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Why do US, Canada & Western Europe attract Indian Students?

North American and Western European schools host about half the international student community

By Suresh Rajan

According to the UNESCO World Higher Education Conference 2022 report, the number of students enrolled in institutions of higher education outside their home country has tripled in the past two decades.

This century’s meteoric rise means that almost 3% of students seeking higher education now opt to move to foreign countries to pursue their academic dreams.

Read: Record 200,000 Indian students chose US for higher studies (November 16, 2022)

Most come from Asia, with China and India at the top. North American and Western European schools host about half the international student community, according to UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

What makes higher education in the US, Canada, and Western Europe so attractive to Indian students?

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, US colleges and universities approved more than 900,000 international students in the 2020–2021 academic year, according to the Open Doors 2021 report.

In 2021 the US Embassy & Consulates approved more visas for Indian students than ever before. With 4,500+ accredited colleges and universities, the US is a leading destination for international students. In fact, 5 of the world’s top 10 universities are there, according to QS World University Rankings 2023.

Most students (about 75%) who go to the US for higher education apply at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and more than half opt for engineering, math, computer science, or business and management courses, notes the Open Doors report.

Read: Can Canada be the new study hub for Indian students? (October 20, 2022)

One reason that most students choose these STEM courses may be the Optional Practical Training (OPT) offered to students on F-1 and M-1 visas.

STEM courses offer an additional 17-month OPT period for students to stay and work in the US on their student visas, whereas students taking courses outside STEM fields get at most a 12-month OPT period.

But the H-1B work visa, traditionally the go-to visa for many Indians working in the US, has its share of issues. There is a lottery system, and more than 70% of employer-sponsored H-1B applications for fiscal year 2022 were rejected due to the annual registration cap, notes Stuart Anderson in a Forbes article.

As a result, Indians increasingly opt for the EB-5 visa, with demand growing by about 400 student% in the 2016–2019 period. The EB-5 visa is an immigrant investor program that allows investors to apply for a green card by investing at least $800,000. The recently passed EB-5 Reform and Integrity Act of 2022 (RIA) allows applicants to file their EB-5 petition (I-526) and concurrently apply for adjustment of status.

Read: Why Indians prefer Portugal for study after UK and US? (January 28, 2022)

This means that once these applications get approved, the petitioner can use travel and work permits without having to depend on a sponsoring employer (as in the case of H-1B), regardless of where they are in their studies, notes The Economic Times.

Investor programs elsewhere are also increasingly popular with Indian students, among them the Portugal Golden Visa (PGV) and the Canada Golden Visa programs.

The PGV is especially desirable, since it leads to permanent residency in Portugal—and thus access to the entire EU and Schengen Area. Furthermore, after five years of permanent residency, PGV holders can apply for Portuguese citizenship.

Read: Higher Studies in Canada for Indian Students (May 9, 2021)

As Indian students move abroad for education and employment, considerations of permanent residency through investment visas and their attendant benefits will likely carry great weight for years to come.

(Suresh Rajan is founder & executive chairman, LCR Capital Partners)

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