Modi visit throws spotlight on Indian-Americans

Tracey Samuelson Sep 29, 2014
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Modi visit throws spotlight on Indian-Americans

Tracey Samuelson Sep 29, 2014
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India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, is currently visiting the U.S. He’ll meet with President Obama Monday, but he also appeared before a sold-out crowd of nearly 20,000 people at Madison Square Garden in New York on Sunday, which speaks in part to the strength and enthusiasm of the Indian-American community.

Officially, there are more than 3 million Indian-Americans in the U.S. and — as a group — they’ve been largely successful.

Their median household income is roughly $100,000 — about double that of the rest of the population — according to 2013 American Community Survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Part of this comes down to education,” says Milan Vaishnav, an associate in the South Asia Program with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “I think nearly three-quarters of Indians who are coming to the United States already had a bachelor’s degree,” he says.

Many gain access to the U.S. on skills-based visas and enter fields like software, engineering, medicine, and finance.

Not all support Modi politically, but the visit is a chance to express national pride, says Vaishnav.

Over the last decade, Indian-Americans have become increasingly politically active, says John Echeverri-Gent, a professor at the University of Virginia.

“This is a group that in terms of its political lobby is really coming of age,” he says. In particular, Indian-Americans are increased in pushing for stronger ties between the U.S. and their home country, as well as immigration reform.

But Indian-Americans should not be seen as a monolith, says Suman Raghunathan, the executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together.

“Part of what the per capita numbers don’t fully portray is the incredible economic and socioeconomic diversity we see in the Indian-American population,” she explains, noting an increasing number of Indians in the U.S. who are undocumented or are here on temporary visas. 

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