Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF

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US foreign enrolment once again exceeds one million students

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • As of January 2023, international student numbers in the US have nearly reached pre-pandemic levels
  • Sitting alongside that overall recovery, however, are some notable shifts in sending markets and a clear pattern of a more diversified enrolment base for the world’s leading study destination

During the pandemic, international students numbers in the US dipped below the one-million student mark (as of fall 2020) for the first time since 2014. However, new data from the Department of Homeland Security’s Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) shows that the number of active visa holders has recovered this year to almost match pre-pandemic enrolments.

SEVIS reports that as of January 2023 there are 1.08 million international students with active study visas in the US. This compares to a total of 1.14 million in January 2020, just before the onset of the pandemic (a -5.4% decrease overall).

Along with the overall rebound in student numbers this year, SEVIS is also reporting some notable shifts in sending markets.

China has long been the driver of enrolment growth in the US. But, as we see in the table below, the number of Chinese student with active visas has declined from 368,800 in January 2020 to 262,992 as of January 2023 (a nearly -29% decrease). The number of Indian students, meanwhile, has surged from 194,556 to 253,631 over the same period for overall growth of just over 30%.

The table outlines the top ten sending markets for the US as of January 2020, and compares that same country set to enrolment levels for January 2023. The overall picture if of a shift from China to India as the growth driver (even as China remains the largest source market overall), alongside a more subtle shift to a more diversified enrolment base.

At the start of 2020, those top ten sending markets accounted for nearly 71% of all foreign students in the US. By January 2023, however, their combined share had fallen to just under 67%. Growth this year is distributed, albeit in smaller measures, across a wider field of sending markets with Bangladesh (+75%; 16,115 students as of January 2023), Nigeria (+22%; 19,478 students), and Colombia (+35%; 15,774 students) among the notable gainers over that period.

That shift to a more diversified enrolment base becomes even more notable when we consider that seven of the top ten sending markets outlined in the table declined from 2020 to 2023, with only three of the ten showing growth.

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