In the aftermath of the Devyani Khobragade affair the media tilt against India-U.S. relations has allowed for an estuary-like commentary to prevail. This is most notable within the brackish waters of India’s journalism corps. The frank embarrassment of the Indian government, confronted with the reality of a career diplomat arrested in a very public manner and indicted for visa fraud, is duly noted. But the story has lost its freshness. The news print is best recycled to the local fisherman’s wharf.
Separating the acute and momentary political angst of the day from a greater reality can be hard. Bad news sells because of our primitive need for excitation. Writing the good news is harder work. This is the news written for a disciplined readership.
Policies, treaties and accords which circumscribe the relationship between nations create the complete package known as foreign policy. Beyond any flash point of concern the existing precedents give guidance and point the way for resolution of conflict of interest. Foreign policy is like a Byzantine mosaic. Individual tiles and stones come together under the hands of skilled craftsman. The finished product is a depiction of both the history and the future of combined national interest.
While mosaic is not a Byzantine invention, the Byzantines did manage to move the decoration from floor surfaces to the walls. They crafted remarkable mosaics with a few simple changes. This feat as accomplished with lighter-weight tesserae and different cement composite. Artists also played with tiles, stone, and glass to create shimmering decorative expressions. One experiment which worked well involved placing gold behind clear glass tessarae. The mosaic then appeared to emit an ethereal and delicate light. Foreign policy is like gold-enhanced tessarae. What goes on behind the scenes is not the stuff of fish markets. The mosaic can be beautiful, and almost celestial, when crafted with care.
One of the earliest Byzantine buildings is the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia located in Ravenna. The exterior of the building does not capture the imagination. What is hidden inside is breathtakingly beautiful. I like to imagine the India-U.S. relationship resembles the mosaic of two birds perched on the same water bath. Both enjoy the same water source. But one bird watches while the other takes a drink. India and the United States have a long history of looking out for the interests of each other.
One of the strongest of historical bonds exists in the realm of higher education. Our nations share a rich heritage. You send us your best students. We open the doors of our top-tier institutions. Global markets and national leadership are the ultimate beneficiaries of this unique arrangement.
From the mid-twentieth century until the present, the United States has been the dream destination for Indian graduate students seeking invigorating environments for post-graduate studies. This has been especially true for Stem-immigrants, our foreign student population engulfed in learning the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math. They account for more than 40 percent of the master and doctoral program candidates. As of 2011, that number stood at 205,600 students.
Indian nationals have functioned as one of the largest demographic of foreign students within U.S. universities for multiple decades. These post-graduate and doctoral candidates grace our classrooms and move freely within our campus research labs.
In November of 2013 The Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) released an interesting report. The first time enrollment of international graduate students was up ten percent (2012-2013). This is a substantial gain. Responding institutions reported a total enrollment of 220,000 post-graduate students in 2013.
What is astounding is how the upward spike in first time enrollment was driven by students from India. The number of first time enrollees from India increased forty percent this year. The nearest competitor for berths within America’s university institutions was Brazil, with an increase of 17 percent (2012-2013).
Students from China, India, Korea and Taiwan account for roughly one-third of the science and engineering candidates in the U.S. It is interesting to note that the patriarchs of the science and engineering, PhD students are approximately 15 times more likely to have a BA degree than their contemporaries are to have tertiary education. In my mind, this type of candidate has an added value. On the cusp of adulthood, the students are marking their own professional emergence within the context of a family which already contains measurable benchmarks for higher learning. Education is valued within the context of familial goals.
One of the battles which is currently being fought is over STEM immigrants and their post-graduate status. After experiencing life in America STEM immigrants are inclined to seek out H1-B work visas so that they may remain on U.S. soil. The issuance of this legal document gives a six year window for the worker to seek permanent residency. H1-B for the aforementioned demographic are based on a small percentage (7 percent). In a sense, this is a gift extended back to you. We want your citizens to take what they have learned, return to your shores and invest in your economy. We do not want to function as a talent vacuum. I think this is a form of quiet justice. If we keep your nation’s best as our eternal investment we show ourselves a bit too greedy.
But corporations with high tech needs paint a different picture. The law of supply and demand creates a rather merciless process which distinguishes between those who can flip a burger and those who can work an algorithm in their heads. There is a widening gap in the need for STEM talent pools which cannot be met by Americans alone. We have plenty of burger flippers.
My mind is drawn back to the mosaic in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. Our foreign policy should continue to extend robust benefit to our friends, the people of India. Let us work, for the common good.
The writer is a freelance journalist and author of the novel Arsenal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org