Indian Immigrants in the United States

Hundreds of enthusiastic attendees pull out cell phones to take photos at the Oct. 24, 2022 White House Diwali celebrations as President Joe Biden, VP Kamala Harris, and First Lady Jill Biden enjoy the moment. Photo: Twitter @WHIAANHPI

Large-scale Indian immigration to the United States is relatively recent, following the move by Congress in 1965 to abolish national-origin quotas that largely limited immigration to Europeans. The pace of arrivals from India and other non-European countries in subsequent decades has been rapid. Today, Indians represent the second largest U.S. immigrant group, after Mexicans and ahead of Chinese and Filipinos. The 2.7 million Indian immigrants living in the United States as of 2021 made up 6 percent of the total foreign-born population, and their numbers continue to grow.

Unlike predominately low-skilled migrant workers who arrived from India during the 19th century and the early 20th century, most post-World War II Indian migrants came to work in professional jobs or study in U.S. colleges and universities. Today, most Indians arrive through employment- and family-based pathways. India is the source of the second largest number of international students enrolled in U.S. higher education and its nationals receive the majority of employer-sponsored H-1B temporary visas for high-skilled workers. These pathways are reflected in characteristics that set Indians apart: four-fifths of Indian immigrant adults have at least a bachelor’s degree and their median household incomes are more than double those of all immigrants and the U.S. born.

A lesser-known trend in Indian immigration is the rise in unauthorized arrivals at the U.S.-Mexico border. Between October 2021 and September 2022, border authorities encountered Indian migrants 18,300 times at the U.S. southern border, a spike from 2,600 in the same period a year earlier. This increase may be due to growing religious and political persecution in India against non-Hindus, the lack of domestic economic opportunities, waning of pandemic restrictions on travel, and extended U.S. backlogs that have created long queues for legal immigration.

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Figure 1. Indian Immigrant Population in the United States, 1980-2021

Sources: Data from U.S. Census Bureau 2010 and 2021 American Community Surveys (ACS), and Campbell J. Gibson and Kay Jung, “Historical Census Statistics on the Foreign-Born Population of the United States: 1850-2000” (Working Paper no. 81, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC, February 2006), available online.

Click here to view an interactive chart showing the number of Indian immigrants and their share of all U.S. immigrants over time.

Globally, the United States is the second most popular destination for Indians living abroad, after the United Arab Emirates (3.5 million). Other top destinations include Saudi Arabia (2.5 million), Pakistan (1.6 million), Oman (1.4 million), and Kuwait (1.2 million), according to the most recent, mid-2020 United Nations Population Division estimates.

Click here to view an interactive map showing where migrants from India and other countries have settled worldwide.

Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau (the most recent 2021 American Community Survey [ACS], the 2019 ACS, and pooled 2015-19 ACS data), the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics, the World Bank, and the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), this Spotlight provides information on the Indian immigrant population in the United States, focusing on its size, geographic distribution, and socioeconomic characteristics.

Click on the bullet points below for more information:

Distribution by State and Key Cities

The largest share of immigrants from India lived in California (20 percent), followed by Texas (11 percent), and New Jersey (10 percent) as of the 2015-19 period, the most recent pooled data file available from the U.S. Census Bureau at this writing (MPI uses the five-year ACS file for more precise estimates for smaller geographies and populations). The next most populous states—New York and Illinois—combined accounted for an additional 13 percent of the Indian-born population. The top five counties for Indian immigrants were Santa Clara in California, Middlesex in New Jersey, Alameda in California, Cook in Illinois, and Los Angeles in California. Together, these counties were home to 17 percent of Indian immigrants.

Click here for an interactive map that shows the geographic distribution of immigrants by state and county. Select India from the dropdown menu to see which states and counties have the highest distributions of Indian immigrants.

The U.S. cities with the largest number of Indian immigrants were the greater New York, Chicago, San Francisco, San Jose, and Dallas metropolitan areas, as of 2015-19. These five metro areas accounted for about 35 percent of Indians in the United States.

Figure 3. Top Metropolitan Areas of Residence for Indian Immigrants in the United States, 2015-19

Note: Pooled 2015-19 ACS data were used to get statistically valid estimates at the metropolitan statistical-area level for smaller-population geographies.
Source: MPI tabulation of data from U.S. Census Bureau pooled 2015-19 ACS.

