AMBALA/SYDNEY/TORONTO – When 19-year-old Sachin failed to score the grades he needed to get into a good Indian college, his father, a small shopkeeper, took a loan and dug deep into the family savings to help him secure a Canadian student visa.
The 2 million rupees (S$35,307) they scraped together covered the fees for English language tuition provided by Western Overseas, one of dozens of visa consultancies in Ambala, about 250km from of New Delhi, that promise better lives through study overseas.
“My dream is to settle abroad as I see no future in India,”said Mr Sachin, who uses only a single name.
He now plans to fly to Canada where he hopes to complete a two-year diploma in business management and eventually secure a longer work visa.
While middle-class Indians have for decades sought better prospects in other countries, worsening economic conditions are now driving families from poorer rural areas like Mr Sachin’s to make big investments to set up new lives for their children overseas.
Mr Sachin says his two friends now in Canada earn about C$1,200(S$1,283) a month through part-time work while studying for diplomas.
With many countries now lifting Covid-19 restrictions, the number of Indian students heading to places like the United States, Canada, Australia, Britain, Ireland and New Zealand was almost one million in early 2022, roughly doubling from pre-pandemic levels, according to government and industry estimates.
Consultancies like Western Overseas provide coaching for English language proficiency tests, services for course selection, visa application processing, travel and even placements for part-time work.
In Sydney, Ms Catriona Jackson, chief executive of Universities Australia, said more than 76,000 Indian students were now pursuing education in Australia, which is expected to accelerate after both countries signed a bilateral trade pact this year.
Many are applying for short courses in Canada and Australia driven by increasingly bleak job prospects at home and as Western governments loosen immigration requirements to fill university and job vacancies.
The overseas education market is estimated to more than double to US$80 billion by 2024 from about US$30 billion, according to a 2021 report from Red Seer, a consultancy, as global incomes and middle-class aspirations rise.
The increasing cost of private education and falling job opportunities in the public sector and manufacturing in India have forced thousands of families to mortgage properties or take bank loans for overseas education, visa consultants said.
Not even a 7 per cent decline in the Indian rupee this year has deterred families from forking out the fees.