CHICAGO — A recent study by the Pew Research Center reveals that, for the first time, Asians outpaced Hispanics as the fastest growing immigrant population in the United States. Job seekers of South Asian origin make up the bulk of Chicago's new immigrant community, filling a critical demand for highly skilled technology workers.
Despite the sluggish economy, hiring manager Pete Tapaskar is having difficulty filling empty chairs at his suburban Chicago technology firm ProSoft.
“We don’t get enough resources locally. We have to depend on the resources from Asia - India, Pakistan and other countries -- anywhere resources are available,” said Tapaskar.
Tapaskar said that about 80 percent of ProSoft’s workforce comes from outside the United States, mostly from India.
The increased demand for skilled workers in information technology, or IT, is forcing companies like ProSoft to recruit more employees from countries - like India - where engineering degrees and experience are plentiful.
This trend is changing the U.S. landscape. Chicago has the third largest Indian American community in the United States, and it's growing.
Shoji Matthew came to Chicago from India more than 10 years ago.
“Ninety percent of the (work) visas are used by Indians,” said Matthew.
“A lot of the immigration is driven by employment-based visas, more so than other communities,” said Tuyet Le, executive director of the Asian American Institute.
Le said the Pew study should change long-held stereotypes about Asian immigration to the United States.
“In Illinois, Indian Americans are actually the largest Asian ethnic group for the second census in a row, surpassing the Chinese and Filipino communities. I think that sort of surprises a lot of people,” she said.
It doesn't surprise Matthew, who came to Chicago shortly before the 2000 census, working to prevent the expected computer glitch known as Y2K.
"I came on an H1-B Visa. That is what is used for IT professionals. At that time, the Y2K problem was going on in the peak time, so there was a heavy need of people here. There was an immense shortage of manpower here at that time,” said Matthew.
Matthew said the shortage has not changed and that many on work visas decided to stay. Today, there is even more demand for IT workers from South Asia, and not enough visas to bring them to the United States, said ProSoft’s Tapaskar.
“After 9/11, the immigrations systems have become tougher. Quotas have been reduced," he said.
Tapaskar said it also takes longer to process the visas, delaying hiring for jobs that are waiting to be filled.