The vast majority of Indians come to the United States legally and stay here as legal visa holders. Many become permanent residents (green card holders) and then U.S. citizens. Indeed, in terms of income and education, it would be difficult to find a more successful immigrant group in U.S. history.
There are also Indians in the United States illegally. Such individuals remain a small part of the overall illegal immigrant population. Still, it is a segment worth exploring to help us better understand the immigration issue.
According to the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Indians made up only 1.9 percent of the illegal immigrant population in the United States as of January 2010. (Here is a link to that report.) There were approximately 200,000 Indians not in legal status in the U.S. out of a total illegal immigrant population of 10,790,000, according to a DHS report released in February 2011.
Illegal Immigrant Population by Country (2010)
|Country of Birth
|Estimated Unauthorized Immigrant Population (2010)
Source: Department of Homeland Security.
A Country by Country Look
One can see by examining Table 1 that Mexico dominates the overall illegal immigration population in the United States, representing over 60 percent, with 6.6 million. The next three countries have far smaller numbers of illegal immigrants in America: El Salvador with 620,000, Guatemala with 520,000 and Honduras with 330,000. These figures are as of January 2010, which means it’s possible newer data could yield slightly different results.
The Philippines has the fifth most illegal immigrants with 280,000, followed by India in 6th place with 200,000. Illegal immigrants from the Philippines and India largely come to the United States legally on visas and then overstay their visas. Unlike Mexicans, Indians cannot simply cross a border and find themselves in the United States. While it is possible some may have gone to Canada or Mexico and entered America illegally, it is more likely Indian illegal immigrants were once in some type of legal status and lost that status.
Changes in Indian Unauthorized Immigrant Population Over Time
In 1990, Indians made up an estimated 0.8 percent of the unauthorized immigrant population, with only 28,000 illegal immigrants, according to the then Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). It’s possible the 28,000 figure is a low estimate of the number of illegal immigrants from India in 1990. That is because an initial INS estimate of the number of Indians in the country illegally in the year 2000 was only 70,000. However, a few years later that figure was revised to 120,000.
Measuring the number of illegal immigrants in the United States is, by definition, not easy. It is even harder to make accurate estimates of smaller subsets of that population. Table 2 shows the overall number of Indians in the United States in the “unauthorized immigrant population” – the term used by the Department of Homeland Security – in 1990, 2000 and 2010. The numbers indicate the Indian population not in legal status has risen from 28,000 in 1990 to 200,000 in 2000.
Indian Unauthorized Immigrant Population: 1990 to 2010
|Percentage of Total
Source: Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Illegal Immigration Issue Remains Important
Whether someone is waiting for a green card or is an employer of immigrants, it would do well to remember that illegal immigration remains important in the American public’s mind. It drives the overall debate on immigration. In past years, disagreement on whether or not to provide legal status to the illegal immigrant population scuttled attempts to provide more green cards for high-skilled immigrants, including many Indians. The issue of illegal immigration is not going away.