Changing Silicon Valley Demographics

Those of you following the reader comments to some of my posts may have noticed some that mention that whenever they go in for a job interview, the staff is all or mostly Indians, giving those readers the impression that only Indians need apply.  Some of you might worry that such readers have something against the Indians, but I find that this is not generally the case; they just want a job, that’s all, and are understandably upset if they believe their own ethnicity is a barrier.  My post here will discuss the changing demographics in Silicon Valley, and various implications.

I’ve written before that, once “ethnic enclaves” form within a company–or in some cases, the entire company becomes such–it can be very frustrating for job applicants who are outside that ethnicity. The perception, often correct, is that outsiders have little or no chance to get the job.

The “outsiders” need not be Caucasian. Some years ago the San Jose Mercury News ran an article on the dominance of the Indian workers, and quoted some Chinese engineers as having heard a rumor that the U.S. government is actually giving preference to the Indians for visas. Not true, of course, but it does show how the outsiders feel.

In China, academics and the press have noticed too, and have tried to analyze why the Indians seem to be outsucceeding the Chinese.

It certainly has been interesting to watch this demographic change. In the 1980s, the dominant ethnicity among immigrant engineers in the Silicon Valley was Chinese, mostly people from Taiwan. Cities such as Fremont became heavily ethnic Chinese. But after the H-1B visa was implemented in 1991 (before that, there was a visa named H-1), things changed rapidly, with the Indians supplanting the Chinese.

There are still many Chinese in Fremont, for example, but the city government announced about a year ago that the Indian population had surged ahead of the Chinese, at least among schoolkids. The immigrant population of the city is still decidedly mixed — one of my favorite Chinese restaurants, at Paseo Padre and Fremont Blvd., keeps Halal in its cooking, and has many Middle Eastern customers in addition to Chinese — but it’s clear that the Indians are on the upswing.

Here is some data on employer-sponsored green card applications (nationwide), showing the percentage of workers from China and India:

year Chinese % Indian %
2005 10.8% 31.2%
2006 9.6% 35.`%
2007 9.2% 36.7%
2008 8.0% 41.5%
2009 7.7% 43.6%

I ought to update this, and do some Bay Area-specific analyses, but in any case, the trend is dramatic.  Note, by the way, that these are green card applications (from the PERM data), so they basically exclude the Indian bodyshops.  These workers are being hired by mainstream employers.

So, in the minds of many tech workers, H-1B has become synonymous with Indian.  Hopefully this puts some of the reader comments in perspective.

Correction:  In my earlier post today, I stated that my MS program link was to SJSU; it was actually to SFSU.

17 thoughts on “Changing Silicon Valley Demographics

  1. >In China, academics and the press have noticed too, and have tried to analyze why the Indians
    >seem to be outsucceeding the Chinese.

    Gresham’s Law.

    I’ll bet if you look closely, the average Chinese wage is higher than the average Indian wage.


      • No, I don’t think he means that. Indians on H1-B in the US seem to make around 1/3 of what a US worker makes, while Chinese (PRC) guys make around half. (Europeans and Canadians make the same as us.)

        This may be an artifact of the fact that the Indian body shops who are the “worst of the worst” are hiring almost exclusively Indian nationals, or it may simply reflect the fact that Chinese nationals have better employment options back home.


  2. Amen.

    We have a saying in America.

    Like begets Like

    It is wrong, but that is the way things seem to work.

    Case in point, I am a Navy Veteran.

    A large company in San Antonio TX named USAA tells the world that it hires Vets because it is a veteran organization.

    I can’t buy an interview there even though my expertise (reverse engineering systems and data) is mentioned many times on their list of jobs.

    All I have to do is drive down the road on the west side of USAA and it becomes obvious to me why I can’t buy an interview as I watch what appears to be thousands of Indians walking to and from work.

    I don’t want to be a racist.
    I simply want to get back to work in an industry that requires decades of knowledge, wisdom, and experience to rise to the top in.

