State Capital at Vanguard of Immigrant-Rich, Vibrant Texas Economy

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Austin has hitherto been known for the Statehouse, the University of Texas and a booming, tech-based economy. As a financial and cultural center, the city has long stood in the shadows of cities like Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth.

But in recent years, the Lone Star State’s political epicenter has come of age economically and culturally. Immigration has been a prime engine behind the growing cosmopolitan character of the state capital.

While higher percentages of foreign-born residents still fill the populations of Houston and Dallas (composing 28 percent and 25 percent, respectively), foreign-born Austin residents now make up 20 percent of their city’s community.

Austin’s figure is greater than either Fort Worth (17 percent) or San Antonio (14 percent) can claim. Austin even beats the statewide percentage of foreign-born residents (16 percent) and the national figure (13 percent).

The breakdown of the foreign-born population is rich, too. 66 percent of the group is from Latin America, 24 percent from Asia and 6 percent from Europe.

Immigrants from Asia belong to Austin’s fastest-growing demographic group, boasting a 60 percent growth rate in the last 10 years — three times the rate of overall growth in the city. The dynamic high-tech sector attracts a large number of these Asian immigrants, many of whom seek an education or who already have the skills and education in great demand in the technology industry.

But the healthy economy has not been limited to Austin, nor has its benefits been enjoyed by immigrants only. Indeed, a low-tax, low-regulation environment throughout Texas has spurred growth across the state. That fact, in itself, has been the prime reason why immigrants — both native- and foreign-born — have been drawn to the Lone Star State.

While it may be counterintuitive to think that high immigration would be compatible with low unemployment, the unemployment rate in Texas stands at 6.2 percent — lower than the national rate of 7 percent — even as the percentage of foreign-born residents in the state has risen from 15.7 percent in 2006 to 16.4 percent today.

And when the foreign-born get to Texas (or elsewhere) and settle in, they spend money. It has been estimated that U.S. immigrants from Asia and Latin America possess approximately $2 trillion in purchasing power, which translate into homes, cars and other big-ticket items that help to stimulate the economy and create jobs.

In Austin, much of the rationale for spending among immigrants in the local economy is linked to either the tech industry or to higher education.

“We’ve long had an international community, and it’s very much been tied to the University of Texas,” said Ryan Robinson, an Austin demographer. “That’s huge.”

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White House Remains Steadfast in Support of Senate Immigration Bill

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Many U.S. companies — dependent on a relatively unrestricted granting policy for H-1B visas — are nervous over a U.S. Senate bill that would make the visas more costly.

The Obama administration hopes to make the Senate measure the heart of its immigration reform proposals. As such, the White House has been trying to make the case that the legislation would prove beneficial to work-related immigrants in the United States, particularly to those from India.

When he met with President Obama in September, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signaled his nation’s concern that Congress might restrict immigration from India, particularly that of Indian businesspeople and their capital. With India among the top 10 origins of immigrant entrepreneurs to the United States, it is not difficult to see why the prime minister brought up the issue.

But in throwing his weight behind the Senate-crafted immigration measure, Obama referenced the issue Singh raised (albeit without directly addressing the latter’s constituent concerns).

“The Senate bill would create new pathways for immigrant entrepreneurs and investors and make key improvements to the H-1B program,” reads a White House fact sheet.

Petitioners from India constitute a hefty 64 percent of all workers who come to the United States on H-1B visas, so the White House has also pointed out that the new Senate legislation would increase the number of available H-1B visas from 65,000 to 115,000 each year.

The White House has also emphasized that much-in-demand science, technology, engineering and mathematics doctoral and master’s degree graduates would be exempt from the annual 140,000 visa cap. This exemption for STEM graduates could prove significant to Indian students, as Indian immigrants constitute 56 percent of all immigrant students pursuing a master’s degree in computer science and engineering in the United States.

In addition, the White House has stressed the expanded business opportunities it foresees for foreign investors as a result of the Senate measure, which would bump the number of EB-5 visas up from 10,000 to 14,000 per year.

However, resistance to some of the Senate’s key proposals from domestic labor groups (among other interests) block any guarantee that the upper chamber’s measure will survive through the next session, much less emerge unchanged from the House of Representatives.

Still, the language from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue remains supportive of the Senate measure.

“The Senate bill would eliminate the existing backlogs for employment-based green cards, exempt certain employment-based categories from the annual cap and remove annual country limitations altogether,” the White House said.

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