much of this could be channelised into investing in India."
Samuel also touched upon the reverse brain drain now taking place, and said a large number of Indian Americans were returning to India, bringing along the best professional practices and exposure to an international environment.
He said the diaspora played a key role in projecting India's soft power and creating global awareness about the country. One way this was achieved was by their demand for Bollywood movies, which then entered the mainstream market in the US.
But Samuel said it would be too early to credit too much power and influence for the Indian community in the US although they contributed heavily to the coffers of both the main political parties.
"However, these groups are nowhere near acquiring the influence of their role model, the Jewish Caucus," he said.
One reason for this, he explained, was that the Indian Americans were a relatively new entrant on the American political scene and "are yet to build up networks and war chests that would be needed to sustain an enterprise".