Click here for an interactive map that highlights the metropolitan areas with the highest concentrations of immigrants from India and elsewhere.

Table 1. Top Concentrations of Indian Immigrants by U.S. Metropolitan Area, 2015-19

Source: MPI tabulation of data from the U.S. Census Bureau pooled 2015-19 ACS.

English Proficiency

Indian immigrants are much more likely to be proficient in English than the overall foreign-born population. In 2021, about 22 percent of Indians ages 5 and over reported limited English proficiency, compared to 46 percent of all immigrants. Approximately 12 percent of Indian immigrants spoke only English at home, versus 17 percent of all immigrants.

Besides English, immigrants from India spoke a variety of languages at home in 2021, including Hindi (24 percent), Telugu (14 percent), Gujarati (11 percent), Tamil (10 percent), and Punjabi (7 percent).

Note: Limited English Proficient (LEP) status refers to those who indicated on the ACS questionnaire that they spoke English less than “very well.”

Age, Education, and Employment

In 2021, Indian immigrants tended to be younger than the overall foreign-born population but older than the U.S. born. Their median age was 41 years old, compared to 47 for all immigrants and 37 for the native-born population. This is largely due to the high number of working-age adults: 80 percent of all Indian immigrants were ages 18 to 64, versus 77 percent of the overall foreign-born population and 59 percent of the native born. Meanwhile, Indians were less likely than both the native- and foreign-born populations to be 65 or older (see Figure 4).

Figure 4. Age Distribution of the U.S. Population by Origin, 2021

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100 as they are rounded to the nearest whole number.
Source: MPI tabulation of data from the U.S. Census Bureau 2021 ACS.

Indian adults have much higher education levels than both the native- and overall foreign-born populations. In 2021, 80 percent of Indian immigrants ages 25 and older reported having at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to approximately one-third of all foreign-born and U.S.-born adults. The share with advanced degrees stands out: 49 percent of Indian immigrant adults held a graduate or professional degree in 2021, compared to 15 percent of foreign-born and 13 percent of U.S.-born adults.

Indian nationals are the main beneficiaries of H-1B temporary visas for highly skilled foreign workers, accounting for 74 percent of all H-1Bs approved in fiscal year (FY) 2021, followed by Chinese and Canadians (12 percent and 1 percent, respectively). They also represent a significant share of international students studying in the United States. According to the Institute of International Education, about 199,200 students from India were enrolled in U.S. higher education institutions in the 2021-22 school year, accounting for 21 percent of the 948,500 enrolled international students. This represented the second largest country of origin for international students, following mainland China (31 percent).

Indians participate in the labor force at higher rates than all immigrants and the U.S. born. About 72 percent of Indian immigrants ages 16 and older were in the civilian labor force in 2021, compared to 66 percent and 62 percent for the foreign- and U.S.-born populations, respectively. Compared to those two groups, Indians were much more likely to be employed in the management, business, science, and arts occupations (see Figure 5).

Figure 5. Employed Workers in the U.S. Civilian Labor Force (ages 16 and older) by Occupation and Origin, 2021

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100 as they are rounded to the nearest whole number.
Source: MPI tabulation of data from the U.S. Census Bureau 2021 ACS.

Income and Poverty

On average, Indians have much higher incomes than the total foreign- and native-born populations. In 2021, households headed by an Indian immigrant had a median annual income of $150,000, compared to $70,000 for all immigrant- and native-led households.

In 2021, Indian immigrants were less likely to be in poverty (5 percent) than immigrants overall (14 percent) or the U.S. born (13 percent).

Immigration Pathways and Naturalization

Indians were less likely to be naturalized U.S. citizens than immigrants overall, which may reflect the large numbers arriving on temporary visas and the relative recency of arrival. In 2021, 48 percent of Indian immigrants were U.S. citizens, compared to 53 percent of all immigrants.

Compared to all immigrants, Indians are much more likely to have arrived since 2000. The largest share of Indians (approximately 44 percent) arrived in 2010 or later, compared to 28 percent of the overall foreign-born population (see Figure 6).

Figure 6. Immigrants from India and All Immigrants in the United States by Period of Arrival, 2021

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100 as they are rounded to the nearest whole number.
Source: MPI tabulation of data from the U.S. Census Bureau 2021 ACS.

