Once upon a time, every Indian student dreamt of studying in the United States, obtaining a green card and living the quintessential ‘American’ dream. However, the high cost of education in the United States has always being a deterrent for Indians. In recent times, the tightened immigration policies in the United States has further discouraged Indian students from applying for their student visa in the United States.

India is one of the top exporters of international students to the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Most students opt to study overseas due to lack of adequate seats in higher education seats in premium Indian educational institutes. Further, the prospects of high paying job opportunities post completion of their education can be an enticing reason to study abroad.

In 2017, India sent over 75,000 students to Canada, 62,000 students to Australia, almost 20000 students to the United Kingdom and about 7000 students to New Zealand. Colleges and Universities across these countries have tie-ups with agents all over India, and many universities are known to organise annual educational fairs in metro cities along with Tier-1 and Tier-2 cities such as Ludhiana, Cochin, Nagpur, Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Pune and Panjim.

At the same time, the United States witnessed a 28 per cent decline of international students from India. During the same period, the United States also witnessed a decline in international students from China. India and China are the top countries for the export of international students followed by South Korea, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Canada.

Some of the reasons for the decline in Indian and other international students to the United States are the increasing cost of education, change in visa and immigration policy and increased competition from countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

The opportunity of obtaining a Permanent Resident Visa after completion of their education has made Canada and Australia the new preferred destination of Indian students. Also, the United Kingdom and New Zealand offer easy two-year post-study visa for the international students which allows students to live and work in the country. Whereas, since 2014, the changes in the immigration and visa policies of the Trump Government has discouraged Indian students from applying for student’s visa in the United States.

However, concerned with the decline student visa applications from Indian students and increased competition from countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, the government of United States is considering a wide array of strategies to reduce the cost of higher education.

India, being one of the biggest sources of international students in the United States, the government and the Department of Education are taking steps to attract Indian students to American colleges and universities. One such initiative includes the 2+2 bachelor’s degree program. The student can enrol and student the first two years of the bachelor’s degree program in a community college and migrate to a university or educational institution offering a higher valued degree. Cost of education in community college is comparatively lower compared to education from premium universities and institutions of higher education. Caroline Casagrande announced this academic program during her visit to New Delhi. Ms Casagrande works at the US Bureau of educational & cultural affairs as deputy assistant secretary for academic programs.

According to senior officials within the US Government, the quality of education in the American community colleges had improved over the last few years. Community colleges in the United States are now equipped to offer higher quality education at lower costs. These colleges also have partnerships and relations with top American Universities which allows international students to obtain a degree from a prestigious US-based university and study in two different educational institutes. This allows the student to experience higher exposure and diversity and earning a degree at a lower cost.

Further, the 2+2 bachelor’s degree program also simplifies the admission process for Indian students. The academic requirement and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) scores are lower in US-based community colleges. Also, many community colleges also offer ESL or English as Second Language programs and developmental math courses for international students who have low academic scores.

Also, the cost of community colleges can be anywhere from 20 per cent to 80 per cent lower than four-year schools and universities. Advisors and teachers can offer higher one-on-one attention to students in community colleges, allowing them an easier transition to larger four-year schools and universities for the last two years of their course.

International students also suffer to understand their courses due to their poor English skills. Many community colleges offer free tutoring to support international students having English as a second or third language. This allows international students to improve their language skills in the first two years of their degree course and adjust easily during their transition to four-year schools and colleges, get accustomed to the American culture and educational system.

Further, the US Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs is planning to launch a mobile application to help, support and assist Indian students who are planning to apply to colleges and universities in the United States for higher education.

However, the United States government is yet to address the primary reason for declining student visa applications from international students from India. The major concern which is influencing the decision of Indian students is the work opportunities after completing their education. While the H1B work permit visa lottery system has recently opened from additional spots for international students with Master’s degree and PhDs from US universities, it does not address the post-study work needs of international students enrolled in bachelors degrees.

By offering post-study work permits or visa to Indian students enrolled in bachelors course, the United States can attractive Indian students seeking to obtain higher education from abroad and combat stiff competition from countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

However, the 2+2 bachelor’s degree program has helped eliminate several hurdles which Indian students have been facing to fulfil their dream of an education in the United States. Indian students can enrol in American community colleges with lower TOEFL and academic scores, average fluency in English, and most importantly, earn a bachelor’s degree from a prestigious higher education institution at a much lower cost.