Pew results food for thought to lawmakers on overhaul of rules

A survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has unearthed surprising trends in the religious identities of immigrants who received permanent residence in the U.S., particularly the fact that the footprint of Hindu migrants increased from three per cent in 1992 to seven in 2012.

The rise of minority religions in the U.S. immigrant profile appeared to come at the cost of Christian immigrants, the survey suggested. While Christians still comprised the majority, their estimated share among legal permanent residents dropped from 68 to 61 per cent over the period.

While the overall estimated share of green card holders among religious minorities rose from 19 to 25 per cent, other religions also witnessed a surge, with the share of Muslims climbing from five to 10 per cent.

The Pew results will be food for thought to U.S. lawmakers, who are close to formalising what might be the most significant overhaul of immigration rules in recent times under the rubric of “comprehensive immigration reform.”

In revealing its results, the Pew Forum issued a caveat on its findings: the figures for religious affiliation were only “estimates produced by combining government statistics on the birthplaces of new green card recipients... with the best available U.S. survey data on the religious self-identification of new immigrants,” from each major country of origin.

Using this methodology, the survey, however, found that that the number of Hindus becoming permanent residents in the U.S. increased from an average of about 30,000 during each year in the 1990s to 70,000 in 2012.

Permanent residents

If a 20-year period was considered, the Pew Forum said, nearly a million Hindu immigrants entered the U.S. as permanent residents and this contributed “substantially [to] increasing the total American Hindu population, estimated at about 1.8 million as of 2010.”

The study found that a great majority of Hindu immigrants came from India and neighbouring countries with “significant Hindu populations,” including Nepal and Bhutan; however, the share of persons migrating from the Caribbean has decreased significantly, from approximately 16 per cent to five.

On the Indian link within these results, the Pew Forum noted that a survey of Asian Americans it conducted in 2012 revealed that among Hindus the overwhelming majority, 96 per cent, in the U.S. were born abroad and that most – 87 per cent – came from India. The latest survey said statistics showed rising rates of immigration from India over the past two decades.

These statistics acquire further significance in the context of a controversy over the proposed new immigration rules, still under discussion in the Senate, insofar as they relate to reform measures that allegedly seek to curb issuance of H1-B visas to Indian nationals.

The survey also drew a line between documented and undocumented immigrants, arguing that “unauthorised” immigrants mostly came from Latin America and the Caribbean, and the overwhelming majority of them — close to 83 per cent — were Christian.

Overall, other minority religions of the U.S. also appeared to be on the rise, with Sikhs and Jains from India, followers of folk religions from China and Hong Kong, followers of African traditional religions from sub-Saharan Africa and Jews from the former Soviet Union, among the 30,000 people in this group.