The bilateral trade in education services between India and the US could record exponential growth if Washington removes barriers like visa and entry restrictions on the free flow of students, according to a top American business advocacy group.
The 2020 Open Doors report on International Educational Exchange highlights that during the 2019-20 academic year, India remained the second largest source of international students in the US, despite a four per cent decline to 193,124 students, making up 18 per cent 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). Removing trade barriers on the free flow 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 visualises tremendous opportunities for the two countries in the higher education segment from both trade and investment perspectives, which are crucial 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 stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. If visa barriers are addressed, the bilateral trade in education services could record exponential growth, the USISPF said. According to 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, consecutively, for ten years.
In 2018-19, before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 200,000 Indian students came to the US to pursue undergraduate, graduate, non-degree, and optional practical training (OPT) programmes, a 2.9 per cent increase from 2017-18,.
The OPT programme allows international students to work in the US after completion of their courses. The pre-pandemic trend was also evident in the bilateral trade statistics, which capture spending on educational travel between the two countries. From 2015 to 2019, the amount spent by Indian students on educational travel to the US rose by 45 per cent, to nearly USD7.7 billion, the USISPF said.
Significantly, these trade data only include cross-border expenditures and do not reflect the additional economic activity generated by students through local spending on fees, housing, and living expenses, it said. The USISPF has recommended the US to make comprehensive immigration reforms that allow robust student mobility by reviewing and streamlining the student visa process, especially for countries that send the most students to the United States.
It also urges the US to enable a framework for OPT, expand training opportunities for capable international students following graduation, create a coherent national framework for international education that aligns with the US diplomatic, economic and immigration goals and increase immigration numbers to the levels during the Obama administration.