New Delhi: The number of Indian students in US higher educational institutions grew by 5.4% in 2017-18, a five-year low, amid restrictive immigration noises from Washington DC, according to official data released on Tuesday.

In 2016-17, the number had grown by 12.3%, while in 2015-16 it had risen by 24.9%, and in 2014-15 it had grown by 29.4%, according to the 2018 Open Doors data released by the Institute of International Education (IIE) in collaboration with the US department of state’s bureau of educational and cultural affairs.

The flow of students to the US from top destinations, including China, South Korea, Canada, Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom and Mexico, also either showed low growth or fell. The flow of Chinese students grew by 3.6% in 2017-18 as against 6.8% the year before. The number of students from Saudi Arabia in 2017-18 was 15.5% less than the year before.

Indian students accounted for 17.9% of the total foreign students in the US in 2017-18, said Karl Adam, deputy cultural affairs officer of the US embassy here in New Delhi. Indian students, who contributed $7.5 billion to the US economy in 2017-18, are the second highest group of foreign students in the US, next to the Chinese who account for 33.2% of international students.

Experts said that the growing chorus over giving preference to Americans in employment and the restrictive noises coming from the US government have created a sense of unease among Indian students.

“We have observed, during the last academic year that there is a dwindling interest from graduate students, including those looking to pursue management education in the US. This is because of the conflicting noise related to H-1B visa and immigration policy in general," said Vineet Gupta, co-founder of Jamboree Education, a test prep company that helps Indian students prepare for foreign universities.

Gupta, however, said that at undergraduate level, especially for mathematics, computer science and engineering courses, the interest seems intact.

The Open Doors data corroborated Gupta’s statement. While there is a 6.2% growth in the number of undergraduate Indian students, the number of graduate students dropped by 8.8% and the number of non-degree students dropped by 16.6% in 2017-18.

Joseph Pomper, minister counsellor for consular affairs at the US embassy, however, did not give any reason for the slowing growth of international students from key destinations. The US will be happy to welcome more Indian students, he said.

“On the ground, there is no change in immigration policy and we look forward to seeing more Indian students in US universities," Pomper said.

Indian students see value in US education and this will continue to have a positive impact on the flow of students, Pomper said.

The number of US students in India has grown from 4,181 last year to 4,704 in 2017-18, Pomper said.

Overall, the US was home to 1.09 million foreign students in 2017-18, a growth rate of 1.5% over the previous year. This is the lowest growth rate in at least 12 years, according to the data.

US universities saw international student enrolments in 2017-18 come down by 6.6%, though the cumulative students population grew by 1.5%, indicating that fresh enrolments have taken a hit because of the conflicting noises from the US government.

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