Note: for statistics on American students studying in other countries, click here.
- In 2019, the total number of international students enrolled in US colleges was 1,095,299, making up 5.5% of the total US student body:
- 431,930 undergraduate students, a -2.4% decrease from 2018
- 377,943 graduate students, a -1.3% decrease from 2018
- 62,341 non-degree students, a -5.0% decrease from 2018
- 223,085 Optional Practical Training (OPT) workers, a 9.6% increase from 2018
- Foreign students who made up 12% of the total student population contributed nearly 30% of total tuition revenue at public universities in 2015
- In 2018, the total contribution to the US economy by international students was estimated to be over $45 billion
- The top US schools hosting students in 2019 were:
- New York University, with 19,605 students
- University of Southern California Los Angeles, with 16,340 students
- Northeastern University, with 16,075 students
- Columbia University, with 15,897
- University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign, with 13,497 students
- In 2018, there were 86,300 international students enrolled in US community colleges
- Since 2001, the population of international students enrolled in higher education courses away from their home of origin has increased from 2.1 million to 5.3 million
- The percentage of these students studying in the US has dropped from 28% to 21%
- In 2019, the highest international student populations in the US by their nation of origin were:
- China, with 369,548 students
- India, with 202,014 students
- South Korea, with 52,250 students
- Saudi Arabia, with 37,080 students
- Canada, with 26,122 students
- 62 world leaders were enrolled in US colleges
US Students Studying Abroad: General Statistics
- In 2018, there were 341,751 US students studying abroad for academic credit and 38,401 students overseas for non-credit internships, volunteering, research, and other work.
- 10% of US undergraduate students study abroad before graduating
- Among US students abroad in 2018, 25.6% (98,451) of students were enrolled in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs. In addition:
- 20.8% of students enrolled in Business
- 17.1% of students enrolled in Social Sciences programs
- 7.1% of students enrolled in Foreign Language/International Studies
- 6.8% of students enrolled in Fine or Applied Arts programs
- Of these fields of study, Fine or Applied Arts saw the most growth from the 2016/2017 school year, with an increase of 10.8% for the 2017/2018 school year
- In 2018, the duration of US study abroad was typically short-term:
- 64% of students stayed for a summer term or a period of 8 weeks or less
- 33% of students stayed for one semester/quarter or two quarters
- 2.3% of students stayed long-term for an academic or calendar year
- The regions most popular with US students studying abroad were:
- Europe, with 55% of students
- Latin America (Including Mexico) & Caribbean, with 15% of students
- Asia, with 11.2% of students
- Oceana, with 4.3% of students
- Sub-Saharan Africa, with 4.2% of students
- Among those regions, the most popular countries for US students were:
- United Kingdom, with 39,403 students
- Italy, with 39,945 students
- Spain, with 32,411 students
- France, with 17,185 students
International Students: Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)
Nonimmigrant International Students in the US:
SEVIS tracks and monitors nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors under the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). Sponsors of EVP/ECA programs are required to update it with information about participants in their programs. The Department of State and SEVP utilize this system to support legal entry of nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors.
Nonimmigrant students in these categories include:
- F-1 Students– Nonimmigrants who are in the US to complete an academic course of study at an SEVP-certified school or program
- M-1 Students– Nonimmigrants who are in the US to complete a vocational course of study at an SEVP-certified school or program
- J-1 Exchange Visitors– Nonimmigrants selected to participate in a US Department of State-designated exchange visitor program (EVP)
In 2018, the total number of SEVIS records for active F-1 and M-1 students was 1.6 million
- 2018 saw a decrease of 1.7% from 2017.
