The coronavirus pandemic has led to countries across the globe closing their borders indefinitely as they look to curb the number of cases, which means that cross-country travel and migration remains discontinued for the near future, unless necessary. While this has hit the tourism and hospitality industry badly, another industry that the pandemic has upended is immigration and job consultants that help job seekers and students move abroad.
Ranga Rao, a marketing manager at Hyderabad-based Amion Overseas, says that while the company processed 150 visas in the month of July last year, this year, they barely processed nine. The business, he says, has fallen by over 80%.
Ameerpet, Kukatpally and Miyapur areas that house most of these consultancy companies, which are known to be buzzing through the day, now wear a deserted look. While offices have been closed due to the pandemic, many have even begun winding up companies due to lack of business.
Ranga claims that amongst the 250+ consultancies that are present between Ameerpet to Miyapur, at least 60% have decided to close their businesses, while the others have either laid off most staff, or gone for pay cuts.
â€śEarlier each step of the process was handled by one person where one did the applications, one did the visa process and one took the financial side of the clientâ€™s application. But now, one person is being given to do most of the work because there are less customers,â€ť he adds.
The fall in business, he says, started from January, but with the onset of the pandemic, it became worse. While Rangaâ€™s consultancy has not laid off staff, all employees have taken a 20% pay cut, he said.
â€śThe economy across the world is bad and getting a job is very difficult at this time. We are seeing many people enquire, but no one is actually willing to proceed with the process of actually finding a job and migrating. Some countries have started processing visas, but many still remain shut. Australia and the US are not processing any visas. New Zealand has clearly stated that it wonâ€™t allow people to enter the country. So, the situation is quite bad for us,â€ť Ranga says.
Swati, who works with Abroad education consultancies, says that not just the consultancies, but businesses dependent on them such as forex companies, travel agents who helped book tickets for their customers, have also been hit.
Apart from the impact of coronavirus, more recently, tightening of immigration laws, especially in the US, have also deterred people from wanting to look for jobs abroad.
Immigration policies, especially the suspension of non-immigrant visas including the H-1B, has also impacted students looking to study abroad.
Swati says that many students do not want to invest lakhs of rupees in studying abroad when a job isnâ€™t guaranteed at the end of it.
â€śStudying in the US costs an average of Rs 40 lakhs per student, taking most costs into account. But when work visas are being suspended and norms are changing regularly, students and parents are of the opinion that there is no point investing so much when there is no guarantee of a return,â€ť Swati adds.
Paul Chellakumar, Chairman of Chennai-based education consultancy Campus Abroad, echoes the same. Most students who go abroad, especially to the US, donâ€™t intend to come back after their education. So, when a job isnâ€™t guaranteed, they do not want to study there, he says.
Paul says that July to September is usually the busiest period for his business as students prepare to move abroad and a lot of the visa processing takes place, but this year, there isnâ€™t much happening.
However, Piyush Kumar, Regional Director, South Asia at IDP Education, an international education service company, says that the interest amongst students remains strong and it has not witnessed any drop in the student enquiries and in students applying to different universities through IDP.
The only difference, Piyush says, is that students are deferring their studies.
â€śWe have seen many students defer their studies to the next intake in the US, especially the students for post graduate programs. However, UG students still remain interested to a large extent,â€ť he says.
However, Paul, who has been in the industry for 43 years now, says he has not seen anything like this before. There were small instances of a fall in business in the past, such as when the 9/11 terrorist attack took place in the US, but this has hit travel across the globe, further hurting businesses of education consultants.