Trump's US, a land of vanished opportunity

In the end, the American President's policies may benefit India by cutting off brain drain.

Trump's US, a land of vanished opportunity

Generations of Indians have admired the US for almost everything. But many are infuriated and unnerved by what they see as a wave of racist violence under President Donald Trump, souring the US’ allure.

The reaction is not just anger and anxiety. Now, young Indians who have aspired to study, live and work in the US are looking elsewhere. “We don’t know what might happen to us while walking on the street there,” said Kanika Arora, a 20-year-old student in Mumbai who is reconsidering her plan to study in the US. “They might just think that we’re terrorists.”

Recent attacks on people of Indian descent in the US are explosive news in India. A country once viewed as the Promised Land now seems for many to be dangerously inhospitable. Further alienating Indians, especially among their highly educated class, is the Trump administration’s reassessment of H1-B visas given mostly for information technology jobs. More than 85,000 are granted a year, the majority to Indians.

“America was the land of great opportunity,” Sanket Bafna, 21, said as he emerged one afternoon last week from an exam at KC College, where he is studying financial management. “It’s not the same land.”

This year, undergraduate applications from India fell at 26% of US educational institutions, and 15% of graduate programmes, according to a survey of 250 US universities by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. The number of applications for H1-B visas also fell to 199,000, a nearly 20% decline, according to data kept by US Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Like many others, Indians were offended by Trump’s promises to block the Mexico border with a wall and bar people from six predominantly Muslim countries. Some took solace that India was not targeted.

But they soon saw that anti-immigrant rage in the US did not discriminate. In February, two Indian immigrants were shot, one fatally, at a bar in Kansas by a man who witnesses said had shouted ethnic slurs and told them they did not belong in the US.

Since then, several more attacks on Indian immigrants have been closely covered by the Indian news media. While officials have not linked all to anti-immigrant bigotry, the belief that Indians are under attack in the United States seems cemented in the minds of many.

About 3.2 million people of Indian descent live in the US, slightly more than 1% of the population, a Pew Research Centre report found. Most hold green cards and H1-B visas, and are far more affluent and educated than the average American.

Indian-Americans play an outsize role in Silicon Valley, where some, including Google Inc’s chief executive, Sundar Pichai, have founded or run some of the most successful companies. But success stories like Pichai’s no longer inspire the jealousy they once did in India.

Arora, leaving HR College of Commerce and Economics, where she had finished an exam, said her parents had reservations about sending her brother to the US, where he had been planning to enroll in college this year.

Arora said she, like her brother, “did aspire to work and study in America, but I’m reconsidering.” The biggest reason, she said, was the violence directed against Indians. “Every day, there’s a new headline about an Indian or Asian getting killed,” she said.

Now, Arora said, she and others in India are looking more favourably on Europe for study and work, despite the upheaval over Britain’s planned exit from the European Union. “Comparatively, it’s considered safer,” she said.

In the end, Trump’s policies may benefit their home country by cutting off the brain drain, Arora and other Indians said. “All the intelligent people are coming back and can work here,” she added. As students of Mumbai’s colleges reviewed dog-eared question papers with friends on the sidewalk, after finishing their exams, they returned again and again to astonishment that someone like Trump could be elected. “I was like, wow, how did you elect somebody like him,” said Shantanu Sivan, 20, who studies mass media at Wilson College. “I think I lost hope in the people of America.”

Growing reluctance
Ananya Gupta, 21, who studies financial management at KC College, laced his disappointment with contempt. “That just shows where they stand intellectually, electing a person of Trump’s nature as a president,” he said.

When asked if he had an opinion on the US under Trump, Gupta, standing across the street from his college, among other students at a beverage stand, replied “Who doesn’t?” “Of course as a child, I used to dream about going to America, the land of opportunity. But today,” he said, “I wouldn’t want to go there.”

Not everyone is so negative about the United States under Trump. Devanshu Jain, 21, said he still planned to study and work there.

“There’s racism in India, too,” he said. “Who doesn’t want to work for Goldman Sachs in New York City, right?” But he said some friends were “so shaken up about what’s happening” that they have transferred from American universities to Canadian institutions in recent months.

At Mumbai’s Todi Mills, an old mill area converted into restaurants, bars and office space for young entrepreneurs, Trump’s America is also viewed with trepidation.

“People are really thinking America’s going downhill,” said Shikha Mittal, 33, founder of Be.artsy, a nine-person firm specialising in using art for marketing. “It’s hard to take him seriously because the perception is so nonserious about him, that he’s not fit for the role he’s got,” Mittal said. “It’s affected how people think about America. What made people vote for him? What sort of people have voted for him?”

Around the corner, Abhishek Singh, 23, sat with a friend at a patio table of a pub, worrying about the effect of Trump on the world.  “The US has been such a good country with such good policies,” said Singh, a brewer. “And this guy comes to power, and you don’t know what he might actually do.” Singh, who dreams about owning a pub some day, said he was scared by Trump’s recent bombings in Syria and Afghanistan.

“He might start World War III,” Singh said. “He might kill us all.”

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