By Jaswinder Singh Brar & Misbah Singh
THE STATE OF Punjab has been witnessing a rising tide of student migration to Canada for the past over decade or so. This phenomenon of student or academic migration which ultimately takes the form of permanent migration has caused the state a lot of ache in many ways.
This phenomenon, which was earlier considered with much concern as unidirectional brain drain has actually mutated and is now being viewed as a larger process of brain gain and circulation also. That is why in policy circuits the emigration is also perceived as an economic opportunity rather than a colossal threat.
Developing countries counties by and large have been adjusting their policies according to market power, position and dynamics of the advanced nations rather than adopting any independent stance.
Canada on the basis of its superior international education market has been trying to attract maximum possible students from all over the world. The student inflow to that country is encouraged by its liberal immigration policies, better living standards and ample job and business opportunities.
The study by the Canadian Bureau of International Education suggests that international student mobility to the country has witnessed as much as 34 per cent growth over the period from 2014 to 2017. Further, 65 per cent of the overseas student population to the country originates from five countries namely China, India, South Korea, France and Vietnam.
The country plans to further exploit its market power with the explicit objective to emerge as powerhouse of international students.
As per International Education Strategy 2019-24, over the next five years, Canada aims to diversify its education sector, boost the education capacity, promote global ties and foster a vibrant Canadian economy.
The strategy particularly aims to draw the international students from around the world into diverse courses along with promoting return migration for its own citizens.
The strategy thus aims to further strengthen its market position in relation to other countries like UK and USA. International students have been contributing significantly to the income of the universities of the advanced countries.
The foreign students’ dependent universities exert strong pressure in shaping the host governments’ policies regarding the various dimensions pertaining to the admissions, accommodation, and working conditions of international students.
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has raised plethora of health, economic and political issues among others. The spread of virus across nations raised a sense of fear which led governments of many nations to take drastic measures like complete lockdowns, travelling restrictions within and across territories, and selective closure of economic activities, etc.
As for India, the country saw a new trend of return migrants as these measures became stricter. The students enrolled into various courses abroad started returning back to their home countries with the very thought of being unsafe.
The host countries’ universities and colleges moved their classes online and students were asked to find their accommodations elsewhere. Lot many students found it easier to fly back home rather than staying back and bear the extra cost of living.
The Corona virus cases in Punjab by and large have moved in tandem with national pattern and follow the rising trajectory. The districts such as Amritsar, Jalandhar, Patiala, Mohali and Ludhiana which are the hubs of immigration agencies have remained the corona virus epicenters with maximum number of confirmed cases.
The lockdown has seriously jeopardized the economic activity and general business environment in the state. The persistence closure of educational institutions, without any extra monetary support from the state, has been making matters worse for all stakeholders in the education sector.
The pandemic along with other businesses has hit the immigration business more intensely. The number of students applying for study visas has come down drastically. The students are already facing a delay in their academic cycles and fissures in their future endeavors.
A survey reported in the Canadian Immigration Newsletter highlights two things very prominently:
(a) that majority of the students would prefer to defer the study plans until next year as they were more interested in the international exposure rather than online learning
(b) that Canada will remain the most preferred study destination because of student centric government policies.
Therefore, in the coming semester, the new student intake is bound to fall on account of the ongoing pandemic with adverse impact on whole chain of immigration business including language training institutions. The long drawn of pandemic will make the situation even worse for international student mobility.
The emergence of second wave of Covid has further added the uncertainty as advanced countries are reintroducing the restrictions. The Covid virus has been staying much longer than the earlier understanding of its natural weakening and emergence of herd immunity.
The state of Punjab has re-imposed the night curfew from December 1, 2020. Students very rightly prefer the actual experience of availing of the educational courses of the institutions of advanced countries by staying there than that of the online mode of learning from abroad by spending huge amount of money.
There are reports that local educational institutions has experienced somewhat surge in admissions as students for the time being want to stay at their houses. They also try to save their academic session by joining some courses along with maintaining their studentship status as it helps in emigration clearance.
But, the movement of students to Canada has its deep connection with the general emigration from the state.
Noticeably, the flow of students to Canada has also been deeply influenced by the existence of strong social networks, family and kinship ties.
Punjabi diaspora with its deep rural orientation and basis has emerged as an instant source of information for students belonging to farming community for the prevalence of educational and other employment opportunities in various parts of the Canada.
The demonstration impact of emigration in the case of state has become very important in determining the intensity of emigration as households with emigrant connection demonstrate higher level of material prosperity as compared to others.
The migration decisions by households in the state shows strong sensitive to the nature of job market in their surroundings which is not at all encouraging.
No doubt, the pandemic has left the students with a sense of fear, anxiety and uncertainty about their future which is affecting their mental health also. The response of state in protecting the employment and livelihood during the ongoing Covid period remains much wanting.
The state has not done much to ensure timely and full payment of salaries and wages to the workforce particularly in private concerns. The state has so far not articulated any policy pertaining to the rising tide of youth/student emigration.
In such a policy vacuum, the students’ decisions have been guided more by their personal limited stock of information and band wagoning.
Ironically, the state has not been paying the desired attention to the perpetual loss of youth power and associated monetary resources in the form of payment of fees and funds paid by the students to the universities situated in other countries.
Rather the state system counts the receiving of monetary remittances as the strongest positive benefit of emigration from the state. It is to be noted that there exists a fundamental difference between the emigration from Punjab and rest of the states particularly Kerala, etc.
The emigration from Punjab has largely been to countries which grant citizenship and permanent residency status.
But, the emigration from Kerala etc remained essentially confined to Middle East and other countries based largely upon work permit status. That is why the number of return migrants remained much lower in Punjab as compared to other states of the country.
The state has been witnessing the complete emigration of the immediate and extended families of the first emigrants.
The strengthening of emigration chain in that way will surely impact the supply of remittances as they ultimately show generation specific behavior.
It is quite noticeable that people in general more particularly degree holders from middle classes and urbanized are not much enthused about the governance capacity, capability and even priorities of the state managing political forces.
Leaving the state affairs in usual and routine manner has been costing the state very dear in terms of human and material resources. This may now be the right time for the state to intervene and turn the tables.
Keeping the state affairs in usual mode no longer inspire the confidence of society. Households are desperate for availability of high quality education, health, employment, safety and security and other public services. Pro-actively working upon these will mellow the hardening of push factors fuelling the emigration chain from the state.
The state has to muster the public resources by controlling the pilferage as public is not convinced with the often repeated official position of empty treasury. The pandemic have certainly distressed the economy but its rebuilding around the genuine requirements of public will generate huge chain of social, economic and political dividends.
Jaswinder Singh Brar is Professor of Economics and Misbah Singh is a Research Scholar in Department of Economics, Punjabi University Patiala
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