NEW DELHI - When the Guptas got an invitation for permanent residency in Canada, similar to a green card in the United States, the excited New Delhi-based couple did not take long to pack their bags.
In their mid-30s, both Ankit and Shubhi Gupta are chartered accountants and were doing well in India. But they wanted to migrate to a developed country that would offer their 9-year-old daughter a brighter future and give them better work-life balance.
They seized the opportunity offered by Canada, which has opened its doors to plug shortages of skilled workers and set a target of taking in 1 million skilled immigrants by 2021.
“From the beginning I was looking for a place that provides me, my family, especially my daughter a kind of life where she can do and prosper whatever she wants to do,” Ankit Gupta said. “There is not much competition. She can follow her dreams.”
Gupta said he never seriously looked at the United States.
For nearly five decades, the U.S., viewed as the land of opportunity, was the top choice for Indian students and professionals who wanted to migrate. But as Washington puts in place more restrictive immigration policies, tens of thousands of young Indians are heading to its northern neighbor, Canada, which is offering an easier path to citizenship.
That includes students, who are giving Canadian universities a closer look. The number of Indian students in the U.S. is still higher than in Canada, but the rapid rise in those going to the U.S. has plateaued, while Canadian universities are seeing a surge in the number of Indian applicants.
The reason: Many students chose to pay high tuition fees at U.S. universities in the hope of landing a job that ultimately would lead to a green card. But as work visas become harder to come by, many students who do not want to return to India are looking elsewhere.
Among them is Nikhil Kumar in New Delhi. As he applies for postgraduate studies to foreign universities, he did not shortlist those in the U.S. After struggling to get a decent opening in India, he is eyeing a life overseas and is opting for universities in Canada, a country he says that offers job opportunities for students and simpler access to permanent residency.
“In the U.S., there are stricter laws and there are a lot of problems being faced by Indian students over there,” Kumar said. “So I feel, why waste time there when I am getting same kind of education in Canada.”
Technology professionals, who had long considered Silicon Valley the ultimate destination, also are discouraged by the process to get the non-immigrant H1B work visa. Mostly used by information technology companies to hire specialist workers, the path to obtain H1B work visas has been tightened — critics say companies use it to hire cheaper foreign workers. Indians are among the biggest recipients of these visas, but are finding it harder to get them prompting many IT workers to look at Canada.
Aasheesh Trikha, a 25-year-old data analyst in New Delhi, has applied for permanent residency in Canada because of the opportunities it offers. His brother is already in the country and he, too, hopes to find an opening and make a life there.
Immigration consultants say that Canada has emerged as a hot spot for Indian professionals, including IT professionals. They say some are moving for the sake of the next generation.
As Indian cities become more crowded, the race to get into good schools and colleges is becoming tougher, and the air more polluted. And in a country where half of the population is younger than 25, the competition has become intense.
Such concerns have prompted some to take the plunge and start life over again in another country.
“They are wanting to migrate for better education openings and living standards for their children,” said Rashmi Sinha, business head at Visas Avenue in New Delhi.
Uprooting themselves was a challenge, according to the Guptas. They belong to an expanding middle class helped by India’s growing economy, had made their own home in Gurgaon, the business hub near the Indian capital, and they enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle.
“It is never easy to leave a secure life behind. India is a progressing country, you have family here, you have a secure, well-paid job here,” said Ankit Gupta as he and his family prepared to leave for Canada.
The difficulties Nikhil Kumar faced in settling down since he graduated prompted him to look at Canada. Unlike many countries, it can often be a challenge for graduates in India to get a good job because of a huge pool of postgraduate talent in the country. He hopes Canada will be different.
“Low population, people are friendly, nice culture, you can kind of take your culture over there. Education is good, health is good, the place is perfect, so it is great,” Kumar said.
Indians are among the top seekers of permanent residency in Canada. Of the 86,022 invitations sent in 2017, nearly 42% — or 36,310 — were to Indian citizens.
As growing barriers make U.S. shores more distant for immigrants, the allure of Canada is rising.