Potential Human Migration Caused by Climate Change Pressures International Conference Attendees

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Climate change represents a slew of looming global crises: the destruction of ecosystems, extinction of species and rising sea levels, just to begin. And a warmer planet can also be expected to cause upheavals in human settlements that will lead to mass migrations from heavily impacted countries and thus, often, immigration into countries less adversely impacted.

Migration induced by weather phenomena is nothing new in the history of the planet. In 2008, for example, 20 million people were displaced by extreme weather events. By comparison, in the same year, 4.6 million people were forced to relocate due to conflict and violence. And when one analyzes a longer period of time, gradual environmental changes can have an even greater impact; in the last 30 years, to take one example, 1.6 billion people have been affected by droughts.

And the forecasts for future migrations blamed on the weather are bleak. Indeed, it has been estimated that there will be 25 million to 1 billion environmental migrants by 2050, with 200 million migrants being the most frequently cited figure. Whatever the eventual total turns out to be, these environmental migrants will be moving either within their own countries or across borders on a permanent or temporary basis. Strikingly, the 200 million figure is equivalent to the current estimate of international migrants in the world.

Immigration motivated by climate change was high on the agenda at the 20th Conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was held in Lima, Peru on December 1-12, 2014. At the Lima conference, nearly 200 countries met and drafted an agreement on climate change. By its terms, every participating nation will be required to produce, in the next six months, a detailed domestic policy plan for reducing emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases from hydrocarbons such as coal, gas and oil.

While the Lima agreement is set to be signed in Paris in December 2015, the new country-specific plans under the accord will not be enacted until 2020. Most climate experts estimate that at best, the actions will cut emissions by about half of what would be needed to halt a 3.6-degree Fahrenheit rise in temperature.

To put that temperature in perspective, scientists say that, at a 3.6 degree increase, the planet will experience irreversibly dangerous effects, such as melting sea ice, rising sea levels, extreme weather events, and food and water shortages — all of which will trigger mass migrations of people as well as environmental degradation.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who attended the Lima conference, expressed guarded optimism over the accord that was reached: “Nobody here thinks an agreement will be a silver bullet that eliminates this threat. But we can’t get anywhere without an agreement.”

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High Percentage of Undocumented Immigrant Indians Will Be Allowed to Stay in U.S.

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When President Obama issued his executive order on immigration in November, estimates on the number of undocumented immigrants who would be spared deportation ranged between four and five million. The vast majority of undocumented immigrants who will benefit from the policy change are from Latin America, especially Mexico and Central America, though the number of undocumented immigrants from India is significant.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s most recent statistics are from 2012, and they counted 11.4 million undocumented immigrants in this country. Fifty-nine percent were from Mexico, with El Salvador (6 percent), Guatemala (5 percent), Honduras (3 percent) and Philippines (3 percent) rounding out the top five countries of origin.

India was the sixth leading source of undocumented immigrants in the United States as of 2012. Interestingly, when one focuses only on the numbers and percentages of unauthorized immigrants who will be able to avail themselves of the terms of the president’s executive order, India’s rank rises dramatically. 

Roughly 44 percent of the 5.9 million Mexicans who are in this country illegally will benefit from the executive action, and 37 percent of the generously estimated 450,000 undocumented Indians in this country will benefit from the policy change.

With 37 percent of all undocumented immigrants — 170,000 of the 450,000 total — able to stay in the United States under the executive action, India vaults into second place, behind only Mexico, on its percentage of unauthorized immigrants who will qualify for the new non-deportation policy.

A large portion of the unauthorized immigrants in the United States from Mexico and other Latin American countries enter the country undocumented. By contrast, most current unauthorized immigrants from India were originally documented when they entered the United States. Later, these Indian nationals lost their status when their visas expired but remained in the country.

Under United States Citizenship and Immigration Services rules, when immigrants who have been allowed to enter the United States on a work-related visa — such as the H-1B visa — loses their job, they must find alternate employment and transfer their visa within a specific time period. If they do not, they lose their status. 

Along with related L-1 visa holders, many Indians who legally entered the United States to work in the technology industry lost their jobs during the Great Recession and were not able to find new work, losing their status in the process.

In addition to the estimated 170,000 Indians who will be able to remain in the United States under the president’s executive order, another 13,500 are shielded from deportation under current law. Also, the policy change will permit many spouses and children of undocumented immigrants from India to apply for a waiver from illegal status — and eventually, apply for a green card.