- 85% of all F-1 and M-1 students were enrolled in SEVP-certified associate, bachelor, master’s or doctoral programs in 2018:
- 116,734 F-1 students were pursuing an associate degree in 2018, accounting for 7.5% of all nonimmigrant student degrees, and a decrease of -7.8% from the prior year
- 522,155 F-1 students were pursuing a bachelor’s or master’s degree in 2018, accounting for 66% of all nonimmigrant student degrees
- 178,553 F-1 students were pursuing a doctorate degree in 2018, accounting for 11.5% of all nonimmigrant student degrees
Optional Practical Training (OPT) and Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
Nonimmigrant students can participate in various types of practical training related to their field of study while they are in the United States. To be eligible, a student must receive an employment authorization document (EAD) from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
- Pre-completion OPToccurs before a student completes their program with a duration up to 12 months- granted on a rolling basis
- Post-completion OPToccurs after a student completes their program with a duration up to 12 months- granted on a rolling basis
- STEM OPT provides a 24-month extension of OPT for qualifying students who have graduated with STEM degrees.
- CPT OPToccurs before a student has completed their program and is considered integral to the school’s established curriculum.
In 2018, the breakdown for OPT students was as follows:
- 145,564 pre- and post-completion OPT students with both an EAD and reported working for an employer
- 69,650 STEM OPT students with both an EAD and reported working for an employer
- 151,525 CPT students, also reported working for an employer
When an institution has been SEVP-certified, it may enroll nonimmigrant students with F-1 visas, typically in an academic program with a core academic curriculum. Under these visas, students can do the following:
- Stay in the US for the duration of their studies
- Change their course of study/major/degree and may transfer between programs
- Begin new programs after completing one
The top 20 largest F-1 programs in the US hosted nearly 18% of the total nonimmigrant student population in 2018. Institutions with the largest F-1 enrollments include:
- Columbia University in the City of New York, enrolling 18,573 students
- New York University, enrolling 18,481 students
- University of Southern California, enrolling 18,345 students
- Northeastern University enrolling 18,123 students
- University of Illinois, enrolling 14,802 students
- Arizona State University, enrolling 14,198 students
Primarily for students enrolled in a vocational program without a core academic curriculum, M-1 schools may enroll nonimmigrant students with M-1 visas upon receiving SEVP-certification. M-1 students are not permitted to change their program of study or major. With an M-1 visa a student may:
- Remain in the US up to a year (may apply for an extension)
- Transfer only within the first 6 months after arriving in the US
In 2018, 675 schools were certified to enroll only M-1 students. For 432 schools that hosted at least one M-1 student, the average enrollment in these schools was 44 students, and only one had over 1,000 students.
Institutions with the largest M-1 enrollments include:
- Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, with 1,832 students
- Westwind School of Aeronautics, Phoenix, LLC, with 794 students
- CAE Oxford Aviation Academy Phoenix Inc, with 757 students
- TransPac Aviation Academy, with 736 students
- Pilot Training Center, with 693students
M-1 & F-1 Schools
Some students are both M-1 and F-1 certified by SEVP. With smaller student bodies, they encompass only 7% of the total number of SEVP-certified institutions. The top 5 M-1/F-1 schools in the US in 2018 were:
- Cornell University, with 8,959 students
- Houston Community College System, with 6,186 students
- Santa Monica College, with 4,720 students
- UCLA-Extension, with 4,169 students
- The University of Iowa, with 3,728 students
International Students: Top US Destinations
The top states in the US hosting international students are:
- California, with 161,693 students, 1,054 SEVP-certified schools
- New York, with 124,277 students, 567 SEVP-certified schools
- Texas, with 81,893 students, 463 SEVP-certified schools
- Massachusetts with 71,098 students, 321 SEVP-certified schools
In 2018, these states together hosted nearly 50% of all nonimmigrant students.
California is the most popular destination for international students, with 161,693 enrolled in 2019. China was the leading country of origin with 42% of California’s international students. Additionally:
- 12.6% of international students were from India
- 5.4% of international students were from South Korea
- 3.6% of international students were from Taiwan
- 3% of international students were from Japan
The most popular institutions for international students in 2019 were:
- University of Southern California Los Angeles, with 16,340 international students
- University of California – Various campuses:
- Los Angeles, with 11,942 international students
- San Diego La Jolla, with 10,652 international students
- Berkeley, with 10,063 international students
- Irvine, with 8,064 international students
The US Department of State has several exchange programs in place, such as the Fulbright Program. In California, there were 192 US students participating in the Fulbright Program, and 405 international students.
