International student enrollment in US colleges and universities have plunged in recent years. US universities saw an overall 72% decline in new international students in the US in 2020 compared to the previous year, said a report by immigration expert Boundless, citing data from the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) — part of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). SEVP said there were 1.25 million active records in SEVIS for F-1 and M-1 students during calendar year 2020, a 17.86% decrease from calendar year 2019.
Last year, international students in the US came from 226 countries and represented every continent in the world, with the exception of Antarctica, said the report. Asia is the most popular continent of origin, bolstered by the number of students coming from China and India. All six continents saw a decline in the number of students coming to the country.
Top countries of origin among international students in 2020 include:
- South Korea
- Saudi Arabia
While the pandemic played a role in international student enrolment in US universities and colleges, the report adds that international student enrolment was declining before the pandemic. Enrolment trends gathered by Open Doors found that international student enrolment peaked in the 2015-2016 academic year and has been steadily dropping since then.
Among the top reasons for the decline in international students in the US include visa delays and denials, competition from universities and colleges from other countries as well as the anti-immigrant rhetoric and a sense of unwelcome in the US.
Uptick in international student enrolment in US universities?
Despite this seemingly bleak outlook, the report adds that 43% of institutions reported an increase in international student applications for the 2021-22 academic year. Citing a 2021 survey by the Council of Graduate Schools, which looked specifically at masters and doctoral programmes, the sharp drop-off in international enrolment from fall 2019 to fall 2020 was fueled more by health and travel issues than a drop in interest.
Report authors projected that if it had not been for the global pandemic, they might have had more international graduate students enrolled at US universities and colleges in fall 2020 than fall 2019. “What remains to be seen is how all international students, including those enrolled in associate’s and bachelor’s programmes, respond to the 2021-2022 academic years and beyond,” said Boundless.
Understanding the DNA of international students in the US
Boundless found that most international students come to the US to enrol in higher education — specifically, SEVP-certified associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral programmes. Most students pursue degrees in STEM fields, as well as business and management.
Among the US universities with the highest number of international students in the US in 2020 include Northeastern University, New York University, Columbia University and University of Southern California. States with the highest percentage of international students include California, New York, Texas, Massachusetts and Florida. Overall, students contributed 38.7 billion US dollars to the US economy and supported about 416,000 jobs during the 2019-2020 academic year.