‘I would be scared to study in the U.S.’

Shoot­ings in Kansas, a pos­si­ble hate crime, prompt some visit­ing In­dian schol­ars and tech work­ers to con­sider op­tions in Canada and Aus­tralia

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY AN­NIE GOWEN an­nie.gowen@wash­post.com Swati Gupta contributed to this re­port.

new delhi — Anu­pam Singh, a mas­ter’s stu­dent, once dreamed of com­ing to the United States for his PhD stud­ies. But Wed­nes­day’s seem­ingly racially charged shoot­ing of two In­dian men in Kansas reaf­firmed his grow­ing be­lief that the United States isn’t a hos­pitable place for foreign stu­dents.

“I would be scared to study in the U.S.,” he said Saturday out­side a tea stall on the cam­pus of the In­dian In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy in New Delhi. “Did you read the news­pa­pers yes­ter­day? Two In­di­ans were shot.”

A Navy vet­eran who had al­legedly been in­tox­i­cated was charged with first-de­gree mur­der in the shoot­ing of two In­dian soft­ware en­gi­neers in a crowded bar in Olathe, Kan., Wed­nes­day evening. The as­sailant re­port­edly shouted, “Get out of my coun­try!” One man died, and the sec­ond was in­jured. A pa­tron who in­ter­vened was also hurt.

The pos­si­ble hate crime has prompted anger in In­dia and con­cern that the Trump-era United States is no longer a safe place for its thriv­ing com­mu­nity of visit­ing In­dian stu­dents, schol­ars and tech work­ers. The fa­ther of Alok Madasani, the In­dian in­jured in the at­tack, ap­pealed Fri­day from the In­dian city of Hyderabad to “all the par­ents in In­dia” not to send their chil­dren to the United States un­der “present cir­cum­stances.”

On a sunny day at one of In­dia’s most pres­ti­gious sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy cam­puses, the ef­fects of Wed­nes­day’s vi­o­lence were keenly felt.

Grad­u­ate stu­dents said they were chang­ing their post­grad­u­ate plans from the United States to uni­ver­si­ties in Canada or Aus­tralia. Oth­ers were field­ing tele­phone calls from anx­ious par­ents.

And par­ents who brought younger stu­dents to a Ru­bik’s Cube com­pe­ti­tion said they hoped the sit­u­a­tion was tem­po­rary, be­cause study­ing abroad in the United States re­mains the goal for many of the coun­try’s bright­est stu­dents.

The num­ber of in­ter­na­tional stu­dents at U.S. uni­ver­si­ties topped 1 mil­lion last year, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment data, with the num­ber of In­di­ans up 14 per­cent, to 206,584.

“I used to think of Amer­ica as a place where there is greater racial equal­ity than ex­ists in In­dia,” said Dhriti Ah­luwalia, 26, a mas­ter’s stu­dent who wants to at­tend a pub­lic pol­icy pro­gram in the United States. “Now peo­ple are afraid. There is in­equal­ity. There is racism.”

Con­cern over the trou­bled U.S. po­lit­i­cal cli­mate, beginning with its rhetoric-charged pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, has re­ver­ber­ated through In­dia’s thriv­ing in­dus­try for test prepa­ra­tion and ad­mis­sions coach­ing, which pre­pares stu­dents for study abroad.

“Ev­ery­body is ask­ing me whether they should go or not, whether they should look at U.S. schools or not,” said Kavita Singh, who runs the col­lege ad­mis­sions coun­sel­ing ser­vice Fu­tureWorks Con­sult­ing in New Delhi. Many of her stu­dents will want to ap­ply to “elite schools on the coasts, in blue states,” she said, adding that they don’t want to look at schools “in the mid­dle of the coun­try, the red states, any­more.”

Some have sib­lings and friends al­ready in the United States who have stoked these con­cerns with talk of racially mo­ti­vated in­ci­dents on col­lege cam­puses af­ter Don­ald Trump was elected pres­i­dent in Novem­ber, she said.

Singh said it is too early to know the ef­fect on the num­ber of stu­dents study­ing in the United States.

But a study be­fore the elec­tion by two com­pa­nies that re­cruit in­ter­na­tional stu­dents found that 60 per­cent of 40,000 stu­dents sur­veyed in 118 coun­tries would be less in­clined to come to the United States if Trump won, com­pared with 3.8 per­cent who would be less in­clined if Hil­lary Clin­ton won.

And that was be­fore Trump’s travel ban threw im­mi­gra­tion into chaos and en­snared stu­dents and schol­ars from some of the seven af­fected coun­tries in its net. In­di­ans said they are un­easy about pos­si­ble fu­ture lim­i­ta­tions on stu­dent per­mis­sions as well as H-1B visas, the foreign visas for highly skilled work­ers. The soft­ware en­gi­neers in the Kansas shoot­ing — Madasani and Srini­vas Kuchib­hotla, 32 — were ad­mit­ted to work for a global tech com­pany on H-1B visas af­ter com­plet­ing grad­u­ate stud­ies in the United States.

“Right now, ev­ery­one’s ner­vous,” said Tasaduq Hus­sain, a PhD scholar in elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing who said he still hopes to do post­doc­toral work in the United States. He was more con­cerned about visa lim­its than his safety: “The United States is a big coun­try, and there will be stray in­ci­dents,” he said.

“I don’t think the Amer­i­can peo­ple are anti-Mus­lim,” he added.

Singh, the math­e­mat­ics stu­dent and as­pir­ing PhD can­di­date, has in­ter­viewed at U.S. colleges. He ap­plied to the Uni­ver­sity of Mis­souri in 2015 but was re­jected. He’s try­ing again but only at schools in Europe and Aus­tralia.

“The de­ci­sion not to go to the U.S. did not hap­pen in­stantly,” he said. “I just kept hear­ing about in­ci­dents that peo­ple were leav­ing and be­ing thrown out. So I thought, ‘I don’t want to go to that coun­try.’ ”

“If Hil­lary Clin­ton was elected, then I would have gone,” he added. “There would still have been racism in the U.S., but it would not have been so much. As much as it is with Trump.”


Some stu­dents at the In­dian In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy in New Delhi are look­ing at grad­u­ate schools out­side of the United States. “Ev­ery­body is ask­ing me whether . . . they should look at U.S. schools or not,” said Kavita Singh, who runs a col­lege ad­mis­sions coun­sel­ing ser­vice.

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