Half the foreign students in the US come from China, India

American Bazaar photo by Feras Ismail
American Bazaar photo by Feras Ismail

Both countries sent fewer students during 2020 with significant decline across continents due to Covid-19.

Students from China and India made Asia the most popular continent of origin, accounting for nearly three fourths (74%) of the international students in the US in 2020, according to new official data.

But both countries saw fewer students in 2020 than the previous year as International student population declined significantly due to Covid-19 global pandemic, says the annual Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) report.

Released last Friday by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the report notes that there were 1.25 million active records in Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) for F-1 and M-1 students during calendar year 2020, a 17.86% decrease from calendar year 2019.

READ: F1 students contributed $39 billion to US economy and supported 455,000 jobs during 2017-18: Study (June 3, 2019)

Forty-seven percent (590,021) of all active SEVIS records hailed from either China (382,561) or India (207,460) in calendar year 2020, a slight decrease from 48 percent in r 2019.

While China saw a drop of 91,936 (-19.38%) students, India sent 41,761 (-16.76%) fewer students compared with 2019.

Other Asian countries also sent fewer students including South Korea (-15,854), Saudi Arabia (- 15,244) and Japan (-10,897).

US schools saw a 72% decrease in new international student enrollment in 2020 compared to 2019 even as enrollment in January 2020 was on par with January 2019 enrollment for both F international students (those pursuing academic degree programs) and M international students (those pursuing vocational degree programs).

However, US schools saw dramatic decreases in new international student enrollment in both August and September, traditionally months where the largest numbers of new international students enroll in US schools, the report noted.

In Aug. 2020, there was a 91% decrease in new F-1 international student enrollment and a 72% decrease in new M-1 international student enrollment at US schools.

READ: The fading charm of the F-1 student visa in Trump era (August 26, 2019)

International students who obtained an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to participate in the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, decreased by 12% from 2019 to 2020.

All continents saw an overall decline in the number of students coming to the US from 220 countries in 2020, the report noted.

Asia had the largest number of active international student records (925,449), accounting for 74 percent of the international student population.

Other Trends

  • A total of four SEVP-certified schools each enrolled more than 15,000 international students; Northeastern University, New York University, Columbia University in the City of New York and University of Southern California.
  • In calendar year 2020, 8,369 SEVP-certified schools were eligible to enroll international students, a decrease of 280 schools from 2019 (8,649 schools).
  • The top 20 most popular F-1 programs hosted 18.1 percent (224,498) of the entire international student population.
  • California, New York, Texas, Massachusetts and Florida hosted the largest number of student records and together welcomed 48.4 percent (605,426) of all international students.
  • Of the four major regions within the continental United States, the West had the greatest number of students in calendar year 2020, followed closely by the Northeast, the South and the Midwest.
  • All four regions saw declines in their F-1 and M-1 student populations from calendar year 2019 to calendar year 2020 with the Northeast seeing the steepest percentage drop of 19.4%.
  • Nine Northeastern states hosted 334,572 F-1 and M-1 student records.
  • New York had 138,087 international student records in 2020, the largest number of international student records in the region and experienced the largest decrease in student enrollment (-36,650).


Rush for F-1 student visas in India, as US Consulate in Chennai registers record (June 24, 2014)

Indian students on F1 visa in the US increases by 31%, jumps to more than 194,000 (April 29, 2016)

F1 students contributed $39 billion to US economy and supported 455,000 jobs during 2017-18: Study (June 3, 2019)

Chuck Grassley opposes DHS move to extend OPT to 6 years for students on F1 visas (June 9, 2015)

F1 visa students may be allowed to work for 6 years in the USA, like H-1B visa holders (June 9, 2015)

F1 visa students may be allowed to work in the US for 6 years after February 12, 2016 (August 21, 2015)

F1 visa students shouldn’t be allowed to work for 6 years in US (January 18, 2016)

20 more Indian students on F1 visa barred from going to California by Etihad Airways (December 24, 2015)

Regret deportation of Indian students on F1 visas: US ambassador Richard Verma (December 24, 2015)

Sushma Swaraj demands explanation from State Department on deportation of Indian students on F1 visa (December 22, 2015)

Air India cancels booking of 19 students on F1 visa bound for San Francisco (December 21, 2015)

F1 visa: 595,569 were issued in 2014, with 173,062 of those refused (September 14, 2015)

Legal Immigrants from India on H-1B and F1 visas surpass Mexicans entering the US (August 31, 2015)

Donald Trump, Jeff Sessions plan to end OPT for F-1 visa students, restrict H-1B visa (March 1, 2016)

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