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Trump suspending work visas will make the US even less desirable for international students

Students carry boxes to their dorms at Harvard University in Cambridge
Reuters/Brian Snyder
Outta here.
  • Ananya Bhattacharya
By Ananya Bhattacharya

Tech reporter

Published

The Donald Trump administration’s decision to suspend several immigrant work visas this year will only make the US less desirable for international students.

Already, Indian students have been slowly getting over their fascination with the country.

The number of Indians enrolled in graduate-level computer science and engineering courses at American universities declined by more than 25% between 2016-17 and 2018-19, according to an analysis of government data by the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP).

The key factors for this decline are “more restrictive immigration and international student policies under the Trump administration and the difficulty of obtaining green cards in the United States,” the think tank focused on public policy research on trade and immigration said in a report published on June 8.

This decline is a massive hit to the entire international tech student population in the US, as Indians form an outsized proportion of the group.

America’s loss

In a letter (pdf) dated June 2, 21 members of the US Congress highlighted that international students and their families contributed approximately $41 billion to the US economy in 2018-2019 alone, despite making up just 5.5% of overall US college enrollments. This cohort subsidises tuition for many domestic students.

Moreover, “as a source of research assistants, graduate students help professors conduct research and retain top faculty,” the NFAP report said. “Without the ability to perform high-level research, many leading professors would move on to other careers, which would weaken American universities as a global centre for science.”

While the US is losing out on Indian talent, its neighbour is making strides.

Canada’s gain

NFAP’S research shows that the share of Indian students in Canada more than doubled between the academic years 2016-17 and 2018-19.

Unlike America’s hardline approach, Canada’s policies have been incentivising students. In June 2018, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) announced the Student Direct Stream (SDS) for China, India, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Students from these four countries enrolled in any of the 1,400-plus designated learning institutes in Canada can fast-track their applications, as long as they pass English-language tests and prove they are financially stable.

While the US has suspended immigration due to coronavirus outbreak and is reconsidering the post-graduate work programme Optional Practical Training (OPT), Canada isn’t letting Covid-19 get in its way.

As of May 14, international students with valid study permits in Canada from before March 18, 2020, have been exempted from the travel restrictions contingent on passing health checks and following isolation protocols.

Not just students but even Indian working professionals have been flocking to Canada as Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric builds up. Several Indian techies have been swapping Silicon Valley for the more immigrant-friendly neighbour.

“Canada is benefiting from a diversion of young Indian tech workers from US destinations, largely because of the challenges of obtaining and renewing H-1B visas and finding a reliable route to US permanent residence,” said Peter Rekai, founder of the Toronto-based immigration law firm Rekai LLP. The country even offers express entry for skilled immigrants.

Moreover, Canada allows permanent residents to apply for citizenship after six years. Indian permanent residents admitted into the country jumped up over 117% between fiscal years 2016 and 2019, NFAP found.

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