According to the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, in 2018 international students on F-1 or M-1 visas for both academic and vocational studies hailed from 232 countries and pursued 1,347 different primary majors in the US.
However, overall student records were down 1.7% in 2018, reaching a total of 1,551,373.
“Only the continents of South America and Australia/Pacific Islands saw growth in the student population”
The data, released in a report and via an interactive map, showed Asia remained the top continent of origin for international students with 75% (1,165,483) of the total in 2018 but marked a 1.9% decrease on 2017 figures.
SEVIS data showed that China (478,732), India (251,290) and South Korea (88,867) sent the largest number of students in both 2017 and 2018.
Of these countries, only the number of students from India increased from 2017 to 2018 (4,157), while the number of students from China (-147) and South Korea (-6,403) decreased over the same period.
Rounding out the top five sending countries were Saudi Arabia and Japan, both of which sent fewer students (-10,879 and -2,138 respectively) in 2018.
While Europe was the second most popular continent of origin with 129,407 records in total, like Asia, it saw a decrease in the number of students studying in the US (-3,474 on 2017 figures).
However, there was fluctuation across different European countries, with enrolments from Germany (-600), Sweden (-536) and the UK (-461) declining, while numbers from Spain (141), Greece (83) and Albania (116) increased.
North America saw the largest proportional decline in the number of student records in 2018, decreasing by 2,736 from 2017 to 2018, resulting in 90,249 students studying in the US in 2018.
Africa also saw a drop in student numbers (-110), marking a total of 67,731 students in 2018.
“Only the continents of South America and Australia/Pacific Islands saw growth in the student population, increasing by 2,703 (3.2%) and 102 (1%) records respectively,” noted a report on the data.
The number of students coming into the US from South America reached 88,338, with “growth from Brazil (3,927), Peru (211), Colombia (154) and Chile (142) helped to counterbalance the decrease in enrolment from Venezuela (- 1,977)” according to the report.
Meanwhile, there were 10,008 active student records from the Australia/Pacific Islands, with 96% of these enrolments hailing from Australia (7,257) and New Zealand (2,324).
SEVIS noted that the majority (85%) of international students on F-1 or M-1 visas pursued higher education degree programs in 2018, equating to about 1.3 million records, which is on par with 2017 numbers.
A total of 145,564 students that reported working via optional practical training in 2018 (a 5% decrease on 2017) and 69,650 in STEM OPT (up 8%), while 151,525 (up 14%) were engaged in Curricular Practical Training as part of their studies.
Overall, California hosted 302,073 students – the largest percentage (19.5%) of any US state.
New York, Texas and Massachusetts each hosted more than 100,000 students and rounded out the top states for enrolment in 2018.
Assistant dean, International Strategy and Programs at San Diego State University World Campus, Eddie West told The PIE News that the state’s proximity to Asia is one of the key reasons that California remains one of the most attractive international student destinations in the US.
“The data shows that the vast majority of international students in the States are from Asia, and from cost of flights and time to travel-perspectives, the West Coast is appealing to students in the Pacific Rim,” he said.
“Also, California is home to big immigrant populations from Asia, including China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and India – and so there are many family and friend connections here in the Golden State that serve as natural pull factors.”
West told The PIE that the sheer number of multi-cultural and inclusive communities in California are a big draw for international students the world over.
“San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego are known to be open, inclusive and diverse places”
“It’s an unfortunate reality that with the political climate in the States being what it is many international students and parents are rightly concerned about their safety and whether they might be the targets of anti-immigrant sentiment while here,” he noted.
“San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego are known to be open, inclusive and diverse places, and I don’t think we should underestimate the importance of that today.”
With regards K-12 programs of study, SEVIS revealed that 84,840 students were enrolled, with about 92% in secondary school programs (grades 9-12).
China sent more K-12 students (42,122) than any other country – comprising about half of the K-12 international student population in 2018 – with South Korea, Vietnam, Mexico and Brazil rounding out the top five.