The great exodus, from Andhra to America

The great exodus, from Andhra to America

Telugites are mainly obsessed with three things: films, technical education, and the United States of America. Actually, the last two obsessions complement each other. Though our obsession with 'foreign settled and foreign returned' is quite evident, the love Telugu speakers have for the US is incomparable. Earlier, it was the Gujarati and Punjabi diaspora who were dominant in the US, but Telugus have caught up, especially in the last decade, thanks to IT revolution and engineering education.

I understand migration of Indians to the West, especially to the US, as a post-colonial phenomenon. Telugus began migrating in early 50s but it truly gathered pace in the 70s and 80s, as the demand for doctors increased in the US. Till that surge, I think the migration of Telugites was more or less on par with others in India. In the 90s, Indians began looking towards the US once more mainly due to the IT boom in India, and Telugus constituted a major chunk of that movement of IT professionals into Silicon Valley. Dollar dreams got a boost.

The seed for the "US dream" are sown in children's minds at a very young age. IIT coaching starts at 6th standard in many schools. This is basically 'training the kids' to crack all possible
entrance exams and get into prestigious technical colleges, so that it will be easier for them to gain entry into US for higher education or as a professional. It comes as no surprise that undivided AP had the highest number of engineering colleges in the country. Hyderabad sends highest number of students to the US from India. A report by Brookings says that between 2008 and 2012 (the latest statistics available on this), Hyderabad topped in F1 visas, with a total of 26,220 students going abroad for higher studies. The next in the list was Mumbai with 17,294 student visas. The difference between the first and second position says it all.

Interestingly, Hyderabad also holds the top position when it comes to fraudulent visa applications. Wikileaks mentions Andhra Pradesh, especially Hyderabad, as an epicenter for visa document fraud. Hyderabad students have always been the victims of many scams related to illegal universities and institutions in the US. But their 'America dream' remains strong as ever in spite of numerous setbacks.

So why this craze? We just can't dismiss it as a desire for a better life or desire to make some money. I have tried analysing this trend by talking to many Telugu friends and I could identify the visible social significance of it in undivided Andhra Pradesh.

Andhra's social structure is famous for its clan rivalries, and any clan would like to secure its respect and prestige in society. So having a 'foreign returned or foreign settled' person in their family would mean extra respect with extra money. And America was perfectly suited for gaining prestige. This triggered the 'American dream' in Telugu society, where families prided over the number of US visa or green card holders in their household.

Another important reason is the dowry system, which is rampant among Telugus. Many consider it as an integral custom of their community, and giving and taking hefty sums is a matter of prestigious for many. Families don't seem to have any hesitation in talking openly about dowry, with every financial calculation being done keeping that point in mind. The prospect of getting a huge dowry increases with each American visit, and drastically goes up if the person is settled in the US. So Telugites in IT profession select companies based on whether they would be able to relocate or the number of on-site visits they would be able to pocket.

These days, upper middle-class and middle-class families among Telugus invariably have one or many family members settled in the US. And lower middle-class families nurture this American dream with expensive IIT coaching for their kids. US settled Telugu professionals work hard, earn more dollars and send money back to India for investment, especially in real estate or farmland. The respect and status their families enjoy increases with each investment. More than 50 pc of the villas in the gated community I live here are owned by NRIs and this is the case with many real estate investments in Hyderabad. And the trend doesn't seem to ebb in near future.

Tags:    Visa Comment