The pandemic and a flurry of immigration-related directives from the Trump administration devastated international-student enrollments at U.S. schools in 2020, and the full extent of their losses are even worse than schools estimated in the fall.
The number of students here on F-1 and M-1 visas fell by 18% last year, to 1.25 million, according to a new tally by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program, which manages the Department of Homeland Security’s student-visa monitoring system.
Visa records for newly enrolled students tumbled by 72%. U.S. consulates around the world paused nearly all routine visa processing last spring, meaning aspiring students weren’t able to schedule the required in-person interviews to be issued their visas. A series of orders over the summer barring international students not already in the U.S. and whose courses were being taught entirely online further complicated the process for those holding out hope of getting to a U.S. campus.
At the start of the school year in August, activity all but ground to a halt, with F-1 student visas down by more than 90%.
A snapshot survey of 700 colleges and universities last fall, conducted by 10 higher education associations, showed declines of 16% overall, and 43% among new students.