In the last decade, India has gone from a country with which the United States had an uneasy, prickly relationship, to one of being its most important strategic and economic partners. A significant reason for this change is their shared perception of China as an enormous threat and competitor. Consequently, the relationship has focused much attention on countering that threat through cooperation via the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the “Quad”) on issues such as health and disaster preparedness, mutual defense agreements, and emerging technologies. Yet one of the most important tools available to the United States to counter China through this partnership is in jeopardy: U.S. immigration policy vis-à-vis Indian citizens.
The history of Indian immigration to the United States dates back to the nineteenth century. Up until World War II, Indian immigrants were mostly low-skilled migrant workers. This pattern changed by the mid-twentieth century, when Indians flocked to the United States to study or work white-collar jobs. In India, this phenomenon was often dubbed the “brain drain,” as India’s best and brightest left to settle in the United States. Today, Indians constitute the second-largest immigrant group in the United States after Mexicans, and the highest-earning ethnic group in the country. But decades of legal and skilled Indian immigration have run into huge structural and bureaucratic problems, jeopardizing U.S. needs in higher education and research, particularly in the science and technology sectors.
Since 1965, when Congress abolished national-origin quotas that limited immigration to primarily European nations, Indians have immigrated to the United States through three main pathways. The first is through temporary work visas such as H-1Bs, which are employer-sponsored and issued to highly skilled workers. Currently, Indian nationals receive the majority of those visas.