The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) recently published its 2020 SEVIS by the Numbersreport outlining Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) data on F-1 students from calendar year 2020. The report provides a comprehensive picture of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on international student enrollment at American institutions last year, revealing that the number of international students in the U.S. decreased by 17.86% and the number of new international student enrollments decreased by 72%.
COVID-19 did not take an equal toll on international enrollment at different levels of study. Associate degree and intensive English programs saw more significant losses than did programs at other levels of study in 2020—especially doctoral programs, which made it through the year relatively unscathed. This marks a continuation of pre-pandemic trends up until 2019/20, and it threatens to erase early signs of recovery for associate degree and intensive English programs which emerged just before the pandemic began.
At the end of last year, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) released data on active international student records from September 2020, offering new insights into how COVID-19 has affected the number of international students in the U.S.* INTO, NAFSA, and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities recently outlined quick facts from the data in an update to our groundbreaking report, Factors Influencing U.S. International Student Enrollment Growth and Decline.
Among other trends, the new SEVP data show that the number of students from China, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia—three of the top seven sending countries for international students in the U.S.—decreased far more significantly as a result of the pandemic than the number of those coming from India, the second-most sending country. Furthermore, additional data on F-1 visa issuances and international student applications for fall 2021 admission show that interest in U.S. study in India and other South Asian countries has rebounded quickly as vaccines roll out and global student mobility slowly resumes, while the number of students coming to the U.S. from China and other top sending countries continues to stagnate or decline.
In the competitive career landscape of COVID-19, international students deserve real returns on the resources and time they invest in studying abroad. As the pandemic continues to impact on the jobs market in 2021, students face dual dilemmas: the financial feasibility of their study abroad aims and the security of their postgraduate ambitions. As a result, they are not only starting to study in alternative destinations and virtual environments—they are choosing to pursue different subjects, trending toward programs like mathematics and computer science which offer growing opportunities for employment. It is a pattern at U.S. institutions that preceded the pandemic, and it will play out in years to come as employability continues to dominate among the priorities of students everywhere.
The global pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on female international students in STEM programs at U.S. institutions. According to data from the U.S. Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP), the proportion of female international students in STEM fields in the U.S. grew to new heights in the three years leading up to the pandemic. However, SEVP’s post-pandemic data shows that COVID-19 has had a more significant negative impact on the number of female international students in STEM in the U.S. than it has on the number of their male peers.
With 2020 in the rearview mirror, the full impact of COVID-19 on international enrollments at U.S. universities is coming to light. It is important to consider last year’s significant decreases in new international student enrollments (NSEs) in the context of long-term international enrollment phenomena, including declines in NSEs which preceded and were exacerbated by the pandemic. Institutions did not experience these pre-pandemic declines equally, nor will they start post-pandemic recovery from the same position as mobility slowly resumes in 2021.
The release of the Institute of International Education’s annual Open Doors data this week made for sobering reading among the American higher education community. Before we provide our take on the findings, we want to offer some key context to the declines we saw in 2019/20.
The global flows of international students confer enormous benefits on the countries which receive their talent: more diverse campuses, richer learning experiences for domestic students, more impactful research and much more. In the context of the United States and COVID-19, Stuart Anderson, executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP), has reported on how the presence of international students and immigrants is helping the U.S. fight coronavirus.
When the COVID-19 crisis pushed US universities to close campuses and move courses online six months ago, one could scarcely imagine that the fall 2020 semester would find new students starting classes from behind their computer screens.
Even so, the student experience teams at INTO’s US centers have quickly adapted to support students through the unimaginable since the start of the pandemic. Earlier this month, they overhauled orientation to virtually welcome a new cohort of international students to their respective universities.
On July 28, INTO The University of Alabama at Birmingham (INTO UAB) Executive Director David Hofmann led one of a series of virtual, university-wide seminars on resilient leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. The session centered on cultural intelligence and international student support during the outbreak.
“I wanted colleagues to understand a little more about what’s happening within the INTO UAB center and what international students’ experiences are during COVID-19,” Hofmann said of his talk.