A New Wave of Indian Immigrants May Not be Here to Stay

4 years ago by in 2013 Tagged: ,

By Seth Liss

Indian Americans in search of a better life have been immigrating to the U.S. in droves for the past few decades. But as wealth and jobs have started to grow in their native country, the newest generation of Indian Americans might not be here to stay.

Prashanth Bhat, 26, is expected to graduate from American University in May with a master of arts degree in film and media studies. He says if he doesn’t find a job, he’ll go back to India where there are lots of opportunities. (American Observer/Seth Liss)

Prashanth Bhat, 26, is expected to graduate from American University in May with a master of arts degree in film and media studies. He says if he doesn’t find a job, he’ll go back to India where there are lots of opportunities.

“A decade ago [Indians] wanted to settle down in the U.S., but now people don’t have that feeling as much,” said Prashanth Bhat, who came to U.S. in 2011 to pursue a master of arts degree in film and media studies.

He said that among his friends and family in Hyderabad, India, America once offered opportunities that couldn’t be found in India. Now, BMWs and nice houses around town are a sign of the changes.  “If you’re coming from urban India, the novelty factor [of the U.S.] is not that high. So people aren’t as eager to stay.”

“If you’re coming from urban India, the novelty factor [of the U.S.] is not that high,” he said. “So people aren’t as eager to stay.”

Bhat graduates from American University in May and said he would like to stay long enough to earn what he spent on his degree, since the value of the dollar is about 54 times that of the rupee. Then, he’d like to make documentary films in India.

Bhat said a lot of his friends come to the states, make some money, then go back to India and start their own businesses.

More than half of the 1,000 Indian information technology professionals surveyed by TechFetch, a global IT recruitment site, recently reported plans to return to India soon.

If Bhat represents a new generation of immigrants, Pooja Patel’s family represents the old one.

Patel, a freshman at American University, said her parents moved from India to New Jersey in the late 1980s as part of a wave of Indians in search of a better life. That’s what they found: Patel’s father started a business and her mother is a make-up artist.

Pooja Patel, 18, is a freshman at American University. She would like to become a pediatric oncologist and work in India for a year. (American Observer/Seth Liss)

Pooja Patel, 18, is a freshman at American University. She would like to become a pediatric oncologist and work in India for a year.

There is no way the family would go back to India now other than to visit, Patel said.

“My mom doesn’t really miss India that much because she was so young when she came over, ” said Patel.

Bhat, like many Indians who came to the United States in the past decade or so, was already well-educated. He said nearly every family he knows in Hyderabad has someone who has or is pursuing graduate degrees in the States. There’s even a cottage industry of companies that train people on how to get into U.S. universities, he said.

“It’s a status symbol because people in India like to be able to say, ‘My son or daughter is studying in U.S.,'” Bhat said.

Eighty percent of foreign-born Indians in the U.S. have bachelor degrees – more than any other immigrant group, according to the Center for Immigration Studies.

It’s unclear how many of the Indians who immigrated in recent years will stay for the long haul. Bhat said he’s seen some of his friends “get stuck” in the States.

“First they want to make money to pay for the degree. Then they want make some extra money in the U.S. and send it back home. Then they might marry someone from the U.S.,” he said.

That trend could explain part of why the Indian population in the United States grew 64 percent to 2.8 million from 2000 to 2010 — six times more than the growth of the general population. After Chinese-Americans, Indian-Americans are now the second largest Asian-American group in the United States, and behind New York and Chicago the D.C. metro area has the third largest population of Indians in the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Whether or not Bhat ends up staying in the U.S. remains to be seen.

“I’m the first in my family to come to the States,” Bhat said. “There are a lot of expectations on me and all those factors come in when coming back. You want to do well and make everyone proud, You don’t want to come back with nothing.”


Theses are the top 20 most populated Indian American metropolitan areas in the U.S. Washington D.C. metro area recently overtook the Los Angeles metro area in the third spot. (Graphic by Seth Liss with information from the U.S. Census)

I’m Seth Liss. I have 20 years of experience in journalism as a reporter, editor, blogger, columnist and manager. I am the online managing editor of WAMU 88.5, Washington D.C.’s NPR station.

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