Has Mr. Trump managed to scare off the Indian students aspiring to study in the US? There are no easy answers to this question. According to the data in Open Source Report by International Educational Exchange, the number of Indian students studying in the US touched an all- time high of 165,918 in 2015 – 16. This number is especially significant as it shows a jump of almost 25% from the previous year.
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However, a new survey of around 250 schools by six higher education groups in the US reveals that four in ten US colleges experienced a decline in applicants for the Fall 2017 term. Meanwhile, the undergraduate applications from India saw a decline at about one-fourth of the U.S universities. These figures seem to indicate that the anti-migrant rhetoric from the Trump administration is denting the image of the US as a welcoming place for Indian students.
There are enough reasons on the ground to strengthen the argument that the number of Indian students heading to US universities might fall steeply in the future. For a majority of the students, the rationale to study in the US is to find a job and settle down in that country. So any talk of strict H-1B visa restrictions that the US government is indulging in right now might dampen the enthusiasm of these students.
Further, the increasing trend of hate crimes as seen in the recent killing of an Indian engineer from Kansas will make parents think twice before sending their kids to the US. ‘Southern Poverty Law Center’, a non-profit organization in the U.S, which keeps a track of the activities of domestic hate groups, reports that there were 900 cases of hate crimes, a majority of them in universities, ever since the election of Donald Trump.
Image source: Southern Poverty Law Center
Yet, these reasons are not sufficient to write off the US as the preferred destination for immigrant Indian students. Firstly, as the Indian growth story continues and the disposable income of the parents grows in the near future, the number of students going abroad will only continue to grow. Though the other countries such as Australia and Canada are picking up in numbers, it will be a long time before they can replace the US as the top choice.
Secondly, the US consistently has a strong presence in the global rankings tables – and this remains the case in the QS World University Rankings® 2016-2017. About one-third of these top 100 are from the United States. Another 30 from the U.S are in the global top 300. So, the degrees from these universities have a high reputation worldwide, which is a primary consideration for students. Also, the large Indian immigrant population in the US implies that most families in India have at least one relative in the US, distant or otherwise. Hence, there is a sense of security and comfort when picking the US over any other country. This thinking is particularly prevalent among the south Indian families who consider it prestigious to send their children to the US.
Image source: Brookings Institution
Finally, the contribution made by the Indian students is not entirely lost on the US administration and, of course, the universities. Open Resource Data reveals that India sent the most number of students to the US next only to China and that the majority of these students pick STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Fields, contributing significantly to US innovation economy. More than a quarter of the Indian workforce is employed in the tech industry and about 10 to 20 percent of US tech start-ups have Indian founders.
Image source: World Education Services
Additionally, Indian students spend about 6 -7 billion dollars annually on foreign varsities. There are already saner voices with the US establishment which acknowledge the contribution the Indian students and Indian immigrants have been making to their economy. Also, International students pay full tuition fee thereby helping to subsidize the cost of tuition for American Students.
Since November last year, many universities have come out with public statements reassuring the international student community, with some of them running the #YouAreWelcomeHere campaign.
So, the Trump stand on immigration can at best only have a transient impact on Indian students and the top spot in the US as the country of preference will be difficult to be replaced anytime in the near future.