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South Asian Diaspora in the U.S.

Population trends in the United States validate the growing influence of Indian Americans

by Khaled Ahmed

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, left, with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in 2021

Mohammad Badrul Alam, writing in Islamabad-based quarterly World Affairs in 2018 described the Indian-American community as one of many ethnic communities that have become increasingly visible in the last four decades. Noting that Indian migration to the U.S. began as early as 1895, he said the movement was a trickle until the passage of the 1965 immigration legislation.

While the figures are 5 years old, they foretell a trend that continues to date, becoming the focus of research by several scholars. As a percentage, Indian-Americans tend to be higher-educated than other ethnic groups, wealthier and more eager to assimilate. The 2010 U.S. census recorded 2,843,391 Indian Americans out of a national population of 281,421,906, showing a 105.87 percent growth rate compared to 48.26 percent of Asian Americans. According to the census, Indian Americans represented 0.9 percent of the U.S. population, while Asian Americans recorded at 10,242,998 constituted 3.6 percent. Of the overall Asian community in the U.S., Indian Americans were the second largest constituency at 4 percent, just below the 5 percent of Chinese Americans and roughly equal to the Filipino American community.

Indian professions

Per the census, Indian Americans constitute 3.1 percent of the nation’s engineers; 7.1 percent of information and technology workers; and 8 percent of physicians and surgeons. Approximately 69 percent of Indian Americans have college degrees, with a median income of $83,000 compared to $55,000 of White Americans. Around 19.9 percent of Indian Americans reside in California, followed by 11.4 percent in New Jersey; 9.5 percent in New York; 8.1 percent in Texas; and 7.6 percent in Illinois. Indian Americans also have the highest English language proficiency among Asian Americans at 76.9 percent, followed by 72.8 percent Japanese Americans; 50.4 percent Chinese Americans; and 49.5 percent Korean Americans.

The per capita income of Indian Americans is estimated at $60,093 compared to the national average of $38,885. There are 200,000 Indian American millionaires, with data from the 2013 American Community Survey showing 40.6 percent of Indian Americans 25-and-older hold graduate or professional degrees; 32.3 percent bachelor’s degrees; and 10.4 percent have some college education.

Approximately 43.6 percent of Indian Americans are employed as managers or professionals, while there are also 35,000 Indian American physicians and 100,000 employees of high-tech industries. Fifteen percent of Silicon Valley start-ups are owned by Indian Americans. Over 5,000 Indian Americans are employed as faculty at American universities, while 74,603 Indians are studying in the U.S.—the largest group of foreign residents in the country.

Pakistanis in the U.S.

Much like Indians, Pakistanis also consider the U.S. as an attractive destination for emigration, with the country the fifth-most common destination country for Pakistan-born migrants and the sixth-largest source of remittances to Pakistan. In 2012, Pakistani Americans remitted $1.1 billion, with the bulk of the remaining $14 billion—6.1 percent of the country’s GDP—coming from Saudi Arabia, India, and the U.A.E.

Approximately 453,000 Pakistani immigrants and their children live in the United States, with Pakistan-born individuals accounting for about 0.8 percent of America’s total foreign-born population. This is in contrast to as estimated 30,000 immigrants in 1980. The majority of the Pakistan-born population arrived in the United States before 2000, with 63 percent of all Pakistani immigrants holding U.S. citizenship, giving them the third-highest naturalization rate of the 15 groups studied in the Rockefeller Foundation-Aspen Institute Diaspora Program series.

Educational attainment levels are, on average, higher in the Pakistani diaspora than in the general U.S population, as is its household income. Roughly equal shares of the Pakistani diaspora and the general U.S. population participate in the labor force, and they are equally likely to work in professional or managerial occupations. Households headed by a member of the Pakistani diaspora have a median annual income of $60,000, or $10,000 above the national median, and 18 percent of Pakistani diaspora households are in the top 10 percent of the U.S. household income distribution. Pakistani immigrants in the United States have a median age of 40, and the vast majority—91 percent—of the population is working age. The median age among the children of Pakistani immigrants is 9, with 61 percent of the second generation having a mother and father born in Pakistan.

In recent years, especially after the events of 9/11, Pakistani-Americans have come under greater scrutiny and abuse. Writing in Daily Times in January 2016, Dr. Zamurrad Awan noted the diaspora’s concerns with outbursts of then-presidential aspirant Donald Trump, who had called for a “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the U.S.” This prevailing atmosphere of Islamophobia has alienated the Pakistani American community and made them feel singled out as a religious/ethnic minority.

The equating of Muslims as a whole with terrorism has been a regular feature of the Republican Party, pushing the community—including many Pakistani Americans—into a defensive posture and raising questions over their assimilation levels. The majority of Pakistani immigrants in the U.S. are from the urban-based middle-class, especially from Punjab (particularly Lahore) and Sindh (mainly Karachi). In the U.S., the majority of the Pakistani diaspora resides in metropolitan cities like New York, New Jersey, Houston, California, Washington D.C. and Dallas. Depending on how effectively a family is able to assimilate, most of the diaspora trends toward higher education and ambitions of achieving professional excellence in their chosen fields.

Pakistanis and identity

As the Pakistani diaspora is strongly linked to the cultural traditions and religious values of its native land, it can struggle to assimilate in western culture, creating a hybrid. Nevertheless, the assimilation pattern of the first, second and third generations is diversified in terms of cultural adaptation and religious flexibility, with the latter two facing a comparatively easier time than their predecessors.

Regardless, across generations, the Pakistani diaspora has maintained its cultural identity and has tried to find a middle-ground amenable to integration. For example, in family related matters, particularly regarding marriage, the third generation tends to avoid arranged marriages, even though earlier generations found it an easier commitment.

Despite cultural assimilation, Pakistani Americans, especially Muslims, tend to preserve their religious identity, especially when it comes to religious festivals and matrimonial matters. Prior to 9/11, this was not perceived as a threat, but subsequently, the average American has become suspicious about the activities of all Muslim immigrants, including those from Pakistan. According to data from the FBI, hate crimes against Muslims and their mosques increased significantly in 2015; there were 63 recorded attacks on mosques. After the November 2015 Paris attack and December 2015 San Bernardino shooting, 19 hate crimes against Muslims were recorded within a month.

The American leadership has struggled to distinguish between an individual act of terrorism and community conduct when it comes to Islam, though was able to make the distinction when a 23-year-old South Korean citizen on April 16, 2007, killed 32 people at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Once again, the Republican Party has proven the least effective at this, while its rival Democratic Party strives for societal harmony. Assessing the growing hatred against Muslims in the U.S., the American leadership has a serious responsibility to uphold American values, which call for a liberal society that safeguards freedom of religion. It cannot be overlooked that Muslim Americans are a constructive part of American society as successful engineers, doctors, businessmen and philanthropists.

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