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US must address visa barriers to grow trade in education services with India: USISPF

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The bilateral trade in education services among India and the US could record exponential growth if Washington removes barriers like visa and entry restrictions on the free progression of students, as indicated by a top American business advocacy group.

The 2020 Open Doors report on International Educational Exchange features that during the 2019-20 academic year, India stayed the second-biggest source of international students in the US, in spite of a four percent decline to 193,124 students, making up 18% of the total higher education international student community in the US, the US India Strategic and Partnership Forum (USISPF) said in a report.

The Open Doors report was recently released by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the Institute of International Education (IIE).

“Eliminating trade barriers on the free progression of students and educational services can strengthen the competitiveness of the US economy by way of value addition and job creation,” it said.

In the report “US-India Higher Education Partnership: A Win-Win Opportunity” USISPF imagines enormous opportunities for the two nations in the higher education segment from both trade and investment perspectives, which are essential for the economic growth of both economies.

“There are mutual gains for both partners, as the US wants to improve its bilateral trade balance with India to save jobs through increased exports, and India’s young STEM talent assesses the US as one of the best destinations for world-class higher education and professional training opportunities,” it said.

STEM represents Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

US must address visa barriers to grow trade in education services

“If visa barriers are addressed, the bilateral trade in education services could record exponential growth,” the USISPF said.

As per the 2019 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, India is the second-highest country of origin for foreign students in the US— and has been, continuously, for 10 years.

In 2018-19, before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 200,000 Indian students went to the US to pursue undergraduate, graduate, non-degree, and optional practical training (OPT) programs, a 2.9 percent increase from 2017-18.

The OPT program allows international students to work in the US after the completion of their courses.

[Updated Status of Visa Services at U.S. Consular Posts]

“Also, the pre-pandemic trend was clear in the bilateral trade statistics, which capture spending on educational travel between the two nations. From 2015 to 2019, the amount spent by Indian students on educational travel to the US rose by 45%, to almost USD7.7 billion,” the USISPF said.

The USISPF has suggested the US make comprehensive immigration reforms. That allows robust student mobility by reviewing and streamlining the student visa process. Particularly for nations that send the most students to the United States.

It also urges the US to enable a system for OPT. Extend training opportunities for capable international students following graduation, create a coherent national framework for international education. That lines up with the US diplomatic, economic, and immigration goals and increases immigration numbers to the levels during the Obama government.

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