Pakistanis in North America

Published: March 10, 2013
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The writer is a former caretaker finance minister and served as vice-president at the World Bank

The writer is a former caretaker finance minister and served as vice-president at the World Bank

After those in Britain and the Middle East, the third-largest Pakistani diaspora is in North America. It is also the community that is likely to have the deepest impact on its original homeland. Although the Pakistanis in the Middle East send much greater amounts as remittances to the homeland, the economic impact of the community in North America has been — and will be — of much greater consequence. In politics as well, the North American diaspora is likely to have a greater impact. One example of this are the waves that have already been created by the return from Canada of Tahirul Qadri, the preacher-politician. Qadri draws his support from both the communities of Pakistanis in various parts of the world, as well as those he has created in Pakistan. Each interacts with the other to produce a large base of support for the cleric. It is worth noting that the political significance of the diasporas in Britain and the Middle East is largely centred around the politicians who have taken refuge outside the country. The North American community of Pakistanis will be politically important in a different way. Once again, Qadri is a good example of this kind of politics.

What distinguishes the North American Pakistani diaspora from the ones in Britain and the Middle East is its composition, its relative wealth, its better integration with the host population and its ability to provide managerial expertise in a number of areas in which Pakistan lacks the needed skills. Given the importance of this community for Pakistan’s future, it will take more than one article to tell its full story. This will be the first of what will be a series of at least three. I will begin with an analysis of how the diaspora was formed and with a description of how its composition is changing.

The Pakistani North American diaspora is the youngest of the three large communities in various parts of the world. It began to be formed in the late 1980s when the United States relaxed its immigration laws and encouraged the immigration of people with specific skills. Of the skill shortages the United States was experiencing at the time, the most severe was for physicians, particularly those who were prepared to serve in rural areas. This brought in a large number of doctors from South Asia. The South Asians were preferred since they had the language skills enabling them to take up their assignments quickly.

As the first wave of migrants was made up mostly of professionals, Pakistanis in North America are economically and socially very different from those who reside in Britain and the Middle East. Unlike those two communities where per capita incomes are lower than the average for the host population, the diaspora in North America has a much larger per capita and per household incomes. Some estimates put these above the national average by 15 to 20 per cent.

What is the size of the North American Pakistani diaspora? This question has been asked and debated by analysts and scholars for several years. In my own work on the subject, I had suggested that about a million people of Pakistani origin live in the United States and Canada; perhaps, 850,000 in the former and 150,000 in the latter. The 2010 census in the United States could have clarified the issue pertaining to these numbers but didn’t do so as it asked the question of origin in a confusing way. For instance, the immigration officials in the United States identify the country of origin of the nation’s ‘naturalised citizens’ from the place of their birth. In my American passport, my country of origin identified implicitly is India since I was born in Simla. The census suggests that when the count was made, there were 363,699 people in the country of Pakistani origin. This was perhaps, the number of people who had moved from Pakistan to the United States and not those who were born in America of Pakistani parents. The census estimate also excluded the children born of mixed marriages. As the diaspora matures, more and more people of Pakistani origin are marrying outside their communities.

Some serious analysts have suggested numbers that are closer to my estimate. Adil Najam, for instance, in his pioneering work on philanthropy by overseas Pakistanis, suggests that the size of the Pakistan diaspora is at 500,000. The Pakistani embassy in Washington put the number at 700,000. These estimates were made several years ago. Even though after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, obstacles have been put in the way of Pakistanis wishing to enter the country, the size of the community must be growing at the rate of 1.5 per cent a year. That is a combination of the natural increase in the population of Pakistani origin, along with a slight increase in the number of people who are still able to come to the United States. There are also illegals that don’t get counted in official surveys. I am, therefore, inclined to stay with my estimate of 850,000 of the size of the Pakistani diaspora in the United States and one million for all of North America. I will take up next week the subject of the economic weight of this community and its interaction with Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 11th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (29)

  • realist
    Mar 11, 2013 - 12:20AM

    “In my American passport, my country of origin identified implicitly is India since I was born in Simla”

    Indian Embassy, please take note.