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Though Beneficial, Obama’s Immigration Initiative Will Have Limited Economic Impact

By | Citizenship and Naturalization, Immigration Policy, News & Press | No Comments

When signing his executive order on immigration November 21, President Barack Obama bypassed Congress, initiating a long sought reform. But evidence suggests that the reforms will benefit some sectors more than others, and may even be the source of increased competition in the labor market, marginalizing the overall effect on the U.S. economy.

The last time there was a significant overhaul of the immigration rules in the United States was under the Reagan administration in 1986. The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act granted approximately 1.7 million undocumented persons lawful permanent residency. In addition, it permitted roughly 1 million farm workers to apply for higher legal status, an impact that the current administration’s reform could emulate.

Studies have found that the 1986 law raised the incomes of the erstwhile undocumented workers, but much of the increase was due to newly naturalized farmworkers finding work in better-paying jobs such as in construction or manufacturing. By the 1990s, just 4 percent of the farm workers were still employed in the agricultural sector. Shifts into other sectors resulted in wage gains of between 5 percent and 16 percent among former farm workers who had gained legal status.

Some groups, such as the Center for Immigration Studies, see the sector shifts resulting from the 1986 law as deleterious to the labor market if repeated by the 4 million to 5 million undocumented immigrants President Obama’s executive order will benefit. According to this critique, the Obama initiative will result in increased competition in the U.S. job market, affecting many citizens still unemployed or underemployed in the wake of the Great Recession.

Because the president’s executive order will be limited in scope, the White House estimates that it will boost the gross domestic product by less than 0.1 percent over the coming decades. Had Congress enacted the measure that the Democratic-controlled Senate passed last year, but died in the Republican-controlled House, it would have added another 0.33 percent per year in GDP growth, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

While the business community is generally supportive of immigration reform, the technology sector believes the president’s executive order falls short of helping essential skilled immigrant workers. That is because the Obama plan, though streamlining some of the rules governing the H-1B visa for skilled workers, does not lift the annual cap of 65,000 such visas.

Congressional action, not executive action, would be required to lift the ceiling on H-1B visas or other visas tailored for the immigration of foreign entrepreneurs, and to put in place comprehensive changes that a future president would be unable to reverse, as one could with Obama’s executive order. In order for immigration reform to have a more substantial positive impact on the U.S. economy, Congress would have to do what the president has implored it to do for years: pass a bill.

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Growth in Indian-American Population Spurs Popularity of Cricket in United States

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Baseball has long been considered America’s pastime. But another team sport played with a bat and ball is appearing in increasing evidence on playing fields in the United States. Cricket is an older, more universally popular sport, and its growth in the United States can be attributed in large part to the larger numbers of South Asians who have immigrated to this country.

Cricket can be traced back to 16th century England, where the first reference to the game was made in a 1598 court case, which spoke of a “creckett” match played in Guildford, Surrey in 1550. The first recorded match took place in Kent in 1646. As the game evolved into a competition of two 11-player, bat-and-ball teams arrayed against each other on a field, attempting to score runs through a series of innings, the sport’s popularity spread to many of England’s colonies, including Australia, New Zealand, the West Indies, South Africa and India.

As Indian immigration to the United States has grown — there are now about 2.81 million Americans of Indian ancestry — cricket clubs in the United States have proliferated. On a geographic basis, major cricket clubs are found throughout the country, but year-round competition is clustered in Florida, Texas and California due to the warmer weather found in those states.

Cricket is played by women as well as men, and there are now 12 women’s cricket clubs alone in the United States.

Cricket is also played at colleges and universities in the United States. In those venues, the ethnic diversity of the game’s players is on full display. And because students from cricket-passionate countries are in strong evidence on American campuses — Indians, for example, are now the second-largest foreign student group in the United States — there is an ample supply of collegiate participants and fans for the sport.

The large number of Indians studying at American colleges and universities translates into a highly educated community — 40 percent of Indians in the United States have a master’s degree, doctorate or other professional degree, five times the national average. That fact, in turn, contributes to the U.S. Census Bureau’s finding that Indian Americans have the highest household income of all ethnic groups in the United States.

