Published on People Move

India’s Great Student Out-Migration

This page in:

In recent years there has been a surge of Indian youth migrating abroad for studies, crossing 7.5 lakh in 2022. Before Covid-19 struck, student migration had crossed 5 lakh in 2018, reaching 5.86 lakh in 2019, but then fell by half in 2020 on account of the pandemic. Despite this decline due to lockdowns and travel restrictions, over 2.5 lakh students migrated abroad for studies. Student mobility rebounded, reaching 4.4 lakh in 2021, just after the pandemic. As per latest statistics, Indian students going abroad for education increased by nearly 70% compared to 2021.  

Based on government official statements, interesting insights come to light on the dynamics of student out-migration from India in the recent years. A favoured destination, the highest numbers of Indian students were migrating to the United States of America (USA) in 2022, which had increased to 1.9 lakh from 1.25 lakh in 2021. After USA, Canada was the top destination for Indian students, the numbers nearly doubling to 1.85 lakh in 2022 from 1.02 lakh in 2021. The United Kingdom (UK) has become the third most sought after country for student migration, fast catching up to USA and Canada. In 2022, 1.32 lakh Indian students migrated to UK as compared to just 77000 in 2021 and 25000 in 2018. 

Usually, Australia had been the third largest destination for student out-migration from India in the pre-Covid years. However, it fell to 8900 in 2021 from 73800 in 2019. Student Migration to Australia in 2019 was double of that of UK. In 2022, student out-migration to Australia rebounded to 59000 but could not reach the earlier pre-COVID levels, but still stands at 4th position. Along with Australia, student migration from India also fell very steeply for New Zealand (10200 students in 2019 to 1600 in 2022).

In 2021, Ukraine was the 4th largest student outbound country with 18500 Indian students, which declined to just around 2000 students following the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Despite this conflict, student migration to Russia actually increased to an all-time high of 19700 compared to 15800 in 2021. Russia remains the 6th highest destination for student out-migration from India, just behind Germany which is at the 5th position with 20600 students. Central Asian countries (Kyrgyzstan with 14700 students and Kazakhstan with 8800 students) also remain important destinations for Indian students especially for health and medicine. 

In 2022, Singapore became the 7th largest destination for student out-migration from India. After a drastic fall in number of students migrating (4800 and 2800 in 2020 and 2021 respectively), it jumped back to 17000 students migrating to Singapore from India in 2022.  Wide multi-culturalism, reasonable costs of education, robust economy and safe environment make it one of the top destinations for Indian students. After Singapore, Philippines with 11200 students feature in the top-10 student outmigration destinations from India.

Bangladesh is emerging as a major destination for Indian students. In 2017, 5600 students migrated to Bangladesh for studies, which increased to 17000 in 2022, making Bangladesh the 8th largest destination for student outmigration from India.  

China saw significant decline in Indian students after the pandemic; in 2021, just 3 Indian students migrated to China for studies as per official statements. Even though student migration to China has increased to 1900 in 2022, it is a significant fall from 19000 during 2019, and 20600 in 2018. 

Other countries witnessing declined student migration from India were the Gulf countries, especially United Arab Emirates (UAE) which saw a significant decline from 17600 in 2017 to 5800 in 2022. UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain saw a combined high decline from 22200 students in 2017 to 7200 in 2022. 

Overall there are 13.2 lakh Indian students currently studying abroad. The geographic distributions are mainly around USA, Canada, Gulf Countries, UK and Australia. Currently there are 4.6 lakh Indian students studying in USA which account for 35.2% of total Indian students studying abroad. After USA, Canada accounts for 1.83 lakh students (13.8% Indian students abroad). Nearly half of the Indian students abroad are in North America. 

Despite the decline in Indian students’ outmigration to the Gulf countries, it still accounts for the third largest share of students currently studying abroad. The UAE accounts for 1.6 lakh Indian students (12.4% of the total Indian students studying abroad). Across Gulf countries, Saudi Arabia accounts for 5% of students, followed by Qatar with 3.5% and Oman with 3%. Together, the Gulf counties of UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Oman account for over 3 lakh Indian students, comprising almost a quarter of Indian students currently studying abroad. 

The UK accounts for 12.4% of Indian students currently studying abroad, and Australia accounts for another 7.5%. Thus, on an average, half of the Indian students studying abroad are clustered around North America, followed by one-fourth in Gulf countries and another one-fifth in the UK and Australia combined. 

In the coming years, as Indian economy moves towards a $ 5 trillion dollar economy, international student migration can be expected to grow by leaps and bounds.


Dr S. Irudaya Rajan

Chair, International Institute for Migration and Development, India

Rakesh Ranjan Kumar

Assistant Professor, Centre for Policy Studies, JK Lakshmipat University, Rajasthan, India

Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000