New Concerns on International Enrollments

Student numbers in U.S. decline; reports grow on visa delays.

April 29, 2019
 
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The total number of international students studying in the U.S. at all levels declined by 2.7 percent from March 2018 to this March, according to quarterly data on student visa holders recently published by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

A total of 1,169,464 international students were studying in the U.S. this spring compared to 1,201,871 the spring before. The data include students studying at all levels, from K-12 to language study to higher education, and include students who have already completed their programs and stay in the U.S. to work for one to three years after graduating through the optional practical training program.

The new student visa numbers follow on data from the annual Open Doors survey showing two years of declines in new enrollments of international students at U.S. universities. The ICE data show a 2 percent year-to-year decline in the total number of international students from the leading sending country, China, and a 1.2 percent decline in the number from the second-leading sending country, India. The number from No. 3 country South Korea fell by 7.6 percent. The number of students from Saudi Arabia continued to fall sharply, by 17.1 percent year over year, a change largely attributable to reductions in the Saudi government’s scholarship program.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Chinese students studying in the U.S. have faced delays in renewing their student visas after a policy change last year that shortened the duration of visas for Chinese graduate students in certain STEM fields from five years to one year, National Public Radio reported. Many of the students flew home in December but have been unable to renew their visas as they await the results of an additional screening process known as “administrative processing.”

The NPR report follows on a New York Times article earlier this month reporting that the U.S. has canceled visas for a number of Chinese professors in the social sciences. The visa bans appear to be particularly affecting researchers affiliated with the state-run Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The news about visa delays and cancellations comes in the context of increasing scrutiny of U.S.-China research collaborations and concerns on the part of the White House, members of Congress and federal granting agencies about the theft of sensitive academic research by competitor countries.

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