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Despite Decreased Numbers, Asia Remains Largest Source of International Students and Scholars in the United States

Asia ASEAN China India Japan Korea The Pacific Taiwan

According to the Institute of International Education (IIE)’s Open Doors Report, in the 2020/21 academic year a combined total of 645,622 students from across East Asia, South and Central Asia, and Southeast Asia studied in the United States. While this number represents a nearly 15% decrease from the preceding academic year, these students make up over 70% of total international students (914,095) that studied in the United States during this period. Rounding out representation from the Indo-Pacific, students from countries in the Oceania region accounted for an additional 1% (5,864) of total international students in the United States.

International students from China (317,299) were the largest cohort of international students in the United States, representing a third of the world total. Chinese students made up nearly half of the total number of students studying in the United States from Asia and 80% of all international students from East Asia. India, the 2nd largest contingent of international students in the United States (167,582), accounted for a quarter of all students from Asia and over 80% of students from South and Central Asia. Together, students from China and India accounted for more students in the United States than the total number of students from every other region of the world (not including Asia) combined.

Rounding out the top five Asian countries of origin for international students in the United States were South Korea (39,491), Vietnam (21,631), and Taiwan (19,673). While most countries in Asia and Oceania experienced decreases in the number of students studying abroad in the United States during the 2020-2021 academic year, a few experienced increases. North Korean students increased by 100% during this period compared to the previous year, with two students studying in the United States. Students from Cambodia (848) and Timor Leste/East Timor (33) also increased by a little over 14% and 10%, respectively during the 2020/21 academic year. In Oceania, Micronesia (35%), Niue (900%), Papua New Guinea (14%), Samoa (40%), Tonga (17%), and Tuvalu (50%) all saw the number of international students originating from their countries studying in the United States increase.

Similar trends were also seen with international scholars in the 2020/21 survey. International scholars are individuals on nonimmigrant visas who are engaged in temporary activities at academic institutions such as visiting researchers/specialists, post-doctoral scholars, and visiting professors. Once again, China (26,254) and India (12,714) were the largest places of origin, representing nearly 31% and 15%, respectively, of the total number of international scholars in the United States. South Korea and Japan were the 3rd and 8th largest sources of international scholars, with 4,928 and 2,243 scholars, respectively.

Unfortunately, like with their international students, all these countries experienced decreases in the number of international scholars originating from their lands in the United States given ongoing issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, institutions continue to provide support to their participants and conditions are slowly improving, lending hope to the resumption of more robust international exchange in the not-too-distant future.

Sarah Wang is a Programs Coordinator at the East-West Center in Washington.