International students are vital to U.S. classrooms, communities, and the economy but the U.S. is losing its edge in attracting them. NAFSA’s annual analysis of the economic contributions of international students found that, in the 2020-2021 school year, the nearly one million international students at U.S. colleges and universities contributed $24.8 billion to the U.S. economy and supported more than 300,000 jobs. However, the number of new international students enrolling in U.S. higher education institutions has been in a steady decline for the past five years, dropping more than 11 percent from fall 2016 through fall 2019 and plummeting a further 46 percent in the fall of 2020, due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is in contrast to double-digit increases in international student enrollment in competitor countries including Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
Welcoming immigration policies are key to U.S. competitiveness in attracting and retaining the world’s best and brightest. International students in particular want assurances that if they study in the United States, they will have a fair shot at employment opportunities after graduation and the possibility of permanent residence. Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom offer international students such assurances and have seen their enrollments increase significantly because of it.
To succeed in the global competition for talent and to strengthen the U.S. position on the world’s stage, the United States should:
1) adopt a national strategy on international education that seeks to grow and diversify enrollment at U.S. colleges and universities and to increase the number and diversity of U.S. students who study abroad before graduation. The United States is the only country among its peers (Australia, Canada, China, and the U.K.) to not implement a coordinated approach to international education.
2) update and modify U.S. visa and immigration law and policy to provide the predictability that is essential to attracting and retaining international students. Key improvements include allowing international student visa applicants to express interest in remaining in the United States after graduation, providing smoother access to work opportunities for skilled post-graduates, and improving the visa application process.
Please refer to the NAFSA statement for the complete list of recommendations. As argued in the statement, pursuing these approaches will make the United States stronger and more competitive globally by continuing to draw the world’s global talent and preparing today’s college students for the job market of tomorrow. https://www.nafsa.org/sites/
default/files/media/document/ 6-13- 22NAFSAStatementfortheRecordSJ CHearingJune142022FINAL.pdf