Grappling with the growing problem of illegal immigrants and protectionist chorus of job losses to immigrants, the Obama administration is considering a comprehensive immigration legislation. It is estimated that there are 12 million illegal immigrants, mainly Latinos, whose votes played an important role in Obama's electoral success. The depth of the recession may force the administration's hands in even maintaining the numbers of H1 B visas granted for guest workers, leave alone increasing them.
Over the past two decades, in particular, highly skilled immigrants have come to assume increasing importance in America's spectacular informational technology driven economic growth. It would not be off the mark to argue that their professional expertise, hardwork and industriousness fuelled the technology boom since the early nineties. The recession, with its impact on job losses, has re-ignited the debate about how H 1B visas depresses the wages of American technology workers, displaces American workers, and off-shores American jobs.
The figures speak for themselves - 47% of all US science and engineering workers with doctorates are immigrants, as are 67% of the additions to the US science and engineering work force between 1995 to 2006, and roughly 60% of engineering PhD students and 40% of master’s students are foreign nationals, foreign nationals contributed to 25.6% of US global patents in 2006, over half of Silicon Valley tech start-ups and a quarter of those nationwide were founded by immigrants from 1995-2005.
NYT has this excellent interactive graphic that captures the numbers of immigrant workers in all the different types of occupations. Mexicans are understandably the largest source for immigrant workers at 5.28 million, followed by Philippines at 848,800, India at 746,200 and China at 653,500.
Expectedly and strikingly different from the other migrants (including Chinese), Indians dominate the higher end of the skill spectrum. Indian professionals - doctors, scientists and quantitative analysts, software programmers, engineers and architects - outnumber those from other countries by a large number. In fact, there are only a few thousands of Indians among the lower end jobs.
However, the largest numbers of jobs are in vocational skill related occupations like construction, equipment operations, sales, cooks, drivers and transportation workers. Though the majority of workers in these occupations are from Mexico and South American neighbours, there are large numbers of migrant workers from East Asian nations like Philippines, Vietnam and China. Given the minimal numbers of Indian workers in such para-professional sectors and the considerable numbers of them from East Asia, there is clearly an immigration opportunity. Does US have the potential to be the new Gulf, more so since migration to the latter seems to be declining.
NYT has this widely informative ongoing debate about immigrant workers in the US here. Another interactive graphic about how immigrants settled in the US is available here.