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Is the NRI dream fading? Find out how it is becoming more difficult for Indians seeking higher education, jobs abroad

A high-paying job, top-class education and better quality of life continue to draw millions of Indians to foreign shores. But for many, this dream is in danger of turning into a nightmare. stepping out of foreign universities are finding it tough to secure well-paying jobs. Even those who have jobs are facing or are battling the high cost of living. A severe shortage of housing in some countries has sent rents skyrocketing, displacing many . Tighter work visa and residency rules are only adding to the woes of the Indian diaspora overseas. This story is playing out across the most sought-after destinations, such as the US, Canada, UK, Europe and Australia, among others. If you are dreaming of a cosy life for your ward or looking to shift overseas yourself, exercise caution. The grass may no longer be greener on the other side.

Marketing professional Rashmi Kelkar moved to Hamburg in late 2022 after she got a job in a German shipping company. However, she was retrenched a year later and still hasn’t managed to find a job. Kelkar says getting a job in Germany without a tech background is a formidable task. “If you are moving to Germany for a nontech role, prepare yourself for a reality check. The rose-tinted glasses get off as soon as you land here,” she says. The language barrier and the Euro zone’s immigration crisis have further exacerbated her woes. The job market, saturated with South Asian and Western aspirants, offers no respite despite labour shortage.

West Asia, US and UK remain preferred immigrant destinations
Most Indians still aspire for the ‘American dream’.


Students are concentrated in the US and Canada
The Middle East also draws many Indian students.


Rising unemployment
Thousands of Indian professionals abroad are sailing in the same boat. The developed world is still reeling from the aftershocks of Covid. Japan and UK slipped into a technical recession in December, and Germany may soon follow. Canada and Australia are also on the brink of a decline. Contrary to the talk of a soft landing for the US economy, JP Morgan predicts that a recession has only been pushed back to 2025. Businesses worldwide are downsizing and hiring is at an ebb. The coveted, glamorous jobs at the biggest companies are fast disappearing.
Last year, a tsunami of layoffs in the big tech companies in the US, including Meta Platforms, Google and Amazon, uprooted the lives of many Indian techies. Many had to secure new jobs within the stipulated time period under their work visas, or return to India. This is a reality facing many Indians abroad, says Bhavna Chadha, Founder & CEO, Adhyapann: The Skills Hub. “Whenever there is an economic slump and companies are forced to lay off, they tend to safeguard their own citizens, while Indians on work visas are considered expendable,” Chadha laments. For many Indians on H1-B work visas, this is distressing as they have put down roots in the US over the years, with ongoing home mortgages or student loans and children in school.
They risk uprooting their family and moving elsewhere. A few have already come back home to take up jobs at lower salaries. Others have opted to take up minimumpay jobs to stay afloat.

The paucity of jobs is considerably higher for freshers. Several companies have even rescinded internship offers, leaving students in the lurch. Neeti Sharma, CEO, TeamLease Digital, an IT staffing firm, says, “Severe global headwinds are making recruiters go slow on hiring. Job opportunities for freshers are particularly modest.” Students beyond the top tier campuses from non-STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines and limited work experience are learning that their foreign degree fetches little credit in the job market. Eela Dubey, Founder, EduFund, remarks, “Today’s employers prioritise candidates who not only possess academic credentials, but have also invested time in developing specific skill sets. Many students are caught unprepared because their qualifications do not align with employer expectations.”

Better job prospects is the top reason for studying abroad
Nearly half the respondents listed it as the primary reason for their decision.


Note:A notable portion of respondents identified ‘permanent residency’ as a key motivation for studying abroad. This suggests that for many aspirants, education is viewed as a pathway to immigration. Source: Upgrad Study Abroad 3.0

The story is no different in other preferred destinations such as the UK, Canada and Australia. The Grattan Institute report found that only half of international graduates in Australia secure full-time employment. Many of them work in lowskilled jobs, with nearly half of them earning less than $53,300 annually. Climate finance campaigner Vishal Sharma, based in Sydney, Australia, remarks, “Unless you are a permanent resident here, it is very difficult to secure a full-time job. Companies also don’t easily sponsor candidates unless you are skilled in specific areas. This leaves many candidates to take informal jobs as supermarket attendants, waiters or cab drivers.”

MBA grad, Hamburg, Germany
Note1:She moved to Germany in 2022 to work for a large shipping company, but was retrenched a year later. She hasn’t managed to get another job. The language barrier and high cost of living add to the challenges she faces.
Note2:If you are moving to Germany for a non-tech role, get ready for a reality check. The rose-tinted glasses get off as soon as you land here.

