Increasing Number of Indian Students Remain in the US on OPT, Defying Layoffs and Visa Concerns

Persistent job cuts, visa difficulties, and uncertain employment prospects have not deterred Indian students in the United States from staying back for work.

According to a recent report released by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the Institute of International Education (IIE), India has become the second-largest source of students for the United States. The Open Doors 2023 report, unveiled in Washington DC, reveals a significant surge, with Indian student numbers reaching a record high of 268,923 in the academic year 2022-23, representing a remarkable 35% increase compared to the previous year.

While China remains the top contributor with 289,526 students moving to the US, it experienced a marginal decrease of -0.2% year-over-year. Overall, the total international student population in the US saw a commendable 12% increase, totaling 1,057,188 during the 2022-2023 academic year, as reported by the Open Doors report.

“International students from India increased by 35%, reaching a record high of 268,923 students. The number of Indian graduate students increased by a strong 63%, and there was a 16% increase in undergraduates. India maintained its position as the number one origin of students on OPT [Optional Practical Training], with 69,062 students,” said Dr. Mirka Martel, Head of Research, Evaluation & Learning at IIE.

The substantial growth in Indian student enrollment is primarily attributed to a remarkable 63% increase in graduate student numbers, reaching 165,936, along with a 16% increase in undergraduates to 31,954. OPT participation also saw a 1.3% increase, totaling 69,062. STEM subjects, particularly mathematics and computer science, remain the preferred fields of study for Indian students in the US.

Addressing concerns about job opportunities, Dr. Martel emphasized the strong interest shown by Indian students to continue their studies in the US, with OPT numbers showing an overall 17% increase in the Fall 2023 snapshot. The report reveals an 8% growth in the total number of international students on OPT, reaching 198,793 students.

Furthermore, the Fall 2023 international student enrollment snapshot indicates an 8% increase in international students in the US, with 70% of institutions focusing on undergraduate outreach and 80% prioritizing graduate outreach for students in India. The report suggests that the US remains a highly desired destination for Indian students, with a 14% year-over-year increase in first-time enrollment.

Marianne Craven, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Academic Exchanges, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, US Department of State, highlighted the importance of the educational relationship between the US and India, saying, “This year we issued over 140,000 student visas in mission India, the most we’ve done in 20 years.” Brenda Grewe, Acting Managing Director, Visa Office, Bureau of Consular Affairs, US Department of State, added, “That’s quite significant for us.”

Focus on India

As Indian students flock to American campuses, US universities are also strategically increasing their efforts to attract students from India.

US graduate programs have emerged as the main attraction for international students for the second consecutive year, experiencing a significant 21% growth. In contrast, undergraduate enrollment saw a modest 1% increase, which departs from the trend of undergraduates dominating the previous decade.

Last year’s growth is largely attributed to the popularity of math and computer science programs, which saw a 20% surge in enrollment compared to the previous year. Engineering and business programs also followed closely. Together, these three fields now account for more than half of all international students in the United States.

The increase in international enrollment is on track to bring the numbers close to pre-pandemic levels, with a peak of nearly 1.1 million students in 2018. The impact of COVID-19 led to a sharp decline in enrollment in the following two years, impeding academic exchange.

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