More Undocumented Indian Migrants Enter US through Canada

15 April 2024

The number of Indian migrants entering the U.S. without legal permission has grown in recent years.

In the past, Indian migrants interested in the U.S. crossed using the border with Mexico. But as the U.S. government has paid more attention to the southern border, migrants are trying to enter from the north.

New information shows more Indians than ever trying to cross using the border with Canada.

FILE - The marker of the US/Canada border at Roxham Road Feb. 26, 2017, in Champlain, NY. (Photo by Don EMMERT / AFP)
FILE - The marker of the US/Canada border at Roxham Road Feb. 26, 2017, in Champlain, NY. (Photo by Don EMMERT / AFP)

Just five years ago, in 2019, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP) said it "encountered" 16,000 Indian migrants at all borders. An encounter is defined as an apprehension or expulsion.

But in 2023, CBP found 97,000 Indian migrants and 30,000 were at the northern border. The numbers do not include the period between last October and February when 14,000 Indians were encountered along Canada's border with the U.S.

The increase is being described as a "migration rush." The CBP said there were 190,000 encounters of all nationalities at the Canadian border last year. That number is six times bigger than in 2021.

A spokesperson for the Indian Embassy told VOA that Indian officials are working with the U.S. government to "facilitate legal mobility and to (slow down) illegal immigration and human trafficking."

Chirag Patel is an immigration lawyer in Maryland who deals with Indian asylum cases. Patel and other experts say the flow of asylum seekers will continue up to the U.S. presidential election in November. Patel noted, "People are trying to get a lot of things in before November, but also obviously before January...."

The increase in the number of Indian migrants is only one example of how unauthorized migration into the United States is changing.

"They're coming from all over the globe," said Muzaffar Chisti, a researcher at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.

Pew Research Center estimates from 2021 identify Indians as the third-largest group of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. That is the most of any country outside of the Western Hemisphere.

Devesh Kapur is a professor of Asian Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. He said most of the migrants come to the U.S. for better jobs.

"Very few of these are professionals," he said, noting that they are mostly uneducated young people. Although they are not well educated, Kapur added, some come from families with money. After all, he noted, very poor people cannot pay to get on an airplane headed to Canada.

But if they want to get into the U.S., they often have no choice but to enter illegally. Student visas are hard to get, and immigrant visas can often take 20 years to process.

Some people attempt to enter the U.S. through Central America, what is called the "donkey route." But others find it safer to try to enter through Canada.

The Canadian government is aiming to restrict the number of student visas it offers to Indians. But Canada is still seen as an easy place to enter North America.

Shinder Purewal teaches at the Kwantlen Polytechnic University in British Columbia. He said: "It's easier to get a visa to Canada than to Pakistan." Purewal said: "More and more people are entering Canada, so they can just go straight to the U.S."

Canada's immigration agency said, in a statement, that it is observing the effects of its visa policy on countries that require visas and those that do not.

The migrants also look to established Indian communities in the U.S. for help. U.S. investigators recently uncovered a smuggling network that brought migrants from Gujarat state in India to work for Gujarati businesses in Chicago.

Pawan Dhingra teaches at Amherst College in Massachusetts. Dhingra said, "People who come...have a connection to the country. If it was just escaping India, they could go anywhere in the world."

There is still a safety risk for any border crossing, however. In January 2022, an Indian family of four froze to death near the border in the Canadian province of Manitoba. About one year ago, the bodies of eight migrants, including four Indians, were recovered from the St. Lawrence River.

Maureen Silcoff is an immigration lawyer who works with refugees in Canada. She said the risks migrants take show how difficult their lives are in India. People do not come for "a thrilling adventure," she said, adding: "...They try to alleviate...hardships by relocating to another country."

I'm Dan Friedell.

Masood Farivar wrote this story for VOA. Aline Barros contributed. Dan Friedell adapted it for Learning English.


Words in This Story

encounter –v. (legal) to officially detain and/or expel a non-U.S. person who is not legally in the U.S.

apprehension –n. (legal) the act of officially stopping a person suspected of a crime

facilitate –v. to make something easier

human trafficking –n. the criminal activity of moving people across borders of jurisdictions for money or illegal purposes

unauthorized –adj. something that is not lawful or accepted officially

thrilling –adj. very exciting and interesting

alleviate –v. to make easier or less heavy

relocate –v. to go from one place to another usually for a long period of time