Community colleges also see considerable value from international students. To illustrate, in California, 25,570 students enrolled in community colleges contributed $853.1 million to the economy in 2018, supporting 4,715 jobs.
- The estimated expenditure in 2019 by international students in California was $6.8 billion
- 53% directly on higher education
- 19% on accommodation
- 12% on dining
- 10% on retail
- In 2019, there were approximately 2,900 jobs directly supported as a result of international student enrollment and 5,800 jobs indirectly supported
- In 2018, there were 31,671 US students originating from California studying abroad
New York is the second most popular destination for international students, with 124,277 enrolled in 2019. Chinese students also lead the way in international student enrollment in New York, comprising 40.9%. Additionally:
- 16.9% of students were from India
- 4.8% were from South Korea
- 4% were from Canada
- 2% were from Taiwan
In 2019, the most popular institutions for international students in New York were:
- New York University, with 19,605 international students
- Columbia University, with 15,897 international students
- Cornell University Ithaca, with 7,214 international students
- SUNY University at Buffalo, with 7,121 international students
- Syracuse University, with 5,957 international students
In New York, 219 US students and 645 international students are participating in the Fulbright program in 2020.
- The estimated expenditure in 2019 by international students in New York was $5.3 billion.
- In 2018, there were 28,129 US students originating from New York studying abroad
International Students: Programs of Study
Most Popular in 2019:
The most popular fields of study for international students in the US in 2019 were:
- Engineering, with 230,780 students enrolled
- Engineering- 214,331 students
- Technologies/Technicians- 13,275 students
- Transportation and Materials Moving- 2,085 students
- Mechanic and Repair Technologies/Technicians- 605 students
- Construction Trades- 313 students, a 68.3% increase from 2018
- The countries with the highest percentage of students in engineering studies are Iran (52.7%) and Kuwait (63.5%)
- Business & Management, with 182,170 students enrolled, a -7.1% decrease from 2018
- The countries with the highest percentage of students in business and management studies are Indonesia (28%) and Germany (27.3%)
- Math & Computer Science, with 203,461 students enrolled
- Computer and Information Sciences, with 156,654 students enrolled, an 8.4% increase from 2018
- Mathematics and Statistics, with 46,807 students enrolled, a 13% increase from 2018
- The countries with the highest percentage of students in Math & Computer Science studies are India (37.5%) and Nepal (35.5%)
- Social Sciences, with 84,320 students enrolled
- Social Sciences with 54,651 enrolled
- Psychology, with 16,139 enrolled
- Public Administration and Social Service Professions, with 8,248 enrolled
- Area, Ethnic, Cultural and Gender Studies, with 2,697 enrolled
- History, with 2,585 enrolled
- Physical & Life Sciences, with 81,580 students enrolled
- Biological and Biomedical Sciences, with 45,338 enrolled
- Physical Sciences, with 35,349 enrolled
- Science Technologies/Technicians, with 893 enrolled
- 86,057 students were enrolled in other fields of study. The top choices in this group include:
- Liberal Arts and Sciences/General Studies, with 51,270 students enrolled
- Multi/Interdisciplinary Studies, with 21,052 students enrolled
- Parks, Recreation, Leisure and Fitness Studies, with 6,008 students enrolled
- Family and Consumer Sciences/Human Sciences, with 3,951 students enrolled
Changes in Enrollment
The fields of study that saw the most significant increase in international student enrollment between 2018 and 2019 were:
- Construction Trades with a 68.3% increase
- Communications Technologies/Technicians, with a 39.7% increase
- Science Technologies/Technicians, with a 30.2% increase
- Military Technologies, with a 21.9% increase
- Reserve Officer Training Corps, with a 14.3% increase
- Mathematics and Statistics, with a 13.0% increase
The fields of study that saw the most significant decrease in international student enrollment between 2018 and 2019 were:
- Health Professions Residency Programs with a -43.1% decrease
- Personal and Culinary Services with a -18.4% decrease
- Transportation and Materials Moving -16.5% decrease
- Intensive English -14.8% decrease
- Basic Skills with a -8.8% decrease
- Business and Management with a -7.1% decrease
- Precision Production with a -6.8% decrease
International Students in the US: Economic Impact
- In 2019, the impact of international students on the US economy exceeded $40 billion:
- Education ranks 4th among US service sector exports
- International students created or supported nearly 460,000 jobs during the 2018-2019 school year
- International students have gone on to found or co-founded 23% of billion-dollar companies in the US
- Between 2016 and 2019, the impact on the US economy from declining international student enrollment was estimated to be -$11.8 billion, affecting nearly 65,000 jobs
- In the last 10 years, international student enrollment in the US saw extraordinary increases from developing and growing economies in the world, including:
- Vietnam, with a 90% increase in students between 2009 and 2019
- Brazil, with an 83% increase in students between 2009 and 2019
- Nigeria, with a 114% increase in students between 2009 and 2019
- Bangladesh, with a 205% increase in students between 2009 and 2019
Enrollment Decline: Internal Factors
The enrollment of international students in US schools is stagnant. 95% of institutions indicate that there are multiple factors, many of them having to do with socioeconomic or political events in students’ countries of origin.