In FY 2021, India was the second largest country of origin for lawful permanent residents (LPRs, also known as green-card holders) after Mexico. Of the 740,000 people receiving a green card that year, 93,400 (13 percent) were from India. In FY 2021, 81 percent of Indians who received a green card did so through employment-based preferences, a share more than three times higher than all new LPRs (26 percent, see Figure 7).

Unauthorized Immigrant Population

MPI estimates that as of 2019, approximately 553,000 (5 percent) of the estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States were from India.

Click here to view an interactive map showing MPI’s estimates of the number and geographic distribution (by state and county) of unauthorized immigrants from India and other top origin countries. Click here to view MPI demographic profiles for unauthorized immigrants nationwide, in most states, and in top counties.

As of mid-2022, 1,930 Indian immigrants participated in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, accounting for less than 1 percent of the 594,120 DACA recipients. DACA provides temporary deportation relief and work authorization to unauthorized migrants who arrived as children and meet the program’s education and other eligibility criteria.

Click here to view the top origin countries of DACA recipients and their U.S. states of residence.

Health Coverage

Indians have high health insurance coverage rates compared to both the overall immigrant and native-born populations. In 2021, just 5 percent of immigrants from India were uninsured, compared to 7 percent of the native born and 19 percent of the overall foreign-born population. Indian immigrants were more likely to be covered by private health insurance than the foreign-born and U.S.-born populations (see Figure 8).

Figure 8. Health Coverage for Indian Immigrants, All Immigrants, and the U.S. Born, 2021

Note: The sum of shares by type of insurance is likely to be greater than 100 because people may have more than one type of insurance.
Source: MPI tabulation of data from the U.S. Census Bureau 2021 ACS.

Diaspora

The Indian diaspora is comprised of approximately 4.9 million U.S. residents who were either born in India or reported Indian ancestry or origin, according to MPI tabulation of data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 ACS. The Indian diaspora is the tenth largest in the country.

Click here to see estimates of the top 20 diasporas groups in the United States in 2019.

Remittances

In 2021, nearly $89.4 billion in remittances was sent to India via formal channels, according to the World Bank. Remittances to India have increased by 46 percent since 2011 and represented nearly 3 percent of India’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2021.

Click here to view an interactive chart showing annual remittances received and sent by India and other countries.

Sources

Debusmann, Bernd Jr. 2022. US Immigration: Why Indians Are Fleeing Halfway around the World. BBC News, October 10, 2022. Available online.

Gibson, Campbell J. and Kay Jung. 2006. Historical Census Statistics on the Foreign-Born Population of the United States: 1850-2000. Working Paper no. 81, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC, February 2006. Available online.

Institute of International Education (IIE). N.d. International Students: All Places of Origin. Accessed October 17, 2022. Available online.

Knowledge Partnership on Migration and Development (KNOMAD)/World Bank Group. 2022. Remittance Inflows. Updated May 2022. Available online.

United Nations Population Division. N.d. International Migrant Stock by Destination and Origin. Accessed October 17, 2022. Available online.

U.S. Census Bureau. 2022. 2021 American Community Survey. Accessed from Steven Ruggles, Katie Genadek, Ronald Goeken, Josiah Grover, and Matthew Sobek. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 7.0 [dataset]. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota. Available online.

—. N.d. 2021 American Community Survey—Advanced Search. Accessed October 17, 2022. Available online.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). 2021. Characteristics of People Who Naturalized Between FY 2015 and FY 2019. Washington, DC: USCIS. Available online.

—. 2022. Characteristics of H-1B Specialty Occupation Workers: Fiscal Year 2021 Annual Report to Congress. Washington, DC: USCIS. Available online.

—. 2022. Count of Active DACA Recipients by Country of Birth as of June 30, 2022. Washington, DC: USCIS. Available online.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). 2022. Nationwide Encounters. Accessed October 24, 2022. Available online.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Immigration Statistics. 2022. Immigration Data and Statistics. Updated November 14, 2022. Available online.

(USED WITH PERMISSION FROM MIGRATION POLICY INSTITUTE. This article appeared on migrationpolicy.org — https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/indian-immigrants-united-states)

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