The wealthier the household income, the more disposable income a family has to spend on leisure activities, including sporting events. And with Indian-American household income leading the nation, the exclamation “play ball” could someday be heard on playing fields devoted to cricket as often as those to baseball.

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Allure of U.S. Real Estate Attracts Indian Buyers

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The acquisition of gold, and especially gold jewelry, has traditionally been the favored means by which Indians invest their discretionary income. But recent statistics demonstrate that for Indian citizens with the resources to do so, the purchase of American real estate has become the new golden opportunity for investment and savings.

Gold has long been the safe haven of choice for Indians looking for a place to park their cash and a way to avoid the uncertainties that swings in the stock market or currency fluctuations have presented. In recent years, investment in the United States, particularly in real estate, has appealed to foreign buyers looking for a similarly conservative, yet profitable, option. And as the bottom dropped out of many real estate markets in the United States during the recent recession, current purchase prices are very appealing.

A more price-compelling U.S. real estate market has been reflected in the number of foreign buyers, Indians included, who have closed escrow for property in this country. A National Association of Realtors survey estimated that from April 2013 to March of this year, total sales to buyers from abroad stood at $92.2 billion, which represents a 35 percent increase over the previous year. As a result, foreign buyers now constitute 7 percent of all existing-home sales.

Among existing-home sales closed by foreign buyers, China accounted for the largest share of international buyers at 24 percent, followed by Canada at 15 percent, with India and the United Kingdom tied for third with a 6 percent share of the total each. Indian buyers spent $5.8 billion in the U.S. real estate market over the last measured year, up from $3.9 billion over the 12-month period before it.

The figures cited do not distinguish between immigrant buyers and international buyers of U.S. real estate who retain their foreign domiciles. While many international buyers invest in U.S. real estate due to political instability or a restrictive business environment in their home countries, Indian buyers more frequently invest with a longer-term or more practical perspective in mind.

Middle-aged Indians with children current comprise the largest demographic looking to purchase property in this country. Indian families most often invest in residential housing, either multi-unit buildings or single-family dwellings.

With the significant number of students from India who are studying stateside, the investment scenario becomes all the more compelling: families secure living quarters for their children while they are at college or, subsequent to graduation, working in America, and thereafter, either rent out the unit or retain it as a residence if the family chooses to immigrate to the United States.

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U.S. Opens 2016 Applications for Diversity Visa Program Immigrants

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The United States has often been compared to a “melting pot” or a “salad bowl” in its richness of ethnic, religious and cultural diversity. 

Since colonial times, immigration has played a major role in American diversity, and U.S. immigration policy has increasingly favored a more even distribution in the national sources of immigration. One legislative manifestation of that policy objective can be seen in the Immigration Act of 1990, which mandated the nation’s Diversity Visa Program.

The Diversity Visa Program is drawn from Section 131 of the Immigration Act of 1990 as an amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act. Under the program, 55,000 Diversity Visas are set aside each year for persons from countries with low immigration rates to the United States.

Diversity Visas are distributed among six geographic regions. The greatest number of visas are reserved for nationals of countries with lower rates of immigration, but no single country may account for more than 7 percent of the available visas in a given year. In 1999, Congress reserved 5,000 of these visas to be made available for use under the Nicaraguan and Central American Relief Act.

Each year, nationals from a predetermined list of countries that have been the source of at least 50,000 immigrants to the United States during the previous five years are excluded from entering the lottery for Diversity Visas.

The 2016 Diversity Visa Program opened its application process on October 1, 2014 and will close it on November 3, 2014. 

Natives of numerous countries are not eligible, their nations having exceeded the 50,000 immigrant threshold: Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China (mainland-born), Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, the United Kingdom and its dependent territories, India, Vietnam, Jamaica, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines and South Korea.

After the annual application period has ended, a computer-generated random draw determines which persons have been selected for Diversity Visas. Beginning May 5, 2015, applicants can check online to find out if their entry was selected. The Department of State notifies successful applicants and provides instructions on how to apply for visas for themselves and eligible family members.

All Diversity Visa applicants must possess at least a high school diploma earned in their native country or the United States, or they must have worked at least two years in a job that required two years or more of training, experience or education. A high school Graduate Equivalency Diploma, or GED, does not meet the education requirement standard. Applicants also must not have been deemed “inadmissible” due to criminal activity or if they are “likely to become a public charge.”

