The UK and US have for long been preferred destinations for Indian students, due to employment opportunities, and the deep economic and political links India shares with both these countries. In recent decades, other countries like Australia, Canada and New Zealand have also emerged as popular choices for Indian students. In the case of the US, total number of Indian students as of 2018 was 1,86,000. Indian students contributed well over 6 Billion USD to the US Economy. For some time, there was a decline in number of Indian students going for disciplines like Engineering, given the Trump Administration’s revisions made to the H1-B Visa regime. As a result number of Indian students going to the US dropped by 21%, and was estimated at 18,590 in 2017.
Apart from this, there are new restrictions to the Optional Practical Training OPT. Says the United States Customs and Immigration Services UCSIS website:
‘The training experience must take place onsite at the employer’s place of business or worksites to which US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has authority to conduct site visits to ensure the OPT requirements are being met….The training experience may not take place at the place of business or worksite of the employer’s clients or customers because ICE would lack authority to visit such sites.”
This revision has also made US education less attractive for Indian students, who looked at training as a possible opportunity.
UK’s recent reforms
Only recently, UK has introduced reforms to its immigration regime. In its new immigration policy tabled before British Parliament, India was not included in the list of ‘low risk countries’ , by the British Home Office, for Tier 4 student visas (university applications for students applying for low risk countries will become simple. Significantly, countries, including Bahrain, Indonesia, and the Maldives have been included in the list.
It would be pertinent to point out, that the spokesman for the Home Office did acknowledge the relevance of Indian students:
“We welcome Indian students who want to come to the U.K. to study at our world-leading educational institutions. We issue more visas to students from India than any other country except China and the U.S.,”
Reactions to this decision
Lord Karan Bilimoria, an entrepreneur of Indian origin, and President of the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) has dubbed this as an insult to India, while also citing this as an instance of UK’s ignorant attitude towards immigration.
It is likely, that UK Home office’s decision may have an impact on the FTA (Free Trade Agreement) to be signed between India and UK, the former is likely to harden its stance.
While the recent decision is not likely to go down well with prospective Indian students. There has been a dip in Indian students attending British Universities. In 2010, Indian students in UK were estimated at 60,000. While in 2016, that number had dropped significantly to 15,000. In 2017-2018, there was a 27% increase in student visas (the first time since 2010), but this did not cover the decline over a number of recent years.
Problems being faced by Indian students have been raised on a number of occasions. Indian High Commissioner to UK, YK Sinha, had flagged the issue of problems faced by Indian students in UK, with Britain’s Minister of State for Universities Sam Gyimah in June 2018.
The recent Immigration policy did have some good news in the context of tier-2 visas (for professionals). Techies, teacher, doctors and engineers, have been removed from the total cap of 20,700 Visas. This creates new opportunities for professionals.
Countries which have benefitted
The biggest beneficiaries of the restrictive policies of US and UK have been countries like Australia, Canada and New Zealand. In Australia, there were over 68,000 Indian students as of November 2017 (a rise of 14% from the period from January-November 2016), there has been a surge in the number of Indian students attending Canadian universities ( in 2015, this number was estimated at 31,795 while at the end of 2016, this was estimated at 52, 890).
While Australia abolished 457 (the equivalent of an H1 B), which impacted Indian professionals. Canada has been generous in providing work visas as well as permanent residency. The latter has been successful in weaning away software professionals from the US through Canadian PM Justin Trudeau’s, Global Skills Strategy.
Need to safeguard Indian students interests.
Countries like US and US need to decide for themselves, whether or not they want to make use of talent. Indian government, itself needs to be more firm in safeguarding the interests of its students overseas. Indian students, who perform exceedingly well academically, as well in the professional sphere, are an important component of India’s ‘Soft Power’.
Indian students, on their part, should also explore new destinations, which are trying to open up student visas and employment opportunities and should not go by education consultants. As India begins to strengthen ties with countries in East Asia and South East Asia, Indian students should explore possible opportunities in countries like Taiwan. It is setting up more education centres in India, establishing exchange programs with Indian Universities. The country’s Ministry of Education is also planning a revision to the law according to which talented overseas students may be permitted to work in Taiwan.
Countries which have been preferred choices for higher studies should realise that Indian students have numerous options, and they can not be taken for granted. Not just simpler application procedures and student visas, it is important that there are substantial incentives such as relaxation of work visas. New Delhi on its part needs to be firmer in flagging problems being faced by Indian students, and while strengthening ties with countries there should be a focus on strengthening educational linkages.