As visa restrictions begin to relax, Indian students begin packing their bags for opportunities abroad
The Covid-19 pandemic brought unforeseen challenges for Indian students aspiring to study abroad. However, it did not take into account the fortitude of the student community in their desire to build a better life for themselves.
As the international borders begin to open up, we are seeing a multitude of Indian students rushing to the consulates to get their study visas approved. With the vaccination program in India picking up speed, 17 member nations of the European Union, along with Switzerland, have agreed to lift travel restrictions for those who have received both their doses of the Covishield vaccine. The U.S. Mission in India that issues both immigrant and non-immigrant visas to Indians seeking to enter the U.S. witnessed an unprecedented flurry of activity in the past few months as students hastened to the embassies and consulates. Even as the student season got delayed by a couple of months, the U.S. embassy and the consulates worked overtime to process a record number of applications and provided visas to over 55,000 students for the upcoming fall semester. The mission is now looking forward to facilitating students for the spring semester that begins in January next year.
What exactly makes studying abroad such an attractive option for Indian students? In the U.S. alone, over 4,500 universities are providing a gold standard of education, state-of-the-art infrastructure, and technology, as well as flexible academic programmes coupled with opportunities to gain hands-on training. As several universities across the world have started providing hybrid study plans, such as beginning your course in your home country with the option of finishing it in another, many Indian students are back to planning their academic future in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. Studying in some of the best universities across the world not only provides you with the chance to build strong professional networks but some Indian students also opt for it intending to settle abroad.
However, conventional routes like opting for the F-1 visa for studies in the U.S., followed by the H-1B visa for work, have their drawbacks such as tying your freedom to work and study to the universities and workplaces you are attached to. The temporary nature of these visas and the capping of visa applications through the H-1B lottery system have only further complicated the path to putting down one’s roots in America.
A trend can be witnessed from the growing number of Indians applying for citizenship or residency by investment programs. These programs provide investors with the opportunity to diversify their portfolio by investing in a foreign country, with the added benefit of acquiring a permanent residency or citizenship there. This also means that parents have a much greater chance at providing better education and future opportunities to their children in these countries.
With the road to residency in the U.S. through the F-1 and the H-1B visa route taking forever, more Indians are looking for alternative options such as the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program. Similar to the EB-5 visa, which provides the applicant with a conditional green card for an initial couple of years on an investment of 500,000 dollars in a Targeted Employment Area (TEA), the Portugal Golden Residence Permit Program is another rewarding alternative that allows for European permanent residency on investing a minimum of 280,000 euros.
If better education, employment opportunities, and lifestyle weren’t motivation enough, a U.S. passport allows you visa-free travel to a whopping 187 countries (a Portuguese passport does the same for 188) as compared to the 58 options that an Indian passport provides. The EB-5 visa allows you to obtain a green card while still keeping your Indian passport but if you do wish to gain the citizenship of another country, you will still have the option of applying for an Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card, letting you reside, work or even run a business in India.
Perhaps this is the reason why the demand for EB-5 visas has increased almost fourfold in the past few years. Applications for Golden Visas in European countries such as Greece and Portugal have also witnessed a substantial increase, even leading to a real estate boom in these countries. Whether through investment programs or conventional routes, there couldn’t be a better silver lining than witnessing Indian students spread their wings and fly abroad to rebuild bridges towards a globalized post-pandemic world.
The author is Senior Director, India – LCR Capital Partners
DISCLAIMER: Views expressed are the author’s own, and Outlook Money does not necessarily subscribe to them. Outlook Money shall not be responsible for any damage caused to any person/organisation directly or indirectly.