    An industry that no longer does its part to Keep America At Work by hiring Americans in America.


      • Written everybody from CEO down

        Nobody wants to hear it

        Been talking to texas workforce commission

        They have been in there and seen it but nothing they can do

        Realization has to start at the ivory tower level and work its way down

        From their perspective they probably see nothing wrong


        • This is politics and inertia. Where are the government watchdog groups that protect civil rights and worker’s rights?

          My gut tells me that part of the subtext is that if you may be a white male, you are not seen as a “victim”, you don’t have clout, so you are ignored. If you had a black or female colleague who was similarly ignored, you could approach this as a cohort and might get traction.

          My understanding from a lawyer is that one approach that can be taken to prove discrimination is to have an applicant with identical credentials apply for the job, and see how different racial groups (I might be using the wrong term) are treated in a different manner. But I think there are several issues which complicate this potential investigation.

          1. Apparent widespread inertia or ignorance.
          2. Technical aptitude: it’s likely far easier to have a “decoy” applicant apply to be a customer service manager or such than a C++ programmer or Oracle DBM.
          3. Language. If there are discriminatory comments made, these are smart people, my bet is that they’d be made offsite and in Tamil, Mandarin, Cantonese, etc.

          For years I bought the lie that we didn’t have enough tech workers, until I started meeting experienced software developers that couldn’t even land an interview. In many other occupations their experience would be valued, but they seemed to be passed over.

          Almost the same exact situation is happening in the blue collar trades, where Americans are being frozen out of whole industries that were traditional middle class jobs.


  3. My unscientific guess would be that part of the reason is language and cultural issues. My former Indian co-workers spoke English as well as or better than myself, but the same was not true of those from Asia.

    I’m no scientist, but if I walk into a development department and the staff of 80 is 100-percent immigrant Chinese H1B Visa, I know that that situation is mathematically impossible to occur just by accident.Especially when the owners are immigrant Chinese. Not a single black or Latino worker on site.

    When I mentioned this situation to an experienced lawyer, she said you “have to have standing” to file a lawsuit. I then mentioned the additional barrier that when these exclusively non-American “work enclaves” are created, there is a language barrier for American workers. i.e., if 90% of the directions are relayed to developers in Mandarin, that is a barrier to entry for most Americans. But she said this is legal.

    FWIW, there is also a growing Indian community in San Ramon, CA, which doesn’t seem to show up in the local demographic statistics. I’m guessing some commute to Fremont, and others may work at the local large Chevron headquarters.

    What seems to be happening here is a new segregation in the American workforce in several areas. Where this happens due to individual choice is normal. My recent medical doctors have been Vietnamese-, Korean-, and Indian-American. These individuals mastered difficult subject matters in school.

    But when our immigration policies and border (or lack thereof), and H1B Visa policies – exclude large groups of Americans from tens of millions of honest jobs – I think we have a major problem. Hence the problems such as black youth having upwards of a 50% unemployment rate in some urban cities. The entry-level jobs are often going to illegal immigrants.


    • Yes, the Indian and Chinese population of San Ramon has been skyrocketing in recent years, especially in the Dougherty Valley. They’re attracted by the “good schools” (another topic on which I’m a naysayer), the relatively new houses, clean neighborhoods, pretty surroundings and so on. And it’s centrally located — the engineers can work at Chevron as you mentioned, or AT&T, equally near, or make the short drive down to Dublin to work at Oracle, etc. Physicians can work at Kaiser in Walnut Creek (two branches) and so on.

      The standard reason given as to why the Indians are doing better than the Chinese is language. Plausible, and partly true, but mostly wrong. If it were true, how come the U.S.-born Chinese-Americans are not doing as well as their Indian-American counterparts? Instead, the difference is due largely to outgoing, confident personalities of the Indians, compared to the reticent, more passive Chinese.


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