An applicant who has been selected in the lottery process is not guaranteed a green card; the State Department always selects more Diversity Visa winners than the total number allotted for that year.

Winners of the lottery are provided a number showing their ranking in line based on their region of origin.

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American Sikhs Face Undue Violence and Persecution in Wake of 9/11 and Presence of ISIS Threats

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The Indian Plate is officially considered a subcontinent. Its land mass is great enough to earn the subcontinental rank, but its cultural, religious and linguistic bounty really puts it really more in the league with other full-fledged continents. 

As a result, the Indian subcontinent sends immigrants from a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds to the United States. From that rich tapestry, the Sikhs have emerged as one of the more interesting India-endemic groups, one that has been often misunderstood or maligned in countries they immigrate to as well as in India itself.

The Sikhs belong to a monotheistic faith that originated in the 15th century. Their homeland is centered in the Punjab region, which derives its name from a Punjabi corruption of two Persian words that mean “five waters,” referring to the five rivers of the region that are tributaries of the mighty Indus River.

While the emergence of a Sikh empire in the 18th century marked a period of unparalleled religious tolerance in India, there has been intermittent friction, even violence, between Sikhs and Mughals since its establishment — and later, tension with Muslims and Hindus. This friction was notably prominent in the period leading up to the partition of India in 1947. Sectarian strife involving the Sikhs truly picked up steam in the 1960s as the Sikhs lobbied for the creation of a Punjab state, which was eventually granted on a modified basis in 1966.

The 1970s marked another period of sectarian conflict, this time between Sikhs and Hindus. In large part, this tension was due to the perceived anti-Sikh bias of the ruling Congress Party. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi assumed emergency powers in 1975 in reaction to the violence, which contributed to increased Sikh agitation for justice, spearheaded by the Sikh leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.

The tension culminated in a cascade of retributory strikes in 1984. Government forces attacked the Sikh-revered Golden Temple in Amritsar, where Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale sought refuge. Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards four months later. A massacre of thousands of Sikhs throughout India followed immediately.

Fortunately, relations between Sikhs and Hindus have improved since the disastrous chain of events in 1984, but the times of trouble have contributed to a diaspora of Sikhs in the world. There are more than 19 million Sikhs in India and 27 million Sikhs worldwide. The most recent estimates rank the United Kingdom after India as having the largest population of Sikhs at 760,000. The United States is next at 500,000 Sikhs, followed by Canada with 468,000 Sikhs.

Imigration from India to other lands, unfortunately, has not spared the Sikhs from discrimination and violence. 

One of the tenets of Sikhism, the so-called “Five K’s” — the articles of faith that all baptized Sikhs are obliged to wear — includes one, called Kesh, for uncut hair, which prompts Sikhs to don their trademark turban, called a dastar. In the post-9/11 era, the Sikh wrapping of hair has drawn physical attacks by some people in who wrongly confuse them with Islamic extremists (many of whom wear turbans as well, though almost always of a different style).

The misguided and racist violence against Sikhs after the September 11 U.S. terrorist attacks has unfolded in a series of beatings and killings over the last 13 years. It was expressed most tragically in 2012, when six worshippers at a Sikh temple were gunned down outside a temple in Milwaukee. 

The current ISIS-spurred burst of violence in the Middle East has again drawn unwarranted negative attention to turban-wearing Sikhs.

The sentiments of many Sikhs who have integrated into American society can perhaps best be summarized by one Sikh-American named Vishavjit Singh, who has made it a mission to educate people about Sikhs and spread his message of tolerance among a variety of audiences. 

Singh recently recounted his reaction to one uncomfortable situation to a group of students at Alfred University, where he runs a special program called “Drawn to Diversity.” “People can think I’m not an American, they can tell me to go home to where I came from,” Singh told his student listeners. “And I say: ‘OK, I’ll go home tonight. I live here.”

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Children's Immigration Crisis Continues

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Although numbers eased somewhat in July and August, the children’s immigration crisis remains the most pressing immigration issue of the day. 

Since October 2013, more than 52,000 children have been taken into custody. Most are from Central America, and a large proportion are not accompanied by parents or guardians. Their numbers represents a ten-fold increase from 2009. Twice as many unaccompanied children arrived this year than did in the last.

