Fewer Indian students heading to US

A vigil at Bellevue in Washington state last month for Indian engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who was killed in an alleged hate crime on Feb 22.
A vigil at Bellevue in Washington state last month for Indian engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who was killed in an alleged hate crime on Feb 22.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Many daunted by country's growing protectionism, rise in hate crimes

Most Indians keen to study abroad make a beeline for the United States, and record numbers of Indians have been enrolled in American institutions in recent years.

But now, some are thinking twice - applications to the US from Indian students have fallen by as much as a quarter, a recent survey of 250 colleges has found.

Open Doors 2016, a government-funded study by the non-profit Institute of International Education, found that undergraduate applications from India had declined by 26 per cent while graduate applications were down by 15 per cent.

This marks a reversal as Indians were among the fastest-growing foreign student groups in the US. They set a record last year, with over 200,000 Indians attending an American college or university.

The sharp drop in applications comes amid growing protectionism in the US and more cases of Indians being targeted in suspected hate crimes there.

ANTI-FOREIGNER SENTIMENT

I think people who had never reacted against foreigners now have the confidence because they have the support of their President.

INDIAN STUDENT TOSHI, on why she decided to pursue her degree in Australia even though the US was her preferred choice.

President Donald Trump got elected on the back of promises to stop foreigners from taking American jobs. His administration has since moved to tighten visa rules.

Last week, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services agency issued a memo to say that computer programmers may not qualify for the H1-B visa, commonly used by Indian information technology firms to place Indian software engineers in the US.

The Department of Homeland Security announced that more would be done to prevent fraud and abuse over H-1B visas. There is talk that the federal Optional Practical Training (OPT) programme, which allows foreign students to stay temporarily in the US after graduation to pursue work, could be scrapped.

Such developments have prompted Indian students such as 23-year-old Toshi, who goes by one name, to look elsewhere. She has opted to go to the University of New South Wales in Australia for a master's in graphic design.

She had been "inclined towards the US" - she applied to six US universities and only one in Australia. She said one reason for her change of heart was the H1-B issue; another was the way immigrants and foreign students were treated.

"I think people who had never reacted against foreigners now have the confidence because they have the support of their President," she said, adding that she did "feel disappointed because I had planned to study in the US".

Safety, too, has emerged as a worry for students and parents, following some suspected hate crimes, including the Feb 22 killing of Indian engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla. The man who shot him told him to "get out of my country".

America's growing protectionism, said education consultants, was turning off Indian students.

"One common requirement for all segments is safety and a welcoming atmosphere in the host country," said Mrs Natasha Chopra, who is managing director of The Chopras education consultancy.

"There is no doubt that, with the mixed signals from the Trump administration, including possible revocation of the OPT, as well as media reports on hostility, there are students who are exploring other destination options."

Apart from European countries, there has been "a significant rise" in interest in Canada, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand, she said, as they offer options for students who wish to remain in the country to work after graduation.

Even so, the US remains the only option for some.

Mr Kshitij Aggarwal, a senior at the Indian Institute of Technology Ropar in Punjab state, is bent on going there for his engineering doctorate. He said key considerations for him in choosing a university would be its research output and resources, rather than the country where it is located.

"I have found that universities in the US are better than many in Europe and Australia in terms of these factors," he said, "and that's where I am going this autumn."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 14, 2017, with the headline 'Fewer Indian students heading to US'. Print Edition | Subscribe