US education mission taps high demand from Indian students

A United States Department of Commerce education trade mission has arrived in India to further enhance academic relations between the two countries against the backdrop of a huge backlog in visa processing and worrying delays for Indian students and researchers wanting to take up places at universities in the US.

Last month, when worries over visa delays gripped large numbers of Indian students, the US Consulate in Mumbai issued assurances that the vast majority of student visa applicants this summer would be able to be interviewed on time for their programme start dates.

The consulate said it was working to reduce visa wait times and backlogs for millions of individuals, including students.

The US diplomatic mission in New Delhi and consulates in Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Hyderabad issued visas to over 82,000 Indian students in May and June this year. Indian students received more US student visas than any other country, including China.

Fertile ground

Given the interest of Indian students and researchers in US institutions, the ground for higher education tie-ups between the two countries appears fertile.

Brenda Soya, public affairs officer at the US Consulate in Mumbai, told University World News the education trade mission “aims to promote opportunities between higher education institutions in India and the US, while also assisting Indian students in exploring educational options in the States”.

“The US recognises the value and diversity that Indian students bring to US universities and the US mission in India prioritised the processing of student visa applications from May to August to ensure that as many qualified students as possible made it to their programmes of study,” she said.

However, Vivek Jain, chief business officer of education portal and jobseeker site Naukri FastForward, conceded that visa backlogs were a serious challenge for students aspiring to study abroad.

Student travel plans are linked to schedules set by universities for classes and students have little flexibility around travel.

“Therefore, flexibility on travel schedules or clearing the visa as per the study schedule on an urgent basis is the need of the hour,” Jain told University World News.

“We have seen a surge of students shifting their country preferences depending on post-study visa rules,” he added. These include countries like Canada and the United Kingdom which are offering post-study work visas.

“Unsurprisingly, the US is the most sought-after destination for Indian students. Thus, further relaxations in US visa availability can potentially increase the number of students vying for admission to US universities,” Jain said.

Visa applications to other countries

The huge increase in Indian students heading abroad has caused visa delays not just by the US but other countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Germany as well.

The latest UK immigration statistics released on 25 August showed an 89% increase in student visas compared to the previous year, with nearly 118,999 Indian students receiving a student visa for the UK in the year ending June 2022, overtaking China. In 2019 only 37,396 student visas to the UK were issued to Indian students.

Earlier this month Australia increased post-study work rights for select degrees in areas where there is a skills shortage – increasing the right to stay from three to five years for some masters degrees and to six years for some PhDs. This is expected to have an effect on the number of Indian students applying to Australian universities.

Indian applications to Canada have also surged, leading to delays. Indian students make up the largest group of international students in Canada, but visa refusal rates have increased to 41% compared to just 15% before the pandemic. Some 75,000 study permit applications by Indian citizens were still being processed by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada in mid-August.

Canadian universities have reportedly put in place contingency plans “to support those incoming students who do not receive their study permit in time” for the start of the semester this month, according to the High Commission of India in Ottawa, after receiving several petitions from Indian students who have admission offers from Canadian universities but who are unable to enrol due to delays in processing visas.

US trade delegation

Student exchanges between the US and India are expected to rise.

The US trade delegation in India this month comprised representatives of 21 higher education institutions from 15 states in the US, travelling to three major Indian cities – New Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru (Bangalore) – to explore partnerships with the Indian education sector against the backdrop of India’s National Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020) which emphasises the internationalisation of Indian universities.

Jain said the NEP 2020 lays out a comprehensive strategy to modernise and expand the country’s higher education system by increasing opportunities for research, hands-on learning and international exchange.

“We expect a large number of Indian institutions to establish relationships with international universities in this context. We expect the [US] trade mission to explore collaborations between US institutions and Indian universities,” he said.

Soya said: “We are looking to foster greater collaboration between US and Indian HEIs [higher education institutions] through new university twinning and dual degree programmes, collaborative research, faculty and student exchanges, and the development of joint programming.”

A study fair in Mumbai included an interactive session for Indian students with Consul General Mike Hankey.

Ryan Pereira, the regional officer for the United States-India Educational Foundation, interacted with students on visa procedures and tried to resolve concerns regarding visa delays, admission tests, application procedures, scholarships, career advancement opportunities, profile-building, funding and other issues.

Year-on-year increases in students

Many US institutions hoping to draw Indian students said they were expecting a year-on-year increase in the number of students from India.

Officials said Indian students account for nearly 20% of all foreign students pursuing studies at various levels in the US.

Just released figures from the US Council of Graduate Schools showed that numbers of Indian graduate students enrolling in US universities for the first time increased by a massive 430% in autumn 2021 compared to the previous year, in part thought to be due to deferrals from previous pandemic years.

According to Soya, there were over 200,000 Indian students studying in American universities in 2019-20.

Interest in US education remains high.

“We hope that the collaborations we foster on this mission can help India achieve its goal to make education universal and to help develop a skilled workforce from all parts of India,” she said.

University World News Asia Editor Yojana Sharma contributed to this article.