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  • gp65
    Mar 11, 2013 - 1:06AM

    The median income of Pakistan born immigrants in US is higher than local people by 18%.However poverty rates of PAkistanis in US are also higher. http://dawn.com/2012/05/23/dollars-and-sense-of-american-desis/

    In Canada, Pakistni born people fare much worse than local people unlike what the author seems to imply. http://dawn.com/2012/05/16/pakistani-canadians-falling-below-the-poverty-line/

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  • KDP
    Mar 11, 2013 - 1:14AM

    In my opinion 850,000 Pakistani diaspora in the United States seems to be too large to be accurate.
    My opinion is based on the report by a team of sociological researchers led by Dr. Stephen L. Klineberg, Co-Director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research, who gathered demographic information about Houston area Asians, comparing data over multiple decades to reveal the population’s immense diversity in terms of life circumstances, attitudes and beliefs. They presented this data last year at Rice University.

    According to the 2010 U.S. Census there are over 280,000 Asians living in the Houston metro area. The area’s four largest Asian communities include the Vietnamese (28.7% of total Asian pop.), Indian/Pakistani (18%), Chinese/Taiwanese (16%) and Filipinos (8%).

    Houston is the fourth largest metro area in the USA. The reported number of Indians and Pakisatnis is only 18% of 280,000 asians = 50,400 This is suprisingly very low number for a city like Houston. Indians are more in number however if we assume 50:50 that gives only 25,000 Pakistanis. (It is hard to believe this number) At the same time if we assume all 50,000 are Pakistanis and then since most South asians reside in metropolitan areas multiply it with 10 largest metro area in the USA it gives 500,000 Pakistani people. It should be noted I assume the same 50,000 number for all 10 cities metro area which is not accurate at all

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  • naeem khan Manhattan,Ks
    Mar 11, 2013 - 1:52AM

    You talk about Tahirul Qadri, I have never heard of him till he led this march to Islamabad, I don’t know which American and Pakistani Canadians are supporting him financially,I have not met any one yet. The Pakistani community that I know of in Kansas and that include Kansas City area is not supporting Dr.Qadri although they are very active politically and religiously, Kansas City and Wichita has large mosques with schools and some of smaller cities like Topeka, Manhattan and Hays has got mosques, Qadri is not that important figure to us. You are right that Pakistani community is very much aware and active politically, Senator and now Governor Brownback of Kansas is one example how we supported him and lobbied the congress and then the Pressler amendment was repealed, by the way I am registered as democrat. I know of Pakistani doctors immigrating to US in the 60s and one of them is Dr.Amjad Hussain from Peshawar who headed the thoracic surgery department of University of Ohio medical school at Toledo. We are grateful for your efforts to count us in towards the well-being of Pakistan.

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  • Mar 11, 2013 - 2:40AM

    That’s a good point on the counting issue based on birth place. There are many Middle East born Pakistanis who eventually moved to North America as well.

    There have been estimates from 125,000 to 300,000 of the Pakistani Canadians in Canada. I think its somewhere around 200,000.

    There was a sizeable gathering of protesters yesterday outside the Pak consulate in Toronto primarily for the Abbas town victims, but also solidarity for other past victims including on the latest news of the attack on Christian Pakistanis.

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  • John the Baptist
    Mar 11, 2013 - 3:30AM

    @gp65:

    You did not wait a minute longer than you had to to put the Pakistanis in their place. I have seldom come across such self propelled zealots of hatred based on country of origin. You are a true reflection of how the Indians have corrupted the once admirable American sense of egalitarianism by burrowing themselves in US academia. Forget the Red Scare, the Saphron Scare is truly frightening!

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  • Ahsan Masood
    Mar 11, 2013 - 5:18AM

    The best and brightest in Pakistan are living in USA never to come back. A huge loss for our country.

