Among the attributes that have made the United States a superpower is the brainpower that helped build it. The US produces more college degrees than any other nation, graduating around a million masters’ and conferring more than 200,000 doctorates every year. According to the US Census Bureau, since 2000, the number of people aged 25 and over whose highest degree was a master has doubled to 21 million, and the number of doctoral degree holders has more than doubled to 4.5 million.
Foreign students, mostly from Asia and particularly from India, have driven this growth, particularly in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Any college campus can provide visual evidence of this, but here are some numbers. According to the National Science Board, for the first time in 2015, a majority of full-time graduate students in natural sciences and engineering were foreign-born: 58% per cent were from Asia, and India was the leading country of origin, accounting for 21% of all foreign-born science and engineering graduates; China was second with 10%.
The result of this foreign contribution — or “invasion” according to right-wing American nativists — has been evident for some time now from various studies and reports. Migrants in the US are only 13.4% of the total population, but they hold 26% of PhDs (and 58% in computer science). Since 1970, more than 60% of US Nobel Prize winners have been immigrants.Nearly half of the founders of America’s unicorns and about 40% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children.
Overall, immigrants who came to America for study or employment — many of them through the H1B visa route — are more likely to file a patent, publish a scientific paper, start a company, and earn higher wages than American-born college graduates.
Immigration fuels enterprise, and it has been America’s secret sauce of success. But don’t expect the Trump base to acknowledge this. It is no secret that Trump’s support comes mainly from whites without college degrees, and he won a majority of the least educated counties and states in 2016.. “I love the poorly educated,” he once said. Nearly 80% of his base has expressed fears of “cultural displacement”.
Of course, it is the right, even duty, of any leadership to secure the borders of its country and regulate the flow of immigrants. But the Trump administration’s motive is dark and devious, given how the US has thrived on account of immigration.Even before the pandemic, the long-term plan of Trump-supporting hardliners has been to cap and roll back immigration to prevent the diversification of America — which will make a nativist Republican election victory less likely in each future election — and preserve the primacy of the conservative white establishment.
For good or bad, India has been particularly fecund with its contributions. Indians have been spectacularly successful, as evidenced in the oft-cited statistic: the median family income for Indians in America is higher than any other ethnic group, including native-born white Americans. Donald Trump has put a bullet through the head of this growing American and Indian success story with his ban on immigration and a ban it is, don’t kid yourself that it is a temporary suspension because of the coronavirus pandemic. Freezing green cards and visas for six months is hardly going to make a dent in the massive post-pandemic unemployment numbers. So, expect the ban to be permanent if Trump ekes out a second term.