Spiralling cost of living
Adding to the woes of Indians overseas is the sharp rise in cost of living. Housing or student accommodation is particularly costly everywhere. Major study destinations around the world are struggling with limited accommodation amid a flux of incoming students, sending rents soaring. Robin Pol, who works in Dublin, Ireland, after completing his masters in international business from there, observes, “Every major European city has a housing crisis; it is not easy to find accommodation. Landlords take advantage of the situation by jacking up rents.”

A report by research firm BONARD (Student Housing Annual Report 2023) observed that nearly 10 higher education students are competing for every available student housing bed in Barcelona, Melbourne, Rome, Toronto and Zurich, among others. The report also found the highest rent increases since 2018 in student residences across Europe, Australia, and Canada. Students are also increasingly making do with smaller rooms and sharing space with 3-4 others to afford a roof over their heads. “There is overcrowding in houses, students live illegally (more number of people than allowed) to reduce the rent expense,” says Ananya Banerjee, a student of psychology in Canberra, Australia. “International students usually have to finalise their accommodation after they get admission. In many cases, students have deferred one semester only because they couldn’t find a place to live,” she adds.

Student, Canberra, Australia
Note1:The influx of immigrants has created a housing shortage and pushed up rents. International students with limited means are forced to live illegally, with more than the permissible number of people sharing an accommodation. There is also a feeling of alienation and loneliness among immigrants.
Note2:Many students have deferred a semester only because they couldn’t find an affordable place to live.

With incomes squeezed, many immigrants are finding it difficult to meet even their daily needs. “The high cost of living, combined with high taxes, takes a lot away from the whole ‘European’ experience,” says Kelkar. Though healthcare is covered, the exorbitant living costs chip away at earnings, leaving non-tech professionals such as Kelkar with scant savings after hefty taxes. Some are forced to seek monetary help from parents back home, while others take up part-time jobs to stay afloat. “At times, students take 2-3 jobs to manage their expenses along with their full-time studies,” says Banerjee. Skipping meals altogether or relying on cafeteria food is quite common among some immigrants. “Groceries and eating out are very expensive. Even a basic haircut is unaffordable,” she adds.

Tighter work permit rules
Seeking work visas and residency in foreign countries is also getting tougher. Dubey of EduFund points out, “Many countries have adjusted their immigration policies and imposed stricter regulations and quotas for foreign workers. This makes it more challenging for Indian individuals to secure work permits or residency visas, affecting their ability to settle down for the long term.”

Work visas under the US H-1B lottery programme are increasingly difficult to come by. The US government has set an annual cap (85,000 currently) on the number of new H-1B work visas that can be issued each fiscal year. When the demand for H-1B visas exceeds the available slots, a lottery system is used to randomly select petitions for processing. This is a source of uncertainty for many existing and prospective H-1B visa holders. “Obtaining residency permits has become more complex, with stricter requirements and longer processing times leading to uncertainty, especially with application backlogs,” says Rohan Ganeriwala, Cofounder and Director, Collegify.

Many disgruntled H1-B workers have been venting on social media. One frustrated user left a comment on X (previously Twitter) wondering why people continue to go through this stress. “I have been in the US under F-1 and also working under STEM OPT. Now this is my last year and H-1B is what determines if I stay. This whole process is so stressful that truthfully, I don’t mind going back home at this point.”

Will your foreign salary sustain the cost of living?
Some countries report high inflation with low wage growth, affecting the purchasing power.


Note:The average cost of living in the USA (based on 2022 and 2023) is adjusted to an index of 100. All other countries are related to this index. So with an index of 80, usual expenses in another country are 20% less then that in the USA. The calculated purchasing power index is again based on a value of 100 for the USA. If it is higher, people can afford more based on the cost of living in relation to income. If it is lower, the population is less wealthy. With a cost of living index of 131, all goods in Switzerland are on average about 31% more expensive than in the USA. But since average income in Switzerland is also 24% higher, citizens can afford more goods. Source:

Canada, a very popular destination among Indians, announced a two-year cap on international student permits and a freeze on certain postgraduate work visas starting January. This was in the wake of record newcomer arrivals amid a burgeoning housing crisis. Many students target studies in Canada as it provides an easier pathway to permanent residency and citizenship of the country. “A series of immigration scams unearthed in Canada have also made authorities stricter in their scrutiny of visa applications,” says Chadha. Studies and residency in Canada are also a significantly costly affair now. Starting this year, prospective students need to show they have access to CAD 20,635 (Rs.12.5 lakh) instead of the previous requirement of CAD 10,000 (Rs.6 lakh)—a limit that had been in place for two decades. This is apart from travel and accommodation expenses. Those seeking permanent residency in Canada also have to pay a higher fee.