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  • Arzoo
    Mar 11, 2013 - 5:40AM

    @realist: what nonsense are you talking about in asking the Indian Embassy to take note. Anyone born before August 14, 1947 was born in India because Pakistan did not exist before then, whether Mr. Burki was born in Simla or Lahore he was born in India for US Immigration purposes. This is a well known phenomenon.

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  • GIndian
    Mar 11, 2013 - 6:25AM

    I wish all Pakistanis were like Pakistani immigrants in the US. Great article.

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  • Mar 11, 2013 - 7:34AM

    @John the Baptist:

    Your display of anger versus facts results from reaction and not reflection…

    It will take you sometime to accept the truth but I hope you do…
    because with acceptance you will improve the lot of someone and that
    would be progress…

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  • realist
    Mar 11, 2013 - 8:57AM

    “@realist: what nonsense are you talking about in asking the Indian Embassy to take note. Anyone born before August 14, 1947 was born in India because Pakistan did not exist before then, whether Mr. Burki was born in Simla or Lahore he was born in India for US Immigration purposes. This is a well known phenomenon.”

    I am asking the Indian embassy to take note of the fact that people who were born in India before 1947 but those who moved to pakistan are being labelled with their country of origin as India. THis may erase the fact that they were pakistanis before taking on their US citizenship. Just asking the Indian embassy to pay extra attention if such people were to apply for a Indian visa. David Coleman Headley (born Daood Sayed Gilani) comes to mind.

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  • gp65
    Mar 11, 2013 - 9:22AM

    ET : Pls. allow rebuttal to a personal attack.
    @John the Baptist: “@gp65:
    You did not wait a minute longer than you had to to put the Pakistanis in their place. I have seldom come across such self propelled zealots of hatred based on country of origin.”

    The articles were written by a Pakistani and published in Dawn. So is Dawn also hateful about Pakistan? It’s not as though I quoted an Indian source?

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  • wonderer
    Mar 11, 2013 - 9:25AM

    @John the Baptist:

    @gp65:
    You did not wait a minute longer than you had to to put the Pakistanis in their place

    What is so wrong, dear Sir, in putting anyone in his/her place? Does the urge to correct some mistaken notion, or inaccurate assumption a sign of hatred?

    I hope you will be kind enough to enlighten me.

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  • Jim
    Mar 11, 2013 - 11:05AM

    @author “For instance, the immigration officials in the United States identify the country of origin of the nation’s ‘naturalised citizens’ from the place of their birth. In my American passport, my country of origin identified implicitly is India since I was born in Simla. The census suggests that when the count was made, there were 363,699 people in the country of Pakistani origin.”

    By the same token, and your tortured reasoning, you may want to subtract from the Pakistani diaspora numbers all those born in erstwhile East Pakistan, now Bangladesh.

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  • Jim
    Mar 11, 2013 - 11:10AM

    BTW, some latest numbers are available here http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0050.pdf. What if India starts to count its diaspora descendants born in various Caribbean and African states who are happy to be associated with India and carry a hyphenated Indian- identity but will not want to be associated with Pakistan in any way? For that matter, many Pakistanis prefer an Indian identity to a Pakistani one…

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  • SK5
    Mar 11, 2013 - 2:14PM

    @Jim:

    Joke of the day haha “Pakistanis prefer an Indian identity to a Pakistani one”. From personal experiance Pakistani’s take offense to when people think of them as “Indian”. And since when did this become a Pakistan vs India diaspora challenge?, this article is about Pakistani diaspora not INDIAN!!

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  • AH
    Mar 11, 2013 - 6:05PM

    I didn’t get very much out of this article. I hope the follow-up to this has some more substance to it, Javaid.

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  • Zalmai
    Mar 11, 2013 - 6:14PM

    @SK5

    Most Pakistanis I have met in the US admit that they are of Indian descent belonging to Indian ethnic groups like Punjabis, Sindhis, Beharis, Gujaratis. Why would anyone with a functioning brain take offense to being called Indian, when in essence most Pakistanis excluding Pashtuns and Baloch are Indians originally.

