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‘Chasing foreign dreams’: Young Punjabis driving India’s growing visa rush

Rooftop water tanks shaped like aeroplanes are a common sight in Jalandhar District of Punjab. (Representative image) Source: Supplied

The growth in the number of visa applicants from Punjab has outpaced any other state in India, with over 150,000 student visa holders travelling to countries such as Canada, Australia, UK and the US, just last year.

More Indians are opting to travel and study overseas than they have done ever before.

While India has seen an overall increase of 22 per cent in the visa applications during the last two years, Punjab is far ahead of any other state with a 66 per cent growth in the number of visa applicants.

Migration experts say there is a ‘craze’ among Punjabi youth to go overseas, especially on student visas.

Over 5.28 million Indians applied for visas last year – a 14 per cent increase over 2017, according to VFS Global that manages visa and passport-related administrative 147 countries, including India.  

Vinay Malhotra, Regional Group Chief Operating Officer of VFS Global said the company processed visa application for over 52.8 lakh Indians in the last year alone.

VFS’s Jalandhar office in Punjab registered the highest upward trend of 66 per cent, followed by 54 per cent from Chandigarh, 45 per cent from Goa and 43 per cent from Puducherry.

Elizabeth Samuel, VFS’s Head Operations, North and East, said, “the applicants from Punjab are choosing between the centres of Jalandhar and Chandigarh.”

“On an average, 2,000 to 3,000 visa applicants come daily to VFS Global in Jalandhar alone since we are the exclusive service provider for countries like Canada, US, UK and Australia.”

VU Diwali
Punjabi students celebrating Diwali at the Victoria University, Melbourne.
Photo courtesy Hong Seok Che

Gagandeep Singh, a Ludhiana-based migration agent told SBS Punjabi that he is ‘not surprised’ as Punjabis always had an upward trend of going abroad for multiple reasons – be it for skilled migration, family, travel or studies.

 “There was a time when travelling and studying overseas was limited to the rich only. But this is becoming more and more affordable now. It’s actually a becoming a craze to go overseas, especially on student visas, and Punjabis are actually leading the way,” said Mr Singh.

“People find nothing wrong with this trend. There’s no apparent reason to stay here. They want jobs and the government has nothing to offer.”

“Even their parents encourage them to go abroad for earning a better and prosperous life.”

An estimated 150,000 Punjabi students went abroad to chase their ‘foreign dreams’ in 2018 - with the majority getting their visas approved for Canada followed by Australia, UK, New Zealand and USA.  

Indian students from UNSW
A group of Indian students at University of New South Wales, Sydney.

Meanwhile, the student numbers from India to Australia have also been surging constantly.

Over 72,000 Indian students are currently enrolled in Australia, which makes India the second largest source of international students after China. 

Until March 2019, Australia had a record number of 613,000 international students with the majority coming from China, India and Nepal. 

According to the Australian Embassy in New Delhi, the country is already the most popular destination for Indian students after the United States.

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