In large part, the current crisis is fueled by violence in Central America. El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala are all facing high levels of gang violence, which is closely related to the illegal drug trade. According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, 58 percent of the unaccompanied immigrant children are migrating for safety reasons.

This fact has led many organizations and officials, including the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, to urge that the children be treated as refugees, even as immigration reform opponents blame the crisis on lax immigration policy and enforcement.

Other factors are also in play. For children from poor, rural parts of Guatemala and El Salvador, economic strain can provide the motivation to migrate. For those who already have family members in the United States, the desire to reunite with family may be central — especially because in Central America, the idea that children can easily reunite with U.S. relatives is prevalent.

The situation is complicated by the fact that the U.S. government cannot return migrant children from Central America to their home countries as easily and quickly as they can those from Mexico. This is a result of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, a law designed to curb child trafficking. The law requires that children from Central America receive a court hearing before deportation.

Due to the influx of unaccompanied child immigrants, a years-long backlog has accumulated. Most children stay with U.S. relatives while they wait; the rest enter the foster care system.

Congressional sluggishness adds another layer of difficulty. This year, Congress has failed to pass anticipated immigration reform. In response, President Obama is expected to release an executive order which will address the child immigration crisis, as well as other aspects of immigration law.

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San Antonio's Little India Grows and Expands

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San Antonio’s “Little India” is booming, thanks in large part to an influx of skilled immigrants from South Asia who work for organizations like Valero Energy Corp, the USAA, the South Texas Medical Center and H-E-B.

Many of the immigrants have arrived alone on relatively short work contracts, but others bring their wives and families and pursue residency or citizenship. The area has also seen an influx of South Asian residents from other states who have moved to San Antonio for the low cost of living and strong economy.

The city’s “Little India” is located both near the headquarters of the USAA, which employs many South Asian information technology workers, and near the Medical Center, where many South Asian physicians and medical professionals work. The area includes numerous Indian and Pakistani restaurants, grocery stores and community centers.

According to Dr. Jayesh Shah, president of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, San Antonio now contains about 300 physicians and 3,000 families of Indian origin.

The nation as a whole has seen a recent burst of South Asian immigration. The new arrivals are mostly skilled workers, including physicians and technology workers. Cities such as Houston, New York and Chicago have some of the largest Indian populations, and Indians now represent the third-largest immigrant group nationwide.

San Antonio’s “Little India” is a source of community and cultural continuity for many members of the city’s South Asian population. Residents can incorporate their style of living in India into their new culture in Texas, purchasing Indian groceries, visiting Indian restaurants, meeting at the Hindu Temple of San Antonio and participating in popular pastimes like cricket.

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Texas A&M Foreign Student Exchange Programs Enriching U.S., Other Nations

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Texas is already a well-known magnet for immigrants and businesses seeking to put down roots in its relatively strong employment market and business-friendly environment. Recently, Texas A&M University has gained a reputation for extending that connection to students. Through its College Station campus in Texas and its overseas exchange programs, Texas A&M has become a hub for international learning and collaboration.

International students who intern at Texas A&M — mostly from India, Brazil and China — usually begin with a summer program, often at the university’s renowned Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering. Many of these students are drawn from top academic and research facilities in their home countries, including Kanpur University in India. Texas A&M clearly hopes that these summer interns will eventually become Aggies as graduate students.

“The goal is to showcase our research projects in the cutting edge technologies, with the hope that these students will gain very positive interactions with their faculty members, and would apply to our Ph.D. program in due course,” said Dr. Nazmul Karim, head of the chemical engineering department.

The university also sends out its American students to study overseas in new countries. This exchange of students through Texas A&M has made the university 13th among U.S. institutions of higher learning for sending students abroad to participate in credit-bearing academic programs. Indeed, more than 3,000 Aggies have studied at more than 90 locations around the world for a semester while sponsored by the university’s Study Abroad Programs Office.

American students studying abroad are enriched by an immersion in their host country’s traditions and culture, and they, in turn, share their outlook on and experiences in U.S. culture and its democratic process with their hosts. And Texas A&M University officials have a vision for what they expect of their American students when they return to Texas.“In order for Aggies to assume their place in the Texas economy, they will need to have a familiarity with how other societies function and markets in other countries work,” said Dr. Jane Flaherty, director of Texas A&M’s Study Abroad Programs Office. “Going abroad facilitates the development of this knowledge.”

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