James Pinkerton, Houston Chronicle, September 11, 2007
The fastest-growing group of illegal immigrants in the United States doesn’t speak Spanish. They typically aren’t found at day labor sites or streaming across the Southwest border into the U.S.
Instead, they’re here in America working in tech companies, small businesses, as engineers or other highly skilled jobs. And they’re coming from India.
The profile of the illegal immigrant may need to take on a slightly more South Asian persona since a recent federal report revealed that India had the greatest percentage increase in unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. since 2000.
Illegal immigrants from India grew to 270,000 in 2006 from 120,000 in 2000, a 125 percent increase, according to a report late last month from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Undocumented Indians, however, remain a small segment of the total estimated population of 11.6 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. Mexico tops the list with 6.6 million—up from 4.7 million in 2000—followed by El Salvador and Guatemala, according to the Homeland Security report.
Experts say illegal Indian immigrants are coming here legally on visas but are overextending their stays and subsequently slipping under the radar screen of authorities.
The most recent government data showed that in fiscal year 2005, Indians received 194,611 temporary work visas to come to the U.S., the most of any nation. India eclipsed Mexico, which had 169,786 of its workers admitted, and the United Kingdom with 156,635.
More than half of Indian immigrants who came to the U.S. in fiscal year 2005—about 102,000—arrived on the H-1B visa for the highly skilled. So, typically, they aren’t going to be busted by immigration agents during raids at meat-processing plants such as those owned by Swift & Co., the site of high-profile investigations last year.
Faisal Amin, board member of the South Asian Chamber of Commerce in Houston, said lax oversight of the federal guest workers program is one reason many Indians stay here when their visas expire.
“We see an increase simply because a lot of those workers are coming in on H1-B visas,” Amin said. “And, we don’t have a good way to track that these workers are, indeed, going back to their countries when they’re finished.”
One U.S. Department of Homeland Security official, who asked not be be identified, agreed there isn’t a method to keep tabs on guest workers.
“Once they get in, there’s no exit program in place yet—they’re talking about it,” the official said.