Once a symbol of a potentially promising career, the F-1 visa no longer has the same lure for Indian students in the age of Trump.
Earlier this summer, when 21-year-old Sumit Taneja learned that he has secured an admission in an Ivy League university in the United States, he was ecstatic. A few days ago, as he was about to leave for the US to begin his academic journey in this country, relatives began popping in to bid him goodbye, as was customary in his small hometown of Haryana, India.
Interestingly, he noticed that instead of the usual congratulatory tone, most relatives showed concern and told him, “dhyan rakhna,” (“take care of yourself”). Among the farewells, however it was a remark by one of his aunts that stung him deepest. She said: “Koi aur country mein admission nahin hua? Suna hai Trump sabko bhaga raha hai,” (“Were you not able to secure admission in any other country. We have been hearing that Trump is driving everyone away.)
Though it was a savage remark, Taneja admits that it much sums up the changing reputation a an F-1 or student visa now enjoys back home in India. “I don’t blame my relatives,” he says. “They do not know much beyond regular news such as Trump tightening the immigration policies or the gory news of an Indian student working part-time in a convenience store being shot by a gunman. These may be myopic perceptions, but the truth is that embarking on a US journey for study or a job no longer elicits the same prestige in India, like it once used to.”
Taneja’s experience is far from an isolated one. What he says reflected in recent drop in numbers of F-1 enrollment. According to a report by the Institute of International Education (IIE), headquartered in New York, the new foreign student enrollment in the US dropped by 6.6 percent in the academic year 2017-18. Among the major reasons responsible for this slow down, as cited in the report were, visa delays and denials, as well as the social and political condition in the US.
The ripple effect of a somewhat waning interest in US universities and F-1 visa is clearly felt in the neighborhood. According to data from the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi, the number of Indian students seeking admission to Canadian universities rose by 40 percent in 2018.
In fact, Indian students surged ahead of the Chinese, with 172,000 Indians getting the Canadian study permit in 2018 alone.
A large number of Indian H-1B visa holders in the US, still awaiting the green card, is further dissuading their friends and relatives from choosing the US as a favorable immigration destination.
“We came to the US a decade ago and even though we have contributed to the economy by paying taxes we are in a road to nowhere when it comes to the green card,” says Nirmala Sethu, based in the San Francisco Bay Area. “So last fall when my nephew enquired about study prospects in the US, I bluntly advised him not to consider the US, unless he, too, wants to stand in a never-ending queue to citizenship here.”
Besides toughening visa laws, amid an atmosphere of rising white supremacist sentiments, many parents fear for the safety of their children, too. Nisha T., a business owner in Atlanta who often recruits Indians on part-time jobs at her convenience store, says, “It is not uncommon for parents of these students to call us and say to take care of their children’s timings of work and ask if the location is safe. There is a paranoia and sadly it is not totally unfounded.”
Civil rights organizations have constantly maintained that an unwelcome atmosphere for immigrants been experienced in the last couple of years is the highest since 9/11.
The dipping foreign student enrolment has a direct impact on the US economy. A study by NAFSA: Association of International Educators showed that foreign students contributed $39 billion to the US economy. They also supported 455,000 jobs during the academic year 2017-18.
But for now, with an increasing anti-immigrant sentiment in the country, it looks like Indian students are busy looking at universities in Canada and Europe for higher studies.
F1 visa students may be allowed to work for 6 years in the USA, like H-1B visa holders (June 9, 2015)
F1 visa students shouldn’t be allowed to work for 6 years in US (January 18, 2016)
Regret deportation of Indian students on F1 visas: US ambassador Richard Verma (December 24, 2015)
Air India cancels booking of 19 students on F1 visa bound for San Francisco (December 21, 2015)
F1 visa: 595,569 were issued in 2014, with 173,062 of those refused (September 14, 2015)