International students in the United States could be made to leave the country if their universities decide to only offer online courses, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced on Monday night.
Several American universities, including elite institutions such as Harvard and Princeton, have already announced that some proportion of their teaching will take place online, even for students based on campus, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has surged in the US in recent weeks.
The move could affect more than one million international students currently studying in the US. According to the Institute of International Education, 2018-2019 was the fourth consecutive year that over a million international students were studying at American institutions.
The vast majority of those students came from Asian countries, with the largest numbers by some distance coming from China (369,548) and India (202,014). By contrast, only 26,122 came from Canada (in fifth place) and 15,229 from Mexico (in tenth place).
While 2018-2019 set a new all-time high for overseas students in the US, IIE data shows small dips in intake over the years spanning 2016-2019, which coincide with the election and presidency of Donald Trump.
According to the IIE, the vast majority of funding for international students comes from overseas, rather than being funded by their host institutions, meaning that international students are big business for American universities. While students will still be required pay tuition fees, it’s possible that a hostile policy towards people seeking to study in the US could discourage prospective students.
New York City is home to the most international students, thanks to New York University and Columbia University playing host to 19,605 and 15,897 students respectively.
Relatively few overseas students came from European countries, while European nations are the most popular destinations for American students studying overseas. Of America’s 341,751 overseas students, 12% are in the UK, 11% are in Italy, 10% are in Spain and 5% are in France. Conversely, the 51 nations that IIE counted as European countries only accounted for 8% of international students currently in the US.