Impact of Trump’s policies on Indians aspiring for higher education in the US
There is a mass hysteria prevailing in the international students’ community in view of the recent Executive Order on Temporary Immigration Ban on seven countries and proposed changes to the H-1B bill. Let’s understand how these developments can impact Indian students aspiring for higher education in the US.
Firstly, while the EO curtails immigration from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, and Yemen, the courts have overruled this EO order recently. Similarly, the refugee clause will not apply to Indians as well. Indian students going on F1 Visas, therefore, need not worry.
Moving onto the topic that has everyone on the edge of their seats (more so than the NaMo demonetisation effect) – the legislation on H1B (employment) visas. Before we discuss the impact, let’s understand what the H1B visa does – it allows you to work “post” the OPT (Optional Practical Training) period. After the completion of the college program, a student is entitled to work on OPT for upto 12 months for non-STEM and upto 36 months for STEM courses. Thus, a STEM student can work upto THREE years (irrespective of H1B application), which usually is more than enough to not just recover the fees and the loan but also set-up a strong foundation to build upon later.
Thinking from a recruiter’s point of view, if there is uncertainty in the regulations, then the company would be more keen on recruiting interns and people on OPT than on H1B. The OPT does not have a minimum salary requirement as compared to H-1Bs under the proposed regulations. This in turn will increase the opportunities for fresh graduates.
Let’s try to decipher a few hidden clauses of the new legislation. Now, the proposed legislation on the floor in the Congress for H1B eligibility prioritizes market-based allocation of H-1B visas for institutions willing to pay 2x of the wage calculated by a survey. Estimates are that the annual salary will amount to a minimum of approximately US$130,000 per year. While the legislation is yet to be finalized, here is why even these rules should not be a cause of grave concern for Indian students:
- a) Various such proposals have been floated previously unsuccessfully.
- b) The current visa requirements mandate Indian students to prove their indisposition towards migrating to the US permanently. However, the new H1B leaves scope for a “dual intent” which means F1 visas may not be denied on the basis of the student’s intention to migrate. The transition from F1 to H1B in that sense should be lot smoother now.
- c) The new H1B rules shall eliminate the ‘country based’ allocation earlier available to ‘Chile’ and ‘Singapore’ thereby creating more opportunity for Indian students.
- d) The salary cap of $130,000 on H1B will be applicable to only those companies who have more than 15% employees on H1B visa – this will refrain a few particular companies (read – the beneficiaries of outsourcing policies) to exhaust the quota via the H1B lottery system and open up more opportunities for other companies and startups.
- e) The following tweet by Trump talks of his intention to create more new businesses, which translates to more jobs. The new H1B will cut down ‘hoarding’ of talent by a few companies and help small businesses in hiring talented individuals.
- f) The effect of the proposal will predominantly be felt by those companies who hire Indians on H1B and L1 visas for US-based projects without paying them the salaries that an American University-trained graduate (India-based or otherwise) is in a position to command. The effect thus, will be felt more on a corporate level and not at an employee level, and the Indian students aspiring for American education should not be too concerned with this move by President Trump.
- g) The OPT enables the student to work for a total of three years in the US after completion of their Masters. Many of the students who complete their Masters get a starting salary in the range of US$85,000 to US$95,000. Having gained three years of work experience, it is natural for these students to expect the salary in range of eligibility criteria decided for obtaining H1B visa. If the student has successfully proven his mettle to his employer, the employer will not hesitate in rewarding the employee with compensation that is above the minimum amount required to obtain the visa.
- h) Since the proposed H1B bill aims at leveling the playing field and curbing companies to outsource jobs, it is unlikely that these vacant positions will be filled by the existing workforce. This will create more opportunities for Indian students available under OPT option.
- i) If the reports are to be believed, U.S. colleges will end up losing close $700 million of their annual revenue if Indians decide to explore other avenues. This move can significantly impact US’s undisputed standing as the top study destination. University Presidents are aware of these dire implications and are trying their best to chalk out ways to attract students to the US shores, and in a bid to do so they are likely to ease out the fiercely competitive admission process. The US is known for its inclusive education system and their commitment to diversity. With the ban on seven Muslim countries, chances of Indian applicants being accepted is likely to move up a notch. In fact, we have seen better results so far this year than the previous year in terms of the admits the students have got at Collegepond.
Many brilliant innovations in the US are driven by immigrants. It is a startling fact that all the six American who bagged the Nobel prize in 2016 were immigrants! A large number of international students study STEM courses and contribute significantly to research and economic growth of the nation. Statistics indicate that there is a scarcity of U.S born graduates prepared to work in STEM fields. The universities would try their best to give out admits to deserving international students to ensure their higher-education system attracts the best and brightest from across the globe.
- j) For the convocation ceremony at the time of graduation, more often than not, the parents end up visiting United States. The cascading impact of Indians not going to US Universities will affect the tourism industry in excess of US$ 1.0 billion as Indians are amongst the highest spenders as tourists in USA.
From losing revenues in the form of visa fees, University tuition, tourism, etc – the amount will be drastic for the country to suddenly sustain. Several multinational companies have already begun lobbying against the 2x eligibility criteria of $130K, and as per Mr. Vikas Swaroop, spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, the concerns about H1B and L1 visas have been conveyed to the US at the highest levels. With President Trump and PM Modi expected to chalk out a long-term strategy of incremental Indo-US collaboration on multiple fronts, expect the deal only to get increasingly favorable for Indians going forward. Politically and diplomatically, it makes a lot of sense for President Trump to work towards creating a foreign policy with India which is mutually beneficial for the two countries.
Thus, it is important to scavenge at the opportunities during uncertain times rather than dwell too much on the negativities that have been propogated by media without even the laws and proposals being legislated.
Please note that this is an interpretation of the current proposals and may require modification with the future developments.