More international students come to the U.S. from around the world for higher education than any other country, but those metrics show stagnation -- and steep declines from some countries -- for the second year after decades of growth.
The annual Open Doors report, compiled by the Institute for International Education with the U.S. State Department and released Monday, for the 2018-2019 school year showed enrollment of 1,095,299 international students among 19,828,000 total students in institutions of higher education in the U.S.
That makes international students 5.5% of all college and university students in the U.S.
The numbers showed a slight increase in total international enrollment, 0.05% from the previous year, but a decrease in new international student enrollment, -0.9%.
Decreases were seen in undergraduate (-2.4%), graduate (-1.3%) and non-degree (-5.0%) trends, as well.
China sent the most students -- 369,548 -- comprising 33.7 percent of all foreign students, a 1.7 percent increase from the previous year.
India sent the second-largest number -- 202,014 -- or 18.4% of all college and university students, a 2.9% increase from the previous year.
But several other countries, in descending order of number of students sent to the U.S., showed declines: South Korea (-4.2%), Saudi Arabia (-16.5%), Canada (0.8%), Vietnam (0.3%), Taiwan (4.1%), Japan (-3.5%), Brazil (9.8%), Mexico (-1.5%), Nigeria (5.8%), Nepal (-0.3%), Iran (-5.0%), the United Kingdom (-2.7%), Turkey (-3.4%), Kuwait (-9.8%), Germany (-8.5%), France (-1.0%), Indonesia (-3.4%), Bangladesh (10%), Colombia (1.1%), Pakistan (5.6%), Venezuela (-7.3%), Malaysia (-6.8%) and Spain (-3.0%).
What is turning off international students from coming to study in the U.S.?
Institutions polled indicated the slowdown includes the high cost of tuition at U.S. colleges and universities, difficulty in getting visas or the insecurity of maintaining a student visa throughout a student's education, students feeling a lack of welcome in the U.S., negative political rhetoric and news of crime in the U.S.
“We are happy to see the continued growth in the number of international students in the United States and U.S. students studying abroad,” said Marie Royce, assistant secretary of state for Educational and Cultural Affairs.
“Promoting international student mobility remains a top priority for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and we want even more students in the future to see the United States as the best destination to earn their degrees," Royce said. "International exchange makes our colleges and universities more dynamic for all students, and an education at a U.S. institution can have a transformative effect for international students, just like study abroad experiences can for U.S. students.”
The Optional Practical Training (OPT) program showed a 9.6% increase of involvement, indicating that students who were in the international student pipeline of study in the U.S. were taking advantage of OPT, which allows them to stay in the U.S. after graduation for one to three years, depending on their field of study. Science, technology, engineering and math graduates are granted longer OPT visas than some other courses of study.
The most popular fields of study for international students are in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. But declines in enrollments were seen there, as well: engineering (-0.8%), business and management (-7.1%), intensive English (-14.8%) and education (-4.7%).
International students who came to the U.S. to study agriculture increased by 10.3%.
International students contributed $41 billion to the U.S. economy in the 2018-2019 academic year, according to NAFSA: Association of International Educators.
In 2017, the U.S. Department of Commerce said international students contributed $42 billion to the U.S. economy.