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Students, this is the best time to go to the US

May 12, 2017 08:40 IST

With the government trying to push out the big guns of the H1B race (immigration-dependent companies such as TCS, Infosys, etc), students will have more H1Bs to count on after they graduate.
Start-ups getting 20 per cent of the H1B allocation will also be helpful.
Salaries will also be higher in the days to come.

Students, this is the best time to study abroad

In the recent years an increasing number of bright students from India are travelling to the US to pursue their graduation.

Take for example the case of Brown University, Rhode Island which has seen their intake of Indian students into graduate programs increase five times over in the last 10 years.

The situation is not limited to undergraduate programs only, as a similar increase has been observed in the MS and MBA programs as well.

This trend is now under speculation following the recent announcement by Donald Trump about reviewing regulations around the issuing H1B visas to immigrants.

Let us look at the reasons for this growing trend and things one needs to keep in mind if applying for a course in US.

Why do Indian students go abroad?

According to Kapil Sibal, the government minister overseeing education in India, there is a disparity between supply and demand in the education sector.

Our country only has a handful of institutions providing quality education. The intake cannot accommodate the high number of bright students passing their boards each year.

Lakhs of young people are also looking at a world-class higher education which very few institutions in the country can offer.

The Delhi University cut-off in the year 2016 stood at 96 per cent. Imagine the plight of students, who have scored anywhere between 90 and 95 per cent in their boards, but are unable to apply due to this insane pre-requisite. They are obviously a group of extremely intelligent, diligent and determined individuals who wouldn't want to compromise on the quality of education that they opt for.

For experienced professionals seeking a premiere management degree the options are way too limited as well -- the IIMs, ISB and XLRI.

All these have a very competitive selection procedure and a substantial investment (upwards of 20 lakhs). This is making a lot of professionals explore options abroad since it offers the promise of international exposure and a world class education which has greater brand value globally.

The Trump ruling and what it means for India

The year 2017 started off with a string of alarming executive orders being signed by the newly appointed President of the US, Donald Trump. These orders were projected as steps towards meeting the promises Trump had made to the American people in the run-up to the election.

Trump's all encompassing motto for the election campaign was his promise that he will 'make America great again'.

He plans to achieve this by empowering Americans with more jobs, investments in industrial expansion and providing affordable healthcare.

In order to get a clear picture of what the orders mean for an immigrant student from India, trying to pursue a graduation or master's degree in a US University, one needs to understand the journey that a typical Indian student goes through.

The international process: What you must know

The first step is shortlisting the institutes one wishes to apply for.

As part of the application the institute will be asking for an exam score either of SAT (for graduate programs) or GRE/GMAT (for master's programs).

Some institutes also require the applicant to give a test of the English language - IELTS or TOEFL. If the application is accepted and the ensuing interview goes well, the institute will approve an F1 visa to the student.

The F1 visa is valid for the duration of the course, during which the the student will not be allowed to seek employment.

In order to be employed on an F1 visa he/she would need an Optional Practical Training (OPT) permission. If this permission is granted, the student will be provided with an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), otherwise called a work permit.

Typically OPTs are issued for the following reasons:
● part-time work during the F-1 student's studies,
● full-time work during periods of recess, or
● after graduation in a field related to the program of study.

After completion of your course/OPT training, you will have a period of 60 days to return to your country.

If you wish to stay back in the US, you will need to do one of the following:
● Seek an employer who will sponsor your H1B
● Continue working under your OPT and apply for an extension
● Re-enroll in a higher program/ Transfer to a new school

This is how it stands as of now. On April 18, the 'High-Skilled Integrity and Fairness Act of 2017' was signed by Donald Trump. This executive order will have to get passed in the parliament to become effective.

Considering that the bill gets passed and becomes the law, let us see what it means for students either already in US and for others planning to go there to pursue their education.

The many benefits for students

The first part of the act says, 'For H1B Dependent employers the minimum wage is being set at 35 percentile above the median for the most recent national annual wage (130,000 $ as per recent data) for Computer and Mathematical Occupations. '

Note: H1B dependent organisations are defined as companies which have 15 per cent or more immigrants in their workforce (TCS, Infosys, Apple etc)

This order, if implemented will see companies like TCS, Infosys sending over lesser number of Indians to the US. These companies have been taking advantage of the previous cap of 60,000 $ for many years now. The salaries which were being offered to these employees sent on the H1B visa were much lesser than the industry standards offered to students passing out of American graduate schools.

This is a positive sign for students who are studying in the US and for those planning to go there for further studies. This will ensure that jobs as well as H1B visas are given to quality graduates and master's students who deserve them, rather than to Indians who are willing to work for lesser pay.

The vast majority of companies who employ people on H1Bs aren't "dependent" employers by definition. The salary increase for this segment is nominal and can easily be balanced with bonuses and perks.

They will benefit from more visas being available to newly graduated students of which 15 per cent consists of indians.

For almost a decade now, 30 per cent of the total H1B visas go to Indian IT companies such as TCS, Wipro, Infosys etc. These companies now have the minimum wage cap of 130k $ to worry about. Overall, this is a good news for immigrant students in the US.

With a major chunk of the H1Bs not being taken away by the IT companies, the students with F1 visas will find it easier to get them. Moreover, startups will become major H1B sponsoring employers due to this move.

Now is probably the best time to study in the US provided the student is bright enough to get into the Top 100 programs in the country.

With the government trying to push out the big guns of the H1B race (immigration-dependent companies such as TCS, Infosys etc), students will have more H1Bs to count on after they graduate.

Start-ups getting 20 per cent of the H1B allocation will also be helpful.

Salaries will also be higher in the days to come.

The game has changed and might change further once this becomes a law. Students studying in mediocre universities will find it difficult to get an H1B sponsor after they graduate.

Going forward, it might be difficult to even get a job after graduating from these colleges. However, for students who get into well known premiere institutes, the brand value of the degree will be enough to ensure that they get a well-paying job with an H1B sponsor.

This means that for the students who are up for the challenge of getting into an Ivy league college the recent order will should not be worrisome.

So if you have a dream of studying and working in the US, rest assured that dream is safe and very much alive.

The US, with its economy, is still the land of opportunities. An MS or an MBA or even a graduation from a premier institute in the US, will make you valuable enough for any company to tackle the paperwork or higher pay regulations in order to have you in their team.

So, if you believe in yourself -- prepare well and go chasing your dreams today!

Lead image used for representational purposes only. Image: Larry Downing/Reuters

The author Arun Jagannathan is CEO, CrackVerbal, an institute that trains students in pursuing a course abroad.

Arun Jagannathan