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  • A. Khan
    Mar 11, 2013 - 6:22PM

    @gp65: I disagree with the findings that Pakistani’s fall below the poverty line in Canada. By and large, they work multiple jobs, ensure they get full benefits and pay very little taxes (as they work on cash basis). This is hardly the recipe for poverty, as they are cash rich. What they don’t do is flaunt the money but live in shabby apartments, have a rust bucket for a car (if at all) and generally live off the grid. Hence they would appear as poor.

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  • ahmed
    Mar 11, 2013 - 8:37PM

    @GP65:
    Here is best answer chosen why indian are so narrow minded?
    “I’ve noticed that too. If I’m racist against anybody, it’s against Indians, only because they tend to be so painfully closed-minded, narrow, anti-social, and apparently fun-hating. I can’t stand closed-minded people.

    India has a long history of political isolationism, which they did on purpose to keep themselves pure; and also geographical isolationism, with the Himalayas cutting them off from all other societies. As the world is changing and diversity is spreading, Indians are still (understandably) slow to catch on.

    Also, all the Indian people I’ve ever met living in America are either immigrants themselves or their parents were immigrants. That means they haven’t been here long enough to adjust to or accept the American way of life, and they’re still living just as strictly as they would back in India. They’re not only resistant to having their traditional values “corrupted,” but they haven’t even been here long enough for that to happen.

    Anyway, that’s my explanation as to why. As far as what you should do about it, that’s all you, I don’t know.”

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  • Zalmai
    Mar 11, 2013 - 11:26PM

    @Ahmed

    Your rant about Indians and their narrow minded disposition is totally off the mark. Indians in America are the most educated, integrated, well adjusted and affluent immigrant community. Holding on to traditional values is a virtue not a vice. If some Indians shun engaging in drunken debauchery, promiscuity and other unscrupulous activities popularly known as the American way of life then they are absolutely justified in upholding their traditional values, which is morally superior to the so-called American way of life.

    “Also, all the Indian people I’ve ever met living in America are either immigrants themselves or their parents were immigrants. That means they haven’t been here long enough to adjust to or accept the American way of life, and they’re still living just as strictly as they would back in India. They’re not only resistant to having their traditional values “corrupted,” but they haven’t even been here long enough for that to happen.”

    You talk as if you have been in the West or USA for six generations. For your information, Indians have been in the US since the 1940s. I have met fourth generation Indian-Americans whose great grandparents migrated from Punjab and became farmers in California.

    Your experience has brought you into contact with the new immigrants from India, which betrays your limited knowledge of the Indian diaspora in the US. I personally think that you have never met an Indian in the US and this post is just a reaction to gp65.

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  • Zalmai
    Mar 12, 2013 - 12:08AM

    @A. Khan

    “I disagree with the findings that Pakistani’s fall below the poverty line in Canada. By and large, they work multiple jobs, ensure they get full benefits and pay very little taxes (as they work on cash basis). This is hardly the recipe for poverty, as they are cash rich. What they don’t do is flaunt the money but live in shabby apartments, have a rust bucket for a car (if at all) and generally live off the grid. Hence they would appear as poor.”

    Your retort to gp65 only confirms the scope of the study, which basically says that the Pakistani community is not mainstream. Living off the grid indicates that they don’t pay taxes, lack basic health care, they cannot claim unemployment benefits because they work under the table; sociologists look at all of the above indicators and conclude that this immigrant community is living on the margins of society and as such categorized as poor.

    Wealth is not measured by the amount of cash one hides under the mattress but by how much human capital a community has contributed to society by paying taxes and receiving tax breaks through home ownership and contributing to a 401k and Roth IRA accounts.

    Living within the grid and system is a mindset that comes from education, ethics and morality, these traits are alien concepts to some people from the land of the pure.

