The recent visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Washington has raised a lot of interesting debates about the relationship between India and the US. Compared to two decades ago, the present-day US is very different, characterised by several new features.

The US has significantly more immigrants now. According to Migration Policy Institute, as of 2022, immigrants and their US born children numbered 87.7 million, representing a whopping 27 per cent of the US population — an increase of approximately 14.7 million, or 20 per cent, over that in 2010.

The pandemic has affected the US fundamentally in many ways. Work from home is now a common phenomenon of the US workplace now, leading to businesses shrinking their real estate spaces, especially in down-town and central city areas. Suburbanisation is increasing with central cities facing challenges of crime and unemployment.

In terms of public services, water, which used to be safe to drink directly from the tap, is not so anymore. There are several studies which show that water from faucets contains harmful chemicals which are potentially carcinogenic.

With technology such as chatbots replacing labour in most customer-facing activities, the human touch is missing. Technologies which are supposed to be designed to promote hyper personalisation, often leave customers frustrated and without any recourse.

The frequency of random mass shootings has increased, exacerbated by unemployment, racial tensions and the continuation of pandemic depression. While in India such crimes are usually targeted:in the US, such shootings and crimes are often random. This implies mental health issues deserve as much attention as social problems.

The immediate aftermath of the pandemic saw lawsuits being slapped by students and their parents against elite universities delivering video recorded lectures and online classes. Education in the post-pandemic world has become hybrid, with faculty as well as students demanding high flexibility. Most universities are complementing their in-campus programmes with online ones. Many universities have created separate colleges for offering online programmes, especially for working professionals.

How do these characteristics of present-day US affect its economic equations with India?

Vital immigrants

This rise in immigrants works to the US’ advantage, as they are now available for several low-skilled jobs, and many high-skilled jobs too. A US government document ( points out how immigrants are vital for the US economy, constituting approximately 1-in-7 residents, 1-in-6 workers and creating about 1-in-4 of new businesses. A higher share (69 per cent) of all immigrants, and undocumented immigrants (74 per cent), are in “essential” jobs, compared to native-born workers (65 per cent).

The post-pandemic period is characterised by everything going offline, but as regards the Indian corporate world, work is in ‘hybrid’ mode, hence office spaces are not completely unused in cities, but are used as co-working spaces, even though significant suburbanisation has occurred in India. Besides, the Asian culture of workaholism is now once again leading to India becoming one of the fastest growing countries of the world economically. Therefore, the inner city crime issue is not dominant.

While drinking water is a new problem for the US, India has been grappling with it for long. As for consumer protection, India has made much progress. Apart from consumer courts where the aggrieved can complain if they believe they have got a raw deal, there are customer-oriented outfits which work towards protecting consumer interests. Hence, the combination of technology-driven customer ties and labour shortage has not assumed levels in the US.

As for tackling mental health issues, India has rolled out several initiatives. Also, new centres are being set up in educational institutions which focus on the brain and mind. The advanced country that the US is, no doubt there is expert psychiatric help available. However, the mass shootings clearly point to something lacking with respect to the treatment of mental health or societal problems, especially in the post-pandemic period.

Advantage India

India is also moving forward with the education regulators taking proactive steps in introducing online modules to supplement in-campus programmes.

In fact, the enrolment in edtech platforms such as Coursera increased by around 34 per cent in the post pandemic period. There is a huge opportunity for India and the US to synergistically use their respective advantages, especially to improve the quality education within the reach of everyone.

Although the US continues to be the most preferred destination for immigrants, which is advantageous to the US, but if issues such as crime, unemployment and racial tensions were to dominate the US economic landscape, India could emerge as a significant global player.

As we see it now, the US is set to regress, to some extent, to where India was many years ago in terms of economic growth, customer service and public services.

The writers are Professors at ISEC and IIIT-B, respectively