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

By | Houston Immigration, Immigration Policy, News & Press | No Comments

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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Central American Immigration Debate Overshadows Stranded Spouses of Legal, H-1B Visa Workers

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As the emotionally charged national debate over immigration roils communities across the United States, the much-reported movement of thousands of undocumented children across the U.S.-Mexican border into this country has become the latest flash point of discussion.

While the children’s attempts to reunite with family members in the United States has garnered much attention and opened a new subject for discourse, another example of divided immigrant families, working through legal immigration, has been largely overshadowed.

Since October 1, 2013, some 57,000 children, mostly from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, have made their way from their countries — all of which are plagued by drug-trade-fueled violence — through Mexico and illegally into the United States in an attempt to reunite with relatives here. Most of the children have been caught by U.S. authorities and are being housed in temporary emergency shelters, pending a determination of their status. Several of the emergency shelters are in Texas, which has become immigration’s ground zero for these children from Central America.

And Texas is also is the hub of another phenomenon caused by immigration — the significant number of people who have entered the United States legally with an H-1B visa to work, but whose spouses have not been permitted to join them. The federal government grants 85,000 H-1B visas per year to highly skilled workers from overseas. Most work in the technology sector, with 70 percent in computer technology alone. Twenty thousand of the annual H-1B visas are reserved for immigrants with advanced degrees from U.S. universities and colleges.

Many of the spouses of H-1B visa workers are also well-educated, but no matter their credentials, they are not automatically permitted to accompany their spouses into the United States. Of those H-1B visa workers in computer technology, 26 percent of the men and 76 percent of the women are married, but in 2013, only half of the eligible spouses joined these workers in this country.

These statistics do not even account for the children of H-1B visa workers who have been left behind in India and other countries.

Spousal separation adds yet another dimension to the debate over immigration that policymakers Washington may have to address.

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Will Khobragade’s Diplomatic Row Impact U.S. Immigration Bills?

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

Sometimes, the final resolution of an important issue is swayed by both politics and tangential events. Politics, certainly, has already shaped the issue immigration reform. Now, a seemingly unrelated controversy has arisen and has the potential to shape some part of immigration reform in the U.S.

The controversy surrounding former Indian Deputy Consul General Devyani Khobragade has captured international media attention. Khobragade was arrested in New York City on December 12, 2013, for allegedly underpaying and exploiting her domestic employee, Sangeeta Richard.

Footage of Khobragade being strip-searched by U.S. federal law enforcement authorities has enflamed passions in India. Many believe she was disrespected and humiliated; advocates insist that she should have avoided such treatment because of her diplomatic immunity. At the same time, many Americans were appalled at Khobragade’s alleged flaunting of U.S. labor laws.

The U.S. attorney for the district of Manhattan, Preet Bharara, filed a memorandum denying Khobragade’s motion to dismiss the visa fraud indictment against her, saying that there was no basis for her immunity.

“Having left the U.S. and returned to India, the defendant currently has no diplomatic or consular status in the U.S., and the consular level immunity that she did have at the relevant times does not give her immunity from the charges in this case, crimes arising out of nonofficial acts,” Bharara said. “The defendant attempts through her motion to concoct a theory of immunity out of a UNGA (United Nations General Assembly) “Blue Card” that she purportedly had for a brief Indian delegation visit to the UN that ended close to three months before her arrest.”

The row that has ensued since Khobragade’s arrest — she left the United States on January 9, 2014 — has frayed U.S.-India relations and has led to some retaliatory measures against American diplomats stationed in India. It remains to be seen, however, whether Khobragade will become a standard image of a mutually embarrassing diplomatic incident or something more damaging.

Practical considerations may simply recapture attention on their own, pushing the Khobragade affair aside. After all, the United States is one of India’s largest trading partners and direct investors, and the two biggest democracies in the world have been increasing their military cooperation in the face of their common rival, China, and its rising power and influence in Asia.

Ultimately, it is likely that interested parties in both the U.S. and India will need to mount a sustained, effective lobbying campaign in the stateside debate over immigration, especially over visas such as the H-1B. Such efforts may help tip the scales in favor of a more immigrant-friendly bill in the U.S. Congress, replacing the possibility of an inappropriate focus on an international incident involving only a handful of people.

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History Suggests That Immigration Reform Has Good Prospects in Election Year

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The role of politics can never be underestimated during the voters’ dance on Capitol Hill that spins legislation. As Congress enters another election year, conventional wisdom would say that immigration reform may be one of the political game’s most high-profile issues still standing without a resolution — except that history has tended to belie that conventional notion.

The general population of the United States has shown a long-term, marked resistance to the relaxation of immigration standards. This prevailing sentiment has, at times, translated into overtly anti-immigrant manifestations. Historically, these stances have been most pronounced during economically distressed times. In such circumstances, nativist groups lobby for restrictions to immigration on the premise that a restricted or eliminated flow of immigrants would help to preserve the dwindling number of jobs for Americans.

With the emergence of the Tea Party movement and the evidence of its strength within the Republican Party in recent years, many Republicans — afraid of being “primaried” by a more conservative Tea Party acolyte — have proclaimed their conservative bone fides on such sensitive issues as abortion, taxes and immigration. This phenomenon also tends to keep compromise-minded legislators from straying far from the conservative line.

But past statistics seem to suggest that election-year pressures may not be as pivotal as they are touted to be — at least not on the issue of immigration.

If one were to review the record over the last 50 years (a period that includes some of the most contentious immigration legislation passed in American history), it would become quite evident that election-year status has little bearing on the passage of legislation on immigration. Indeed, of the 81 immigration laws enacted during the five-decade-long period, 70 percent were passed in the same year in which a congressional election was scheduled.