The UK has also tightened visa norms. The family visa category, under which long-term UK residents can bring their spouses and partners to join them, until now required the applicant to be earning at least British pound 18,600 annually (Rs.19.37 lakh). From March-April this year, this has been hiked to British pound 38,700 (`40.3 lakh). This is likely to impact many Indian families. In Australia, a report by the Grattan Institute found that only one out of three ‘temporary graduate’ visaholders transition to permanent residency when their visas expire. Ten years ago, two out of three got permanent residency.

Climate campaigner, Sydney, Australia
Note1:With the Australian economy on the brink of slipping into a recession, jobs have dried up. In such situations, countries usually give preference to their own citizens. A study shows that only one out of two international graduates in Australia managed to get full-time employment.Note2:Unless you are a permanent resident, it is difficult to get a full-time job. Many immigrants are forced to take up informal jobs in supermarkets or as cab drivers.

Moreover, several countries have recently either scrapped or downsized the ‘golden visa’, which offers a residency permit to individuals making substantial investments in the country, such as buying property or investing in businesses or government bonds. This includes the UK, Portugal, Ireland, Spain, The Netherlands and Australia, among others.

High salary, but also high expense
Salaries in the top four destinations are high, but the cost of education and living are also very high. Second-tier countries offer similar education at much lower costs.


Be ready for more struggle
Many Indian parents borrow heavily to send their kids abroad for higher studies to fulfil their dream of seeing them settle down abroad. For some, foreign studies only serve as a gateway to distant shores. But this path is getting increasingly rocky. “Don’t follow herd mentality and blindly send your child overseas in the footsteps of friends or relatives,” warns Chadha. “The initial economic promise that beckoned Indians abroad a decade ago has evolved into a more nuanced landscape,” asserts Ganeriwala.

Job insecurity and spiralling cost of living are not the only challenges awaiting Indian immigrants. Many feel alienated in the foreign land. “The perception about Indians among native Australians is a barrier that is difficult to tackle. There is no acknowledgment as equals,” says Australiabased Sharma. According to an HSBC survey, a number of Indians who moved abroad encountered difficulties in assimilating into new communities. Specifically, about 33% of Indians who have relocated abroad did not agree that they ‘feel like a local’ in their host country, while almost 31% were similarly unsure about their sense of belonging. “There is a big issue of loneliness and mental health problems among students that remains unheard,” rues Banerjee, who works closely with other international students on mental health issues at the Australian National University, Canberra.


Their ongoing financial and mental struggles are forcing some Indians to consider moving back to India. There are numerous posts on social media by overseas Indians voicing anxieties about job security and high cost of living. “If you don’t mind the daily grind and hustle of life in India, it may be prudent to stay back,” contends Dublinbased Pol. “If you seek a better work-life balance, then consider moving abroad but only after carefully choosing the country and institute for higher studies.”

Quality of life varies widely abroad
Some countries have high cost of living, others have tough weather conditions.


Survival of the fittest
For decades, the US, the UK, Canada and Australia, were the obvious destinations for Indians aspiring to education, work or citizenship. Experts say this may no longer yield favourable outcomes, unless one has the right skills. Counsellors advise students to be more selective in choosing a course or a university. Dubey reckons the success of a student hinges less on the institution’s prestige and more on his ability to develop relevant skills. She points to a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies indicating that a good degree from a less prestigious university is better than a lower-class degree from a selective institution. It found that graduates in England with first-class or upper secondclass honours degrees had higher average earnings by the age of 30 than those who finished with lower second-class awards regardless of institution. On the same note, Chadha cautions against opting for shorter programmes even from top quality institutes. “A candidate holding a one-year masters degree will have lesser value when pitted against another with a two-year masters degree and more work experience.”

Business analyst, Dublin, Ireland
Note:Due to the influx of foreign students, almost all major education destinations are facing a housing shortage. Landlords are taking advantage of the situation by jacking up rents, even as the high cost of living is pinching foreign students.
Note:Consider moving abroad only after careful deliberation. If you don’t mind the daily grind and hustle of life in India, it may be prudent to stay back.

Moving abroad can be daunting, so experts advise parents to have an open communication with their child. “The significant cost of studying or living abroad necessitates open discussions and exploration of scholarships, financial aid, and saving strategies. Cultural considerations are equally important,” remarks Ganeriwala.

He also advises children to network with professionals in their field, alumni networks, and community organisations in India and abroad to foster connections that can aid job prospects and build a support system in an alien environment. Students could also consider cheaper alternatives. Delhi-based higher education counsellor Alok Bansal says, “Students are exploring cheaper destinations like The Netherlands and France, as well as Dubai for its proximity to India and new universities.” The Student Mobility Report 2023-24 by University Living finds countries like Germany, Kyrgyzstan, Ireland, Singapore, Russia, France and New Zealand emerging as preferred destinations.

—with inputs from Ranaditya Baruah