White Line Fever: The tale of Indian-American truckers

“Truck-driving is in the blood of Sikhs and Punjabis,” Dhillon noted.

As America faces a huge shortage of commercial truck drivers, threatening to adversely impact its economy, immigrants such as Sikh-Americans and others are being seen as a possible answer to solve the problem.

Some experts highlight the important role immigrants can play in reducing the shortage, with a Sikh advocacy group saying that several thousands of independent Sikh truck drivers have joined the profession in the last few years and more are in the offing...

...Answer to Acute Drivers’ Shortage Problem

It is in this context that Sikh-Americans, the mainstay of truck drivers’ labor force in India, who are estimated to have a population of 500,000 in the U.S., assume importance and are being seen by some industry watchers as the answer to the acute drivers’ shortage problem...

...According to American Community Survey Sample (ACS) for 2016, an estimated 15,961 Indian drivers were on American roads followed by 3,375 Pakistanis and 1,147 Bangladeshis.

While there is no separate breakup for Sikh-American drivers in Khan’s study or in American Community Survey, in November this year CBS and other media outlets said quoting Sikhs Political Action Committee, an Indiana-based Sikh advocacy group, that about 30,000 Sikhs have entered the trucking industry in the last two years.

“About 25,000 to 30,000 Sikhs, who are independent drives as opposed employee drivers owning their own trucking fleet all over the U.S., have joined the truck driving work force in 2017 and 2018 ,” Gurinder Singh Khalsa, chairman of the Sikhs PAC told India Abroad. He, however, added that the figures are estimates based on data he has collected from the DoT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, with which trucking companies are registered, and from other sources.

News reports in CBS television and other media in November concluded on the basis of Sikhs PAC’s estimates that more Sikh drivers could be seen in future on U.S. highways alongside native-born truckers. “One group of drivers — Indian-Americans who practice the Sikh faith — may well be a big part of the solution. More than 30,000 Sikhs have entered the trucking industry in the last two years,” a Nov. 23 CBS report said.

The Economist said in a report in May 2018 that “Truck Union” by Surjit Khan, an India-based Punjabi pop singer, is part of a new crop of trucker songs hitting America’s highways as 18,000 Sikhs entered the industry in 2017 alone. Khalsa’s claim about the number of Sikh drivers could not be independently verified.

“I don’t know where that figure of 30,000 comes from. It still seems high to me, given that a 2012 Pew Research report estimated the Sikh population in the U.S. to be around 200,000 or so,” James C. Witte, director, Institute for Immigration Research at George Mason University, told India Abroad...

...Jaswinder Singh, 40, an Arizona-based truck driver-cum fleet-owner, explained why Sikhs often choose truck driving in preference to other jobs. He claimed that Sikhs by nature are independent-minded and do not like to work “under a boss who would be breathing down his neck” all the time.

“When you drive your own truck, you don’t face this problem,” Jaswinder Singh, who initially worked for a billing clerk at a doctor’s office in Phoenix when he first came from India in 1998, said.“I can say from my experience that there are definitely more Sikh truck drivers on the road these days than in the past,” Jaswinder Singh who has been driving long-haul trucks to neighboring states for about a decade, said.

“Truck-driving is in the blood of Sikhs and Punjabis,” Dhillon noted.

But a more important reason why Sikhs like truck-driving could be that they often attract unwanted attention in public places because of their turbans and beards and they can avoid such attention when they are behind the wheel.

“At any other work place, they will often tell you to cut your beard or remove turban and you sometimes have to face insulting remarks from others. We do not face such problems in truck-driving where you can be your own boss and have limited public interaction,” Jaswinder Singh said. He said there are not many Sikhs in Arizona and therefore the total number of Punjabi truckdrivers would be around 600 to 700 that includes Sikhs...

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