It may seem counterintuitive that the prospects for immigration reform are better in an election year. But with the vast majority of immigration laws focused on such election-salient issues as the economy and law enforcement, immigration is quite magnetic as a running platform for an officeholder.

With the electoral environment more conducive to members of Congress running on immigration reform, perhaps it should be unsurprising that on January 30, 2014, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, promulgated a set of principles his caucus adopted that is more flexible and accommodating of an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws.

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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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Indian Immigrants Account for a Key Share of Foreign-Born Texas Residents

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Ask most people what country is the source of the majority of immigrants to Texas, and the vast majority would probably and rightfully answer with Mexico, the Lone Star State’s neighbor to the south. However, it is safe to say that few people, even within Texas itself, would be able to note India as an prominent country of origin for those immigrating to Texas—much less correctly cite India as the third leading nation in that category.

Immigrants have become increasingly visible in the fabric of Texas society, with U.S. Census Bureau figures pegging the state as experiencing the second biggest jump—
44.9 percent—of foreign-born residents from 2000 to 2011 within the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Not surprisingly, immigrants from Latin America constituted 74.2 percent of foreign-born residents in Texas in 2011, with 59.6 percent from the leading source, Mexico, and 4.3 percent from El Salvador, the second leading country of origin of the foreign-born in Texas.

Asia ranks second as a continental source of foreign-born residents in Texas, accounting for 18.5 percent of all immigrants. India is the largest single point of origin, and a growing one at that, for these immigrants. Indeed, the surge in immigration from this subcontinent to Texas between 2000 and 2011 has set India ahead of erstwhile second-ranking Vietnam. India advanced ahead of Vietnam to assume the third rank among countries of origin in 2011—from 2.9 percent to 3.9 percent—after Mexico and El Salvador.

On a national level, the most recent figures on the foreign-born population from India are only available from Census 2000, but even those numbers place Texas high on the list of destinations for immigrants from India. While California, New Jersey, New York and Illinois were the four states with the largest foreign-born populations from India in 2000, Texas ranked fifth, with 78,388 immigrants from the subcontinent (or 7.7 percent of all Indian-born immigrants in the United States).

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An Increase in H-1B Raids: Information for Employers

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Immigration advocates report that there has been an increase in raids of H-1B businesses by the Office of Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS). Employers are expressing alarm and confusion about what steps they should take. First of all, know that these raids are commonplace and not necessarily a cause for alarm. You can take steps to ensure the raids disrupt your workplace as little as possible.

If you are an employer, you should have your files accessible for all of your H-1B employees. The files should have the LCA, a note of when the LCA was posted, the current wage determination and a copy of the H-1B petition. All employers should be prepared for officers entering their premises to conduct a raid. They typically do not need a warrant and do not give prior notice. The inspecting officer may have a copy of the H-1B petition for reference. The officer will inspect the premises and request to speak to whomever signed the petition and he or she will interview the beneficiary. Questions asked may include details about the job description, employment dates, dependents, supervisory situations, colleagues, etc. Copies of the H-1B beneficiary’s W-2, pay records and the company’s quarterly wages, tax records and other documentation may be requested for examination.

If you are subject to a raid and inspection, you may call your attorney and request that they be present via the phone while the raid is occurring. Company employees should not hazard guesses and give any officials information about the H-1B petitions; it is better to say that the knowledgeable staff member is not on the premises than have incomplete information given to officials.

Get the name, title and all pertinent contact information of the site investigator. Take notes of questions asked and answered, and make sure there is a witness present for any interactions.

If the H-1B beneficiary is working at a client site, there should be immediate contact to inform the end user that there may be a site visit. The end user should know who is an H-1B employer and be made aware of the assignment terms. The end user may wish to have the employer or a representative present during any upcoming site visits.

If you have any concerns about impending site visits or H-1B employment status issues, please contact Houston immigration lawyer Annie Banerjee for more details.

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H-1B Visas and the Scapegoating of India

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Some critics are arguing that Indian-Americans overseeing IT services firms are being unfairly held accountable for the others who misuse the H-1B visa system. Those company owners are being scapegoated, they say, for the widespread abuse of the program in order to harness cheap labor.

In an article for Bloomberg, H-1B critic Norman Matloff blames U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, among others for what he calls the demonization of an ethnic group. Sen. Schumer had referred to Indian businesses as “chop shops.” That does not mean, argues Matloff, that he believes the IT industry offshore is in the clear; they often hire cheap labor. But, he says, India does not “abuse” the foreign worker system more than any other country within the technology industry.

If Congress does boost the current H-1B visa cap, as so many hope, there is a concern that U.S. tech workers will be at a greater disadvantage, battling against a theoretically flooded employment market. Lawmakers who oppose a raised cap say they want to protect U.S. high tech workers by restraining visa use by offshore firms.

But others argue that a continued tight cap on the number of H-1B visas as proposed by Sen. Schumer and others is just a way to hobble offshore outsourcing firms.

Outsourcing firms offshore are not required to disclose who makes up their workforce and how many employees are working with a visa status. And if a company is forced to change the percentage of visa-based workers due to an immigration bill, will they then increase their domestic U.S. workers and fill the gap left by the low number of allowed visa holders?

Will visa restrictions or a restriction that bars the largest H-1B employers from sending their visa holders to work at third-party sites push offshore outsourcing businesses to hire more domestic-based employees? There may be business acquisitions which work to increase the U.S. domestic workforce based in offshore firms, or other workarounds which will make the restrictions moot.

Some companies such as IBM may even see gains from these restrictions. IBM continues to be one of the largest IT employers of Indian workers. If visa restrictions simply raise the costs for competitors offshore, U.S.-based companies may grab more of the market –or they may simply expand their own overseas workforces.

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