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US international student numbers remain below pre-pandemic levels

Over 64,000 more Indians were studying in the US in 2022 than the previous year, while the number of Chinese students in the country dropped, according to new immigration data.
May 4 2023
2 Min Read

Over 64,000 more Indians were studying in the US in 2022 than the previous year, while the number of Chinese students in the country dropped, according to new immigration data.

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program reported there were 1,362,157 international students in the US on vocational (M-1) and academic (F-1) visas in the US in 2022, a 10% increase from the previous year. But the figures still lag behind 2019 pre-pandemic levels, when there were 1,523,758 international students in the country.

While China remained the top sending country in 2022, the number of Chinese students dropped to 324,196 (-24,796 from 2021). The second largest group came from India with 297,151 students (+64,300 from 2021). South Korea, Canada and Brazil followed as the next top sending countries.

According to the latest SEVIS data, the number of students coming from Africa increased by over 11,000 compared to the previous year, with Nigeria sending the most students.

Open Doors data released at the end of 2022 detailed similar trends, with a 3% jump in student numbers year-on-year and a drop in the number of Chinese students. Much of China was still under coronavirus restrictions that limited travel in 2022.

David Di Maria, associate vice provost for International Education at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said he felt ‘optimistic’ about the numbers in the report.

“The reporting period, calendar year 2022, stretches across two academic years with the first half very much weighed down by the pandemic,” he said. “Considering the challenges and uncertainties that many students faced during this period makes it understandable why the US has not yet reached pre-pandemic numbers.”

Of over 7,000 SEVP-certified schools, only six enrolled more than 15,000 international students, while the majority enrolled between one and 50 international students.

“International students continue to flock to the popular states”

Joann Ng Hartmann, chief impact officer at NAFSA, said these figures showed the “untapped capacity” for higher education institutions to recruit more students.

California continued to host more international students than any other state, but all major US regions (Northeast, South, Midwest, West) saw international student numbers increase.


“International students continue to flock to the popular states [and] regions,” said Hartmann. “The US is a vast and diverse country that offers a variety of resources, cultures, opportunities, etc. What more can regional-level institutions, community colleges, private institutions, etc. do to attract international students?”

The most popular majors for international students were computer science, second language learning (in a language other than English), and business administration and management.

The number of exchange students also increased to 276,723, 15% more than in 2021.

Hartmann added that the data in the report, and the fact that total enrolment remains below pre-pandemic levels, suggests there are “clear opportunities to increase and diversify international student enrolment in the U.S.”.

“NAFSA has long touted the importance of a White House-led national strategy for international education as an effective means of doing so,” she said. “Such a strategy would set targets, support policies, and fund programs to, among other things, increase the number and diversity of international students at US higher education institutions.”

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