Rahul Kolli
Rahul Kolli

Rahul Kolli was happy to be accepted at Michigan Tech University to complete his master's degree in data analytics.

Kolli, a 23-year-old engineering graduate from India?s Chennai city, was chasing the same dream pursued for decades by tens of thousands of Indians: studying at an American university, working in the United States, and maybe settling there.

But in November, Kolli ditched his plans to go to the U.S. for a university in Ireland.

His main concern? President Trump?s tough rhetoric on protecting jobs for Americans which could make it hard for immigrants to land a job.

Kolli says many of his Indian friends at American universities discouraged him, saying that recruiters at job fairs had told them that U.S. citizens would be preferred for new openings.

?Before Trump, yes, they were asking me to come. But after Trump being elected as president, they were like, 'Think over your decision. I don?t suggest you come to the U.S. Why don?t you try some other country?' ?

Cmdr. Shanti Sethi, commanding officer of the USS Decatur, answers questions from female students during an event to commemorate Women's History Month in Chennai, India, for a port visit in 2011. (U.S. Navy/Jennifer A. Villalovos)

The U.S. has long been the top choice for Indian students and has attracted its brightest and best. India sent nearly 166,000, or 16 percent of more than 1 million international students to the U.S. last year, according to the Institute for International Education. That is the second-largest group of student immigrants after China, which sent 328,000, or 31 percent of international students to the U.S.

International students add $32.8 billion to the U.S. economy, according to the Association of International Educators (NAFSA).

The scarcity of quality universities in India forces many Indian students to look at foreign countries for higher education, students say.

For years, Chennai-based Preston Education Consultancy sent all but a handful of its student clients to American universities. But now, 40 percent have opted for countries such as Ireland, Canada, Germany and Australia, even after gaining admission to an American university, said Preston's Ilaya Bharathi,

?It?s basically what is called in the market the 'Trump effect.' They are reluctant to take the U.S. as an option now,? said Bharathi.

India US Cisco
Students from Cisco Network Academy talk with former Indian President A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, (right, back to camera), while CEO John Chambers (seated left) and Cisco Asia Pacific President Owen Chan, (standing left) look on in Bangalore, India, in 2007. (AP/Aijaz Rahi)

He points to growing nervousness among students and their parents, who often spend tens of thousands of dollars from their savings to fund their children?s education, about a possible change in policies by the Trump administration that would make it difficult to stay and work in the U.S.

Bharathi said that with a majority of those going overseas being software engineers, many are opting to study in Ireland, which has emerged as an information technology hub in Europe and which recently liberalized its policy to allow students to stay after the completion of their education and work for two years instead of one.

Safety concerns

Jobs are not the only concern. There is also growing apprehension among students and parents about whether the United States will continue to be a safe and hospitable place for foreign students and workers as anti-immigrant sentiment increases.

Last week in Olathe, Kansas, two Indian engineers were shot -- one dead -- having drinks on the outside terrace of Austin's Bar and Grill. The man charged in the shooting allegedly shouted, ?get out of my country,? before opening fire on the 32-year-old men, and reportedly said later he thought the two were Iranians.

The mother of the dead man, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, wailed at her son's funeral.

"I had asked him to return to India if he was feeling insecure there. But he used to say he was safe and secure," she said.

"Now I want my younger son Sai Kiran and his family to come back for good. I will not allow them to go back," she said. "My son had gone there in search of a better future. What crime did he commit?"

The story was widely covered in India.

Kavita Singh, who runs the New Delhi-based college admissions counseling firm, FutureWorks Consulting, faces questions that were seldom posed about the United States before.

?What is the environment going to be like on campus?" she asks. "Is it going to change and is it going to be different

This concern, said Singh, is greater among those planning to pursue undergraduate students. Belonging to richer families, which can fund an expensive education, these students often do not want to stay back and work in the U.S., but they fear the environment may turn more hostile.

?Some even say we only want to look maybe now at colleges on the East and West Coast, which voted blue (Democrat), and we are not really sure we want to look at the middle of the country,? said Singh, who earned a master's of business administration degree in the U.S.

Education consultants say many postgraduate students are waiting and watching to see how policies unfold under the Trump administration.

But not everyone is discouraged. Shraddha Gulati, a science undergraduate student in a Delhi University college, shrugged aside worries about job openings and said she would like to pursue studies in the United States.

For Gulati, the lure is a quality education.

?There are so many good colleges there, the top 50 and 100, and not (here) in India," she said.

Consultants agree that with the U.S. being home to many of the world?s top universities, it will continue to be a beacon for many Indians, and the aspiration for a seat at Ivy League universities and other top-tier colleges will not dim. But that may not be the case for other educational institutions, they said.

This story first appeared on VOANews.com.  Are you reconsidering studying in the U.S. or know someone who is? Please leave a comment here, and visit us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, thanks!