Education is a valuable service. The global market for students (especially those paying full tuition) has become highly competitive. US institutions of higher education have increased their tuition rates faster than wages can keep up.
- In 2019, students who did not enroll in college in the US indicated their top reasons for their decision:
- Visa application process/delay/denial- 87%
- Enrolled in another country- 58%
- Social & political environment-58%
- Cost of tuition- 55%
- Securing a job in the US after graduation- 50%
International students studying in the US often pay more than students who are US citizens. Their contribution to funding the operations of both public and private institutions is significant. Beyond the out-of-state tuition rates, many institutions, mainly public, elect to charge additional fees, a differentiated tuition rate, or other additional charges for international students. Out-of-state US students and/or their families pay federal taxes but not state taxes, and the out-of-state tuition rates are based on the level of tax contribution these individuals make. International students, for the most part, pay neither state or federal taxes. However, they do pay nearly twice as much in tuition in the US as native students. Other countries such as Australia, Canada, and New Zealand also charge higher rates for international students.
Institutions may charge fees based on the following expenses incurred from hosting international students:
- Tax contribution gap
- Additional services for international students
- Added administrative costs for international students (federally-mandated reporting, monitoring, international application requirements, visa-related eligibility, etc.)
Some schools seek to continue to attract international students by offering scholarships or other financial aid to help offset the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition rates.
Enrollment Decline: External Factors
As US enrollment decreased, other English-speaking countries are seeing increases in international student enrollment. For example, Canada saw a 16% increase n 2018, Australia a 15% increase, and the United Kingdom saw a 5.9% increase:
- In 2017, Canada hosted 572,415 students in 2018
- Canada offers qualified students expedited visa processing and post-graduation work-study visas up to 3 years
- The United Kingdom reinstated a two-year post-graduation work visa starting in 2020-2021 and a fast-track visa program for researchers, mathematicians and scientists
- Australia also offers expedited visa processing and a 3-year work visa after graduation
Economic conditions in countries of origin have also contributed to declines in US institutions of higher learning. For example:
- Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Scholarship that previously supported 90% (approximately 200,000) of Saudi students studying abroad, including full tuition, insurance, living expenses, and annual airfare
- In 2016, the KASP fund was limited to only the top 100 global universities, and the government cut overall education spending by 12% in 2016
- Over 60,000 Saudi students were enrolled in US schools in 2016- by 2019 the number had declined to 37,080
Case Study: China
Students originating from China make up the largest group of international students in the United States:
- The impact in 2018 on the US economy from Chinese student enrollment was $14.9 billion
- Between 2009 and 2019, the population of Chinese international students surged from 127,628 to 369,548, with the increase beginning to level off somewhat in 2015. Between 2018 and 2019, the yearly increase had slowed to 1.7%
- In 2019, the numbers of inbound students from China by academic level were:
- 148,880 undergraduate students
- 133,396 graduate students
- 17,235 non-degree seeking students
- 65,680 OPT students
Among Chinese students studying in the US in 2019, the most popular fields of study were:
- Business & Management- 20.7%
- Engineering- 19%
- Math/Computer Science-17.2%
China as a destination:
- Ranking 7th in the destination ranking for US students studying abroad, China hosted 11,613 US students in 2018
- China has become the top destination for students from Africa.
