Recently the US Government had proposed a change in the rule for Student Visas – the new rule would set fixed terms of up to four years for student visas. Currently, student visas follow “duration of status,” meaning students can stay in the USA till they are enrolled in any University. With the new rule, the US Government would follow a “duration of stay” basis for student visa, which for most countries – including India – would be four years. This would mean irrespective of the time taken for the student to complete the program, visa is valid only for four years.
Extensions of stay could be approved “if the additional time needed is due to a compelling academic reason, documented medical illness or medical condition, or circumstance that was beyond the student’s control,” the new rule states. The fixed four-year term will be inadequate for a typical Ph.D. program and many a times students take more time to finish their undergraduate programs. For example, if the student takes preparatory courses then it will impact the timeline required for completing the degree program with a student visa. This would mean many students would need to apply for an extension of stay mid-way, before completion of their course, and would have to hope that they get an approval to continue.
The USA was a destination for about a million international students last academic year – of which over 200,000 students are from India – contributing to over $8bn to the US economy. It is now a well-known fact that the USA as the preferred destination for Indian students is declining over the past few years. From over 70% of the students who used to prefer USA as a destination for higher studies, five years back, it has steadily declined to less than 50% now.
There are combination of factors for this trend. Other factors such as the other H1B Visa regulation changes for non-immigration workers, which is likely to affect the Indian students post their studies in terms of job prospects – especially for the ‘techies’. Beyond these visa regulatory changes, it is the uncertainty factor that is causing a lot of concern in the minds of aspiring Indian students. This could lead to Indian students looking at other countries for higher education and future prospects
To sum up, the upcoming U.S. elections could become a major factor for students from India to consider US universities for pursuing their higher studies.
(A version of this article appeared in The Economic Times on 09 October 2020)