Backlash in India over Joe Biden's 'xenophobia' remarks

More than 24,000 foreigners are residing in India on employment visas, according to the government

President Joe Biden called Japan and India 'xenophobic' countries that do not welcome immigrants. AP
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US President Joe Biden’s remarks calling India, along with Japan and China, “xenophobic” nations who do not want “immigrants” and hurt their economies, has caused some backlash, with experts saying that the American leader's comments are misplaced.

"Think about it. Why is China stalling so badly economically? Why is Japan having trouble? Why is Russia? Why is India?," Mr Biden said while addressing a predominantly Asian-American audience at an election fund-raising campaign on Thursday.

"Because they're xenophobic. They don't want immigrants."

Experts, however, say Mr Biden is deliberately confounding different types of immigration in different contexts.

While the debate over immigration in the US is focused on the Mexican border, in India the hostility is primarily religion-based and focused on "illegal immigration" from Muslims in Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Even within the US, there is a difference between legal, high-skilled immigration and illegal immigration over the Mexican border, said Madhavan Narayanan, an economist and journalist.

“Biden is playing to the gallery in the US, but he's deliberately confounding issues to help the Democratic Party…You cannot club immigrants who are sneaking in from the Mexican border with the high-skilled PhDs and MBAs and computer experts who land up at the San Francisco International Airport,” he told The National.

“Xenophobia in India has a different meaning altogether. It is not about race, it is about origin or religion and strangely linked to immigrants or illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and increasingly, after the Myanmar troubles, the Rohingya [Muslims] from Myanmar. It's more like a combination of bigotry and the demographic threat to India.”

India has historically witnessed waves of emigration. More than 24,000 foreigners are residing in India on employment visas, according to government numbers released this year.

For decades, India has been a large exporters of talent. Indians have the highest diaspora population in the world, with 18 million people, according to a UN report in 2022.

Nearly half a million left the country for employment and more than 260,000 people for studies between 2016 to 2021, according to the foreign ministry.

Just over 4,800 foreigners have taken up the Indian citizenship nationality between 2017 and 2022, according to the government.

The most populous nation in the world has kept its borders open for people from neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh and Nepal who come to India for better work opportunities.

Over the years, around 25,000 of African immigrants, who come to India to study and work, have made it their home, according to the Ministry of Commerce.

High-skilled professionals from the US and Europe also moved to India to work in the IT sectors, but only a handful of them permanently settle in the country as New Delhi doesn’t allow dual citizenship, and the country is struggling to improve the quality of life.

“It's incorrect to say that people don't come to India for work. India has been attractive either for the high-end expats or for the extremely low-wage kind of immigrants from Bangladesh and poor countries,” Mr Narayanan said.

Sixty five per cent of India's population is under the age of 35, which makes it the world’s largest population of young people.

Along with its labour force, India is also paving opportunities for high-skilled workers as it has become the world's fifth-largest economy, surpassing the UK in 2023.

“India has only now emerged as the major world economy over the past couple of decades. It has been a labour service economy. It's only now that it's becoming a land of opportunities. India can keep its options open on attracting talent from the Philippines, Sri Lanka or Pakistan.”

Updated: May 03, 2024, 3:51 PM