- China’s recruiting goals set in 2008 were to enroll 500,000 foreign students in its schools by 2020. By 2018, China had already hosted 492,000 foreign students
- Since 2017, the Forum On China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) has established diplomatic relationships and educational exchanges with every African nation. Accordingly, in 2019, under the Beijing Action Plan, China will:
- Train 1,000 high-caliber African students
- Provide opportunities for 150 African students to receive a master’s or Ph.D. in China
- Fund African students with 50,000 government scholarships
- Provide Africa with 50,000 training opportunities for seminars
- Implement the 20+20 Cooperation Plan for Chinese/African Institutions of Higher Education
- Additionally, foreign students graduating with a master’s or higher degree in China may apply for a work visa within 1 year of graduation
International & US Students: COVID-19 Impact- Updated April 2020
The CARES & HEER Acts
On 27 March, the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act was passed to provide nearly $2 trillion in relief. Under the CARES Act, the HEER (Higher Education Emergency Relief) fund was created to provide $14 billion in direct funding to institutions impacted by COVID-19.
Institutions who receive HEER (Higher Education Emergency Relief) funding must use at least half of the funds for emergency student financial aid.
Travel & Repatriation
- The US was the first to enact a travel ban beginning in February 2020 with more strict controls since. Non-essential travel between physical borders with Canada and Mexico has been restricted.
- Foreign nationals (immigrants, nonimmigrants, and other non U.S. citizens) who have been in China, Iran, United Kingdom, and Ireland, the European Schengen area may not enter the United States. There are exceptions listed on the website travel.state.gov.
- Upon re-entering the United States a person who has recently traveled to or departed from designated countries will be subject to CDC screening protocols:
- Redirected to one of 11 US airports where CDC has quarantine stations
- Questioned about health and travel
- Health screening
- Possible restrictions on movement during 14-day quarantine period
- US Consulates abroad have suspended the issuing of new visas with most offices closing down, offering only emergency consular assistance
- The US Department of State has repatriated 46,302 American citizens from 81 countries, beginning January 29, 2020, many of them students
- As of April 8, certain embassies were reaching out to register their nationals to return home, includingAlbania, Argentina. Bahrain, Bolivia, Cambodia, Columbia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Jordan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Mongolia, Montenegro, Pakistan, Peru, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somalia, South Africa, Thailand, and Vietnam.
- Additionally, many nations such as Saudi Arabia are requiring mandatory quarantine upon return
The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) has temporarily paused ECA-funded programs that involve travel. Beginning March 12, the Bureau will pause programs for 60 days, with a review every 30 days.
- Some institutions are moving their ECA program students off-campus
- ECA students are required to report their addresses and locations to sponsors
- The Department of State’s information on the COVID-19 effects for J-1 Visa Applicants and Exchange Visitor Program (EVP) participants indicates:
EVP participants must contact their US sponsor for information on any changes to their specific program and keep the sponsor notified at all times of their location, contact information, and travel plans.
General SEVP Updates (Updated April 6, 2020)
- Students who traveled to their home country for spring break or for other reasons must not attempt to travel or return to the US unless current travel restrictions are lifted or they meet eligibility requirements to re-enter the US.
- F-1 and M-1 students may return to their countries of origin and complete their term remotely.
- Their SEVIS record will remain in Active status provided they are making progress in their course of study.
- The usual 5-month temporary absence provision will not apply to students in Active status.
- Online classes can count towards full course of study in excess of limits only in effect for programs affected by COVID-19 and for institutions that comply with SEVD procedural update requirements
- F-1 and M-1 Initial Status students who are already in the US can be placed in Active status provided they follow guidelines for all students related to COVID-19.
- Students in Initial status who have not arrived in the US should remain in their country of origin.
- SEVP students who were required to leave campus may study online either in or outside of the US. If they relocate off-campus, sponsors must update their address in SEVIS.
