| Delegates at the IIT alumni convention in Santa Clara. (AP)
Santa Clara, July 7: It may not be the best of times for Indian professionals in the West, but one American is never shy of being seen wooing them.
Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton eagerly addressed hundreds of Indian Institute of Technology graduates yesterday, despite having been mocked as “Democrat from Punjab” weeks ago in a dig at her Indian ties.
Hillary, who spoke by live video feed from New Orleans to nearly 4,000 entrepreneurs at the annual IIT alumni conference in Santa Clara, is seeking to tap the growing political clout of Indian-Americans in California’s Silicon Valley.
Her acceptance of the IIT invitation, a first by a presidential candidate, comes at a time the Indian professional’s stock may have fallen slightly in two other English-speaking countries.
Four Indian doctors and engineers are in custody in Britain and Australia over last weekend’s failed car bomb attacks in London and Glasgow. There are fears the two countries might intensify background checks on Indian doctors, making it tougher for them to get jobs there.
Calls for more restricted entry of Indian professionals have already been sounded in America, where both Democratic and Republican lobbies are crying themselves hoarse about immigrants taking away jobs.
Hillary, however, repeated her call for more H-1B work visas for highly educated immigrants, an issue of deep concern to the Indian and Indian-American executives and engineers in the audience.
Such courtship of Indians had led Hillary’s Democratic rival Barack Obama’s campaigners to send a sarcastic memo to reporters describing the New York senator as the “Democrat from Punjab”. It was a reference to a tongue-in-cheek introduction of Hillary by Rajwant Singh, the national chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education.
Prominent Indian-Americans immediately demanded an apology from Obama, causing the Illinois senator to concede that their concerns were “entirely justified”.
No presidential candidate can ignore the sentiments of the 2.3 million Indian-American voters. Although they make up less than 1 per cent of the population, they have the highest average income of any racial group and increasingly exert influence on US politics.
According to the Census Bureau, Indian-Americans’ 2005 median household income was nearly $74,000, 59 per cent higher than the general population average. They also have disproportionate influence in Silicon Valley. Of an estimated 7,300 US tech start-ups founded by immigrants, 26 per cent have Indian founders, CEOs, presidents or head researchers, according to a report by Duke University.
Hillary, however, balanced her stand on H1-B visas by sympathising with those who oppose offshore outsourcing, the export of technology jobs to low-cost workers in countries such as India.
“Workers in the United States are concerned about outsourcing, and I think they’re right to be — but so should all of us who value the bilateral relationship between the US and India,” Hillary said.
“If the US continues to outsource jobs to India in increasingly large numbers, people will increasingly feel insecure and increasingly seek protection.”