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U.S. Visa Loses Allure

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June 2004
U.S. Visa Loses Allure

Diaspora

U.S. Visa Loses Allure

Earlier U.S. is where the pot of gold was. Now with the growing feeling that there are more takers from this pot from outside the country than inside it, laws have become stringent. With it, the students from India are now looking elsewhere?UK, Canada, Australia?Is the U.S. losing out on one of its primary revenue spinners?

By SIDDHARTH SRIVASTAVA

A country racked by fears of terrorism, a people disillusioned by fears of losing their jobs to low-cost developing countries, a growing feeling that natives from other countries are not very wanted --- the image of the USA as the land of opportunity is certainly taking a hard beating. There are signs that the world's most powerful country may not be the first choice of increasing number of Indians heading west for further studies, jobs and better living.

In the past few months, due to pressures of an election year, as well as perceived terrorist threats, there have been a series of measures by the U.S. federal and state governments, which is not very encouraging to non-immigrant visitors to the country. Consider the following:

Due to fears of Indians eating into American jobs as well as an all-round recession especially in the tech sector, the cap on H1-B visas has been reduced from 195,000, last-year to 65,000 this year. H1-B visas are provided to workers with college diplomas in the fields of education, technology and health care. Out-of-work tech workers have been returning to India by the hordes.

Then, there is apprehension about the U.S. making it compulsory for all visitors to pass through U.S.-VISIT (United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology), the new electronic entry-exit system that will collect and share information, including biometric identifiers. The Indian government recently sought a clarification from the U.S. against the fingerprinting of diplomatic passport-holders, a move that has seen China and Brazil retaliate against U.S. visitors.

It has not been good news on the outsourcing front as well with India facing the brunt of the public ire, including state and federal bills against the subject and government contracts prevented from being outsourced.

The fallout is evident on the student community, which is now looking at countries such as Britain, Canada, Australia and Germany as possible destinations for further studies. Education remains a prime export and foreign exchange earner with nations in the lower spectrum such as India, Malaysia and Singapore also looking to make strides in this area.

Though U.S. remains by far the most popular destination of students from across the world, including India (over 70,000 students currently studying), a slow and definite change may be in the offing. Indian students, who form the single largest group of international students on U.S. campuses, are looking at more inviting destinations.

According to the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), an organization of institutes of higher education, which has been tracking application numbers at 132 graduate institutes, there has been a decrease in applications from international students in 90 per cent of these schools this year. The Master's and PhD-level schools enroll nearly half of all international graduate students in the U.S. The biggest decline has been in student applications from China and India ? the two largest sending countries.

An indication of a shift away from the U.S. becomes more glaring when compared to an almost exponential growth of Indian students heading for other destinations. Affordable education, permanent residency, a more conducive environment as well as employment opportunities are the main attractions.

The number of Indian students heading to Australia doubled from 2,800 in 2001-02 to 5,700 in 2002-3 and expected to rise to 9,000 students this year. Canada hopes to double the students to over 5,000 this year. A study conducted by the British Council and Universities of UK has indicated that Indian students will be the third largest overseas students in the UK by 2020, outnumbering those from USA, Germany and France. The study said as many as 29,800 Indians are expected to study in the UK by 2020 as against 8,600 in 2005. A separate government-funded study has calculated that education has become one of Britain's most important export industries, earning 11 billion pounds annually, placing education in the same league as exports of oil and financial services.

There is also apprehension that the tightening of travel norms could have an impact, the same way that the students are seeking to further studies elsewhere. The travelers are not the only ones who are worried. A recent study by the U.S. Government Accounting Office (GAO) identifies risks inherent in the U.S.-VISIT program.

The program, the GAO report, maintains is inherently risky, both because of its nature and the manner in which it is being managed. According to the report, the system is "inherently risky" because its mission is critical and multifaceted, the scope of which is large and complex.

As the program was designed to prevent the entry of persons who pose a threat to the United States, it aims to control the pre-entry, entry, status, and exit of millions of travelers. The situation becomes more acute as by Congressional mandate, the system must be fully implemented by December 31, 2005.

There are also enough reports to suggest that Indian Information Technology workers are now seeking work permits to European countries such as Britain, Germany and even Finland, where Nokia is headquartered. Indian companies such as Siemens and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) are ramping up operations in Europe. In many countries now, IT visas are very flexible and quick and a statement from big employers puts job seekers on a fast track.

However, despite the concerns, the number of non-immigrant visas issued to Indians has gone up compared to the same period last year. According to U.S. embassy figures all the categories of visas --- B-1/B-2 business and pleasure visitor visas have gone up compared to last year. With the H1-B cap, it is expected that the L-1 or intra-company transfer visas that showed a decline last year is likely to go up this year.

The business visitors have increased due to more executives of the booming Business and Processing sector heading to the U.S. The consular offices have also been active in making the process of issue of visas less time consuming and hassling for the visitors.

However, with a clampdown of sorts happening pegged to elections and terrorism, the days of the U.S. as the hot shot student and job destination, may soon be challenged by several others. While the U.S. actions may be a temporary attempt to stave off domestic concerns, the impact could be more permanent.


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