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Anoosha Pai, a student from India that arrived in Canada last August to pursue a master's in biomedical engineering, is photographed at the University of British Columbia campus in Vancouver, B.C., on Monday, Feb. 25, 2019.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Chinese students, an economic force that has poured billions of dollars into Canada’s schools, have been supplanted as the biggest foreign nationality on campuses across the country by students from India, who fear they are no longer welcome in the United States under President Donald Trump.

Last year 172,000 students with Indian citizenship held a study permit for Canada, vaulting past the 142,000 from China, according to figures provided to The Globe and Mail by the Canadian High Commission in India.

The number of Indian students has grown with breathtaking speed, with 107,795 arriving in Canada last year alone, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada data. That compares with 85,825 from China. And while the number of student arrivals from China last year was up 30 per cent from 2015, the cohort of new Indian students was more than three times larger than it was that year.

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They are drawn partly by the low value of the loonie relative to the U.S. dollar. But more importantly they come for the simpler path to work permits and immigration credentials, particularly as the United States is proposing strict new criteria for the issuance of H1B foreign-worker visas.

”With the H1B scare, everyone is flocking to Canada,” said Vivek Girreddy, an investment banker who graduated from McGill University in 2015.

Many Indian students interested in overseas degrees – and the well-paying overseas jobs they can unlock – continue to apply to U.S. schools. But they have also ”started adding some universities in Canada, because they are uncertain of the political atmosphere in the U.S.,” said Urvashi Malik, founder of CollegeCore Education, one of the biggest college counselling and advisory firms in Delhi.

It’s related to “Trump’s policies as far as migrants are concerned,” she said. The result is that “Canada is definitely getting more popular.”

It’s a lucrative popularity for Canadian universities. At the University of Toronto, for instance, domestic arts and science students paid $6,780 in tuition fees for the current school year, while international students paid $49,800 – a seven-fold difference.

Fees like that have made educating foreigners a major Canadian business. A 2017 report for Global Affairs Canada estimated that in 2015 and 2016, total spending by international students and their visitors reached $28.3-billion – $13.9-billion of that in Ontario alone. In 2016, the estimated spending exceeded “Canada’s exports of auto parts, lumber or aircraft,” Global Affairs said.

Now the rush of new enrollments from India stands to add to that number.

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At the University of Toronto, undergraduate Indian student numbers have swelled by 225 per cent since 2014 – a period when overall international applications were up 103 per cent.

“U of T offers Indian students experiential learning opportunities, including paid professional co-ops and internships in some programs, that allow Indian students to gain valuable North American work experience,” said Ted Sargent, vice-president international. The university has recruited Indian students for 13 years, and president Meric Gertler will travel to Mumbai in March to open an urban research and entrepreneurship centre – but also to “meet with alumni and high school students interested in applying to U of T,” Mr. Sargent said.

At the University of Saskatchewan, Indian students now make up almost 10 per cent of the international student body. Among undergraduates, their numbers have risen 128 per cent in the past five years, while the number of Chinese undergrads has shrunk 13 per cent.

“Students from India are increasingly choosing Canada as an education destination over the more traditional destinations of the U.S. and U.K.,” said Alison Pickrell, the assistant vice-provost of strategic enrolment management at the University of Saskatchewan, in a statement.

She cited Canada’s “strong reputation for quality education, a welcoming and safe environment, affordability and clear paths to citizenship” as factors. And an early look at the application pool for next year suggests “a significant increase in students from India again in 2019/20.”

At the University of British Columbia, Damara Klaassen, the senior director of the international student initiative, credited rising Indian student enrolment, in part, to UBC’s “many years’ work in the region.”

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India is among the countries – along with China, Vietnam and the Philippines – that Canada has chosen for a special program allowing speedier visa processing for students with good language skills.

India is already one of the world’s largest sources of international students, with 553,440 studying abroad, its Ministry of External Affairs estimated in late 2017. At the time, it counted 100,000 in Canada, 206,708 in the United States and 63,283 in Australia. Chinese authorities said 1,454,100 postsecondary students were abroad in 2017.

For Indian students, the chief downside of coming to Canada lies in the country’s relatively small job market. The United States “has more industry, it has more financial institutions, it has more opportunities in terms of jobs,” Ms. Malik said.

Canada, however, offers a postgraduation work permit of up to three years that is unburdened by many of the usual restrictions for foreign workers. And students find Canada “welcoming, they find it quite multinational in terms of the people, the diversity,” she said.

Anoosha Pai is among the new Indian students in Canada, arriving in Vancouver last August to pursue a master’s degree in biomedical engineering.

She was drawn by the school’s program and the expertise of its professors – and the fact that “almost all Canadian universities, especially UBC, have great funding options for international students interested in research-based programs,” she said.

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Nonetheless, she listed “political scenarios in the U.S.” as the top reason for Indian students to come to Canada, a country she had never visited before arriving for her studies last year.

She has been pleasantly surprised by life in a city worlds apart from her home in Bangalore. She recalls being mesmerized by the beauty of the UBC campus when she arrived, a feeling that has yet to fade.

“I wake up to a mountain view every day. I go past the back waters and the ocean front a couple of times a day,” she said. “I personally feel stumbling upon these scenic views all day does help a lot to stay calm and be relaxed during the hectic and demanding grad-school life.”

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