Updated May 6, 2018 - Politics & Policy

The disappearing Chinese student visa

There was a 17% drop in international students in the U.S. last year, mostly due to the 28% decline in Indian students and a 24% decline in Chinese students receiving visas.

Data: U.S. Department of State; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: U.S. Department of State; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Why it matters: The trend is at least partially attributed to President Trump's immigration policy changes and rhetoric, which have led to fewer foreign students applying to study at U.S. institutions. Foreign students contributed $36.9 billion to the U.S. economy during the 2016-2017 academic year, according to the NAFSA Association of International Educators.

"Many people attribute this decline to perceptions (and the realities) created by changes in US immigration policies as well as the rhetoric around immigration and some acts of violence targeting foreigners that were widely reported on around the world during the past year and a half."
— Jeff Lande of the Lande Group, which represents India-based IT companies

But other factors came before Trump:

  • Chinese students were given an extension for their F-1 student visas, making them valid for five years instead of one. This was announced at the end of 2014, which correlates with the beginning of the decline in Chinese student visas, according to the data. China has received the most student visas from the U.S. over the past several years.

Yes, but: China aside, there was still an overall 13% decrease in F-1 visas.

  • STEM students: President Barack Obama also extended the amount of time foreign STEM students could remain in the U.S. to work through the OPT program.
  • Competition: Other counties like China, Canada, New Zealand and France have begun actively recruiting foreign students, Rachel Banks, Director of Public Policy at NAFSA, told Axios. “These efforts show that the United States is not the only contender for the highest-quality education anymore, and as we’ve seen this year, students will choose other countries.”

What to watch: The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have reported that the White House is considering limiting China's access to high-level research in the U.S. out of fear of espionage. The details are not known, but could impact the F-1 student visa.

Go deeper