- Graduating seniors who have returned to their home country for online courses with the intent to return to the US for postsecondary studies may continue in Active status if they can access and make progress in online studies. If students are unable to participate in online study due to insufficient access or insufficient courses for full course load, they may enroll in less than a full-time course of study.
- SEVP students unable to enroll in the next session for their program may defer enrollment to the next available session. Fee transfers are available for eligible students.
- Students whose passports expire during the COVID-19 crisis while they are in the US must consult their embassy for extension or renewal and are not eligible for admission until their passport is renewed
EVP Sponsor Guidelines:
- EVP sponsors are encouraged to reduce the disruption of educational programs if possible by offering online or distance learning, however, the sponsor may choose to end their EVP program early and send their visitors home. Current EVP students may continue on programs that comply with new regulations
- Sponsors may keep a participant’s SEVIS record active until the exchange visitor can return to the US to continue with the original program, understanding that the student may need to renew a visa in order to return
- All sponsors are responsible for program participants and students who are still in active status and still present in the United States
- Sponsors are required to extend and fund insurance coverage for programs the Department has extended for 60 days.
- Students who were preparing to return home within 15 days of when their program was extended who had travel arrangements in place should leave and return to their country of origin
- All procedural adaptations by SEVP-certified schools to online learning and other means of program administration must be reported
- The extension of visitor programs was to accommodate students who were unable to make arrangements to return.
- If exchange visitors want to return but cannot, they are encouraged to work with their embassies to make arrangements
COVID-19 Effects on Campus: China & the US
International student enrollment, mobility, and programs will be heavily impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Immediate concerns are high about backlash, retaliation, and bias towards to students from affected countries. Long-term issues remain to be fully understood.
Chinese Students in the US
Nearly 370,000 students from China were attending school in the US in 2019. In the most recent survey of institutional response to the COVID-19, 19 of the top 20 schools hosting international students from China shared information on how the crisis has impacted their campuses.
- Among institutions who have students from China enrolled who were impacted by travel restrictions, 100% had been in contact with their students
- Most students plan to return to China when possible
- 94% of institutions have brought in multiple stakeholders such as academic advisors, faculty, and other departments to develop an inclusive strategy
- 46% of institutions offered options for independent/remote study
- 41% of institutions offered a leave of absence or deferment option for the following semester
- 38% of institutions offered online or distance education classes
- 9% offered refunds
- 8% offered study elsewhere
- Institutions who had more than 10 students enrolled were more likely to offer options for their students
- Graduate students were offered flexible arrangements more frequently
- 40% of institutions indicated they were working with students who were finishing a degree to allow them to complete
- 76% of institutions indicated that outreach and recruitment for future Chinese students has been affected:
- 51% of institutions had cancelled recruitment events in China
- 43% of institutions indicated suspension of testing in China was delaying the receipt of student scores for TOEFL, IELTS, etc.
- Other commonly occurring problems included:
- Inability to obtain official transcripts due to school closures
- Students unable to attend visa interviews
- US schools unable to work with local recruiting agencies
US Students Studying in China
China is the 7th most popular destination among US students for a study abroad program.
- For Spring 2020 study abroad programs, 48% of institutions indicated that most had been canceled or postponed:76% were postponed indefinitely or canceled altogether
- 19% were postponed to the next summer or fall term
- 13% were postponed, with the time for the program to resume unknown
- 4% were postponed within the current semester
- Students whose study abroad program to China was affected indicated they frequently had to make other plans:
- 48% were placed in another study abroad program for Spring 2020
- 17% postponed their program to China for Fall 2020
- 13% postponed their program to China to Summer 2020
- 29% are uncertain
- 20% of institutions do not have alternative study abroad students for their students, so these students will be unable to complete a program overseas.
- IIE Research & Insight: Open Doors
- Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs | Promoting Mutual Understanding
- Gross Domestic Product by State: 4th Quarter and Annual 2019 | US Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA)
- Guidance for Student Foreign Travel for Institutions of Higher Education | CDC
- The Economic Value of International Student Enrollment to the U.S. Economy
- United States Census Bureau Education TablesThe Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System