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  • Ameican Desi
    Mar 12, 2013 - 1:59AM

    @ahmed:
    You did not say anything new about Pakistani’s fonding hatred towards Indians. And to sucha deep extent that they can lie as you just did without any hesitation and fear that some one can prove them wrong right away with real data rather than imaginary and wishful thinking.
    Both in UK and USA the most closed community with abosultely closed mindset and who still beleives in medieval practices like converting someone to Islam if a non muslim have to marry a muslim son or daughter is by far practiced by Pakistani muslims. That shows how much culturally Pakistani muslims assimilates in western society.
    It is fact and you it would be hurting you daily if you ever really lived in USA to know that many Pakistanis do try to associate themselves and their businesses as Indians or Pakistani-Indian.
    The Pakistani Shia community in my town in fact speaks of the mistake of creating Pakistan and they talk about how better their life would have been if there was no partition.
    Lets talk about isolation. Political isolation ????? Please sir, your brain is narrower than a capillary tunnel. Certainly you never heard of Asoka, ChandraGupta Mourya, Nalanda University where Chinese Scholars like Hsuen Tseng came to study in India. Asoka’s empire extended from Afghanistan to Bali. Indian subcontinent always had spice trade in past to arabic and turk nations, thats why the greedy turks came to know of Indian riches and they came to plunder. Today Pakistan is listed amongst North Korea and Somalia when it comes to political isolation and your government has to constantly beg from EU to allow duty free import of textiles from Pakistan. You can’t manage your own port and you hand it over to Chinese to run them.

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  • windcock
    Mar 12, 2013 - 2:01AM

    @John the Baptist
    And you, sir, you take the higher ground with such vitriol and sophistry? Why do it in the name of John – well, for John’s sake! I’m neither Indian nor American (egalitarian or not). I’m just a regular Joe, a Pakistani Christian. Heard of ’em?

    By the way, do you happen to think Prof Murtaza Haider is one of those?

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  • Iron
    Mar 12, 2013 - 2:55AM

    @A. Khan:
    You replied very well and saved some typing for me, many Pakistanis own business and they reduce their income by showing business expenses, so their income on paper is lower the people that works for corporations.

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  • ahmed
    Mar 12, 2013 - 7:23PM

    @Zalmai, @americanDesi
    You are missing my point entirely. My point was research is nothing more then an opinion and not necessarily based on reality. I quoted back to @GP65 an opinion held by majority of the respondents to a question commonly associated with Indians just as implied that most Pakistan live below poverty line in the Canada and UK not based on any solid evidence. I am not saying all Indian are bad or good just an opinion about them people who are not Pakistanis.

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  • ahmed
    Mar 12, 2013 - 7:27PM

    @Zalmai, @americanDesi
    You are missing my point entirely. My point was research is nothing more then an opinion and not necessarily based on reality. I quoted back to @GP65 an opinion held by majority of the respondents to a question commonly associated with Indians just as implied that most Pakistan live below poverty line in the Canada and UK not based on any solid evidence. I am not saying all Indian are bad or good just an opinion about them people who are not Pakistanis. It was a Yahoo survey and I quote the whole I didn’t add a word so you are both confused. It is quote directly from Yahoo responds and I have nothing to do with its content.

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  • Nobody
    Mar 25, 2013 - 3:20PM

    @Jim:
    Pakistanis prefer an Indian identity to a Pakistani one? Source please? Unless you’re simply spewing out what you think to be true. I have not yet met one such Pakistani. My father was born in the years around the great migration and was actually born in India as his passport says, but his identity is Pakistani, as was his passport and ID card before immigrating and acquiring citizenship upon his arrival to the states as a student. Stop quoting wishful thinking as fact.

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  • Jim
    Mar 25, 2013 - 4:56PM

    @Nobody Any number of reports, including this Reuters story. Many reports in the Pakistani media itself. I suppose you will have some explanation for this…. Indian/American/Jewish conspiracy etc. Enjoy. http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/05/07/us-timessquare-backlash-idUSTRE64655Y20100507

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