Sanjaya Baru | Visa queues grow as drain becomes tsunami

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Immigration authorities in Canada and Australia have reported unprecedented numbers of arrivals from India this year

Indians applying for a tourist visa to visit the United States this year have been advised that their application interview may take place in 2024. Waiting time varies from consular center to consular center but the waiting time average wait for the five consular centers across the country is approximately 550 days. Immigration authorities in Canada and Australia have reported unprecedented numbers of arrivals from India this year. People of Indian descent have overtaken people of Chinese and European descent in Australia and are close to touching the share of immigrants from the UK. In Canada, Punjabi has become the fourth most spoken language after English, French and Mandarin. In the United States, Telugu is the native language of the largest group of Indians.

As I reported in my book, India’s Power Elite: Class, Caste and a Cultural Revolution (2021), there has been a surge in the number of Indians seeking education and employment in foreigners and Indians gaining non-resident status, making places like Dubai, Singapore and parts of Europe their second home. While remittances to India from overseas Indians, amounting to around $87 billion last year, still far exceed outgoing remittances which last year totaled nearly $20 billion, the gap is slowly but surely closing.

Several factors may contribute to further narrowing this gap. A large portion of dollar remittances entering India still originate from the Gulf States. As more and more Indians now live and work in the Gulf, their families are increasingly moving to the region or to third countries and remittances to India from these families will decline over time. .

More importantly, national social policies in many Gulf countries require the hiring of locals, and therefore fewer jobs are available for immigrant labor. Additionally, many Gulf countries are diversifying their sourcing, turning to Bangladesh, Nepal, the Philippines and other developing Asian economies for labor, thereby reducing their dependence on India and Pakistan.

A second major source of remittances has been North America, both to the United States and Canada, and here too the stagflationary situation expected in the medium term could reduce remittance flows to the United States. India. Most analysts expect inward dollar remittances to moderate over the medium term, returning to pre-pandemic levels, while outward remittances could rise sharply, given recent trends. These remittances have been an important source of foreign exchange for India and a key instrument in managing the balance of payments, since India has consistently recorded a deficit on the foreign trade account.

The most striking trend is the sharp increase in outbound remittances due to tuition fees paid by Indian students going to study abroad. Interestingly, most consular offices in India have prioritized student visas over tourist visas. This may be motivated by a genuine concern for the welfare of students looking to study abroad, but it would also be because educational institutions in developed countries are desperate for wealthy students from the developing world who can afford their studies. Many UK universities are now critically dependent on fee-paying overseas students, especially wealthy Chinese and Indians, for their very survival.

China was a favorite source of high-income students willing to pay fees and boarding at Western educational institutions, but India is the flavor of the season so far. Many in India view all of this as a positive development. That the developed world opens its doors to an increasing number of Indians. However, it remains to be seen how this trend would develop and what impact it would have on the availability of talented graduates in India.

In the 1970s and even in the 1980s, this emigration of educated Indians was described as a “brain drain”. However, with longer visa queues and increased dollar remittances, the phenomenon can no longer be called “leakage”. It’s a flood, and this year it’s a tsunami. Several factors contributed to this emigration of students, ranging from the dearth of educational opportunities at home to the rising income levels of middle-class and upper-class Indians willing to pay their way out.

If hundreds of thousands of Indians go to study abroad, tens of thousands come to India. At last count, in 2019 and before Covid-19, Indian educational institutions, mostly in the private sector, had a total of around 49,000 foreign students. They mostly opted for vocational courses like medicine, nursing and engineering. More than half were men and the largest number came from Nepal (28%), followed by Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan. Until the 1970s, India was a favorite educational destination for many Africans. Not anymore, with Sudan and Nigeria being the main sources, and together accounting for around 6% of foreign students in 2019. India is becoming less and less hospitable as a destination for young foreigners.

An important initiative taken by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was to establish the University of South Asia to attract students from the region to study in India. Unfortunately, over the years, the number of Indian students at this university has been greater than the combined enrollment of students from other South Asian countries, defeating the very purpose of this institution. .

India has not been as open to foreign talent, especially non-whites, as the world has been to Indian talent. Thus, India’s “brain gain” from talent immigration is insignificant compared to the “brain drain” from emigration. Indeed, China has attracted more Western talent despite being an undemocratic country. It has often been said that China is a closed country with an open mind, while India is an open country with a closed mind! It is therefore not surprising that an increasing number of Chinese universities are now among the top 100 universities in the world (up to nine at last count), while no Indian universities have made it.
Neither the Union government nor any state government is addressing this crisis in higher education and research. Whether the recent growth of privately funded teaching and research institutions will make a difference remains to be seen.

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