Chinese students are having second thoughts about studying in the US. Here’s why.
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Chinese students are having second thoughts about studying in the US. Here’s why.

Chinese students are having second thoughts about studying in the US. Here’s why.

Chinese students make up the largest group of international students in the US. For many, the US is the most desired country to earn a well-respected degree, meet a diverse range of people and enhance one’s career prospects. In 2019, however, these things, which have long drawn a steady stream of Chinese to US campuses, may no longer be enough.

Nearly nine in ten (87 percent) of school-based college counselors in China said that Chinese students and their parents are now having second thoughts about their study abroad plans in the US, a new survey by Amherst College has found.

Of the 54 counselors surveyed, more than four in five (85 percent) said Chinese parents’ top concern is the unpredictable policies toward Chinese students, according to the survey by its international admission team. Others cited safety concerns (78 percent), uncertainty over post-study work options (65 percent) and fear of visa denial or being deported after arrival (65 percent).

One counselor said, “Our students have planned to go to college in the US for years. However, a significant number of them are now looking at other countries, such as the UK, Canada and Australia.”


Chinese students and researchers at US universities have been targetted in the escalating trade frictions between the US and China. The Financial Times reported last year that the US government had debated the idea of banning visas for Chinese nationals to come and study in US universities for fear of spying.

A brainchild of Trump administration immigration hardliner Stephen Miller, the strategy treated Chinese students and researchers as spies and said it would “review visa procedures to reduce economic theft by non-traditional intelligence collectors”. The plan was rejected but many Chinese students have reportedly been unable to continue their studies due to visa issues.

In June this year, a warning was issued to students from China’s Education Ministry, citing the risk of visa problems if they go to the US. Under the Trump administration, other policies that have negatively impacted Chinese students include reducing the length of visas granted to Chinese graduate students studying certain STEM subjects from five years to one, especially when China is looking to expand its presence in the global market through robotics, aviation and high-tech manufacturing.

In Inside Higher Ed, Xiaofeng Wan, Associate Dean of Admission and Coordinator of International Recruitment at Amherst College, wrote about a recent trip to China where Chinese students, parents and principals repeatedly raised concerns such as “the difficulties of getting a student visa, frequent gun violence and mass shootings, deportation of Chinese students at the airport, the skyrocketing cost of a US college education, OPT authorization delays, and unclear H-1B reform.

“The constant anti-immigrant rhetoric from the Trump administration, talk of banning student visas for all Chinese students and suggestions that “almost every [Chinese] student that comes over to this country is a spy’” don’t resonate well with people on the other side of the globe,” added Wan.

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US President Donald Trump and his administration’s policies are the top concerns of prospective college students from China. Source: Shutterstock

“The constant stream of negative news has exacerbated the growing worries about the wisdom of the US as a study destination, often making things seem worse than they really are.”

Other developments have made the US a less attractive option compared to competitor countries. With China’s currency at its lowest valuation in 12 years, the rising cost of a US education doesn’t bode well when a Canadian or British degree would cost significantly less. More than three-fourths (78 percent) of counselors surveyed by Amherst College said the UK’s announcement of a two-year post-study work visa – which will allow international students to stay in the UK after graduation – would influence Chinese students considering US colleges, too.

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