An overwhelming majority of Indian students who travel to the US for higher education belong to the Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) category. For the annual H1B quota of 20,000 visas reserved for this category, about 30,000 applications are usually received. On the other hand, against 65,000 H1B visas allocated for non-STEM applicants, three to four times that number apply.
Therefore, an applicant for an H1B visa from the STEM category invariably stands a much better chance. That is why several students from the non-STEM category, even if they find a job in the US after graduating, have to leave for their country of origin as they fail to acquire an H1B visa. Another factor that works in favour of STEM students is that their OPT (Optional Practical Training) is valid for 36 months, which entitles them to three attempts at seeking the coveted H1B visa.
During those three critical years, they get paid in US Dollars by their employers and recover the cost of their education. That is why we have advised students belonging to the non-STEM category, and their parents, to carefully consider these possibilities before investing in higher education in the US. Most STEM students find good jobs in the US, and statistically speaking, only about 10 percent return to India.
There are, of course, several compelling reasons why students prefer to stay on in the US. They get accustomed to a much more comfortable lifestyle, cleaner surroundings, a pollution-free environment, honest dealings, a high living standard, reliable security, and a good income, to name a few of them. Moreover, genuine opportunities for top-quality education and lucrative careers in research are also attractions that most Indian students cannot resist. Therefore, their reluctance to return home is perfectly understandable.
Personally, I am of the considered opinion that this cannot be called “brain drain” at all. In fact, I would go so far as to say that as brains are in such excessive numbers in India, there is nothing wrong with looking at them as potential exports. One’s ‘janma bhoomi’ and ‘karma bhoomi’ need not be one and the same. I believe there is no logical reason why one’s motherland and the land where he lives and works should be identical. People ought to be free to exercise their fundamental human right that entitles them to seek an environment they consider conducive to the realisation of their long-cherished dream.
Perhaps it is pertinent to point out here that, generally, Indian students who live in the US end up remitting some of their earnings to their next of kin back home. Such routine remittances add to the foreign exchange reserves of India. Besides, non-resident Indians also share with their relatives and friends back home new ideas thereby sowing the seeds of new enterprises. Some such NRIs have founded technology-driven companies in their home country which have generated revenue and created new well-paid jobs. Therefore, I see it as a win-win situation.