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International Student Enrollment in U.S. Universities Drastically Drops

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America, which has long been considered one of the premier destinations for education, now faces a steep drop in the number of international students enrolling for all education levels. Primary reasons for this are the ongoing pandemic and the recent changes to the U.S. immigration system, both of which dilute the zeal of aspiring students. The government claims that high tuition costs are the reason for the decline, while the students and the universities blame it on changes in immigration laws. The pandemic has only exacerbated the chaos for many international students who are in the midst of graduating.

Decline in International Student Enrollment

The number of new international students enrolled at U.S. universities fell by 43% this fall, while there was an overall 16% drop in international student enrollment, according to a survey conducted in more than 700 schools. This is the largest decrease recorded by the Institute of International Education, an organization that has published data on international enrollment since 1954. Many top universities in the U.S. face major losses due to the dip in the enrollment rate. The number of undergraduate and graduate international students was down by 20% at Michigan State University and 17% at the University of Texas, while. Arizona State University and Ohio State University each reported a decline of 15%.

The studies from the Institute of International Education show that enrollment of new international students has been declining for the past three years. In 2016, there was a 3% drop, which was the first drop in enrollment noted in the whole decade. This followed by a 7% dip in 2017 and a 1% dip in 2018. The fall numbers for 2019 show a drop of 13.7% in undergraduate international students.

Changes to Immigration Laws Impact Foreign Students

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has proposed major changes to student visas, which, when they go into effect, are expected to significantly change immigration rules for international students. The most alarming change is that the DHS will have discretion over whether to allow extensions of student visa status. The current administration has also proposed laws curtailing Optional Practical Training, the program that allows international students to work and gain international experience upon graduation.

The worldwide visa issuance ban due to COVID-19 has also held back international students from being able to apply for student visas from their home countries. Additionally, the drastic changes being proposed in the skilled labor visa category act as a deterrent to international students, who fear problems getting subsequent employment in the U.S.

School administrators agreed that the pandemic has been a major reason for the drop in international student enrollment. And due to the changes in immigration laws, students fear that the U.S. is no longer welcoming. This low rate of college enrollment is a concern for colleges that dread dwindling tuition, and for companies that worry about losing talent.

To learn more about this blog post or if you have any other immigration concerns, please feel free to contact me at or (484) 544-0022. For other topics related to COVID-19, visit our Coronavirus Thought Leadership Connection.

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