Research Roundup—International Student Enrollment and Mobility

Research Roundup—International Student Enrollment and Mobility
Research Roundup—International Student Enrollment and Mobility

School Leadership//

February 26, 2023

International students and programs are regaining momentum as enrollment and education opportunities continue to increase post-pandemic. The Department of Homeland Security’s Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) reports that, as of January 2023, there are 1.08 million international students with active study visas in the U.S.—nearly back to pre-pandemic levels.

With the start of 2023 came new studies and research about international student mobility, as well as news about some policy changes. While most data reflect higher education and university statistics, it remains essential to consider and be knowledgeable of as you evaluate your school’s international student program.

Here’s a roundup of recent analyses and how they inform the status and growth opportunities for your program.

China: New Policies and a Rising Demand for Study Abroad

China announced its reopening on January 8, 2023, to inbound and outbound travelers after three years of closed borders. This long-awaited news is expected to not only increase international student mobility but also allow Chinese students currently abroad to return home more easily. Additionally, China reversed its zero COVID policies; however, concerns about COVID outbreaks and its spread are causing many countries to impose extra precautionary steps in welcoming Chinese outbound travelers.

Another big announcement was on January 28, 2023—the Chinese government will no longer recognize the online credentials a student obtains from a foreign institution. While these were accepted throughout the pandemic, Chinese students looking to study abroad must do so in person as the country shifts to a post-pandemic mindset.

What does this mean for schools? Demand for and interest in studying abroad by students from China is increasing rapidly, and in-person learning is a necessity.

The U.S., however, is no longer the top choice for students from China. SEVIS data shows a -29% decrease in the number of Chinese students on active study visas in the U.S. in January 2023 (262,992) compared with January 2020 (368,800).

Several factors contribute to this downward trend, such as rising geopolitical tensions between the U.S. and China. Other countries, including Canada, the UK, and Australia, have dominated searches related to overseas study, according to an analysis by Sinorbis. But there is hope Chinese student numbers will rebound in the U.S.

A study published on January 10, 2023, by Navitas, a global education provider, explored agent perceptions on the factors that most influence a student’s choice of destination, as well as which countries are most appealing regarding those chosen factors. Below is a chart summarizing their findings in Greater China.


Top factors of influence and destinations with the greatest appeal, by factor—Greater China. Source: Navitas

Janhvi Doshi, Market Insights Lead at Navitas, interprets the results as suggesting “Greater China might continue to bifurcate as a market—students who care most about ranking will go to the UK or U.S., while students who are less focused on prestige and/or are price sensitive may select Canada or Australia.”

Rapid Growth of Indian Outbound Students

In the same report, SEVIS revealed that the number of Indian students in the U.S. has surged from 194,556 in 2020 to 253,631 in January 2023. ICEF Monitor notes that, if it weren’t for India, the recovery of the U.S. international education sector might be in a calamitous state given the fall in Chinese enrollments. A similar growth percentage occurred in the UK and Canada over the past two years.

A 2021 analysis by RedSeer Strategy Consultants projects the number of Indian students studying abroad will reach 1.8 million by 2024—more than double the number studying abroad in 2019.


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What Does This Mean for Your International Student Program?

As students from other countries look to travel abroad for education—particularly for higher education degrees—encouraging high school enrollment is essential. Starting their educational journey in high school provides international students with valuable time to adjust to American culture and strengthen their English-speaking skills, as well as receive guided preparation for and assistance with university applications.

As you assess your international student program, here are additional considerations for your program coordinators and administrators.

1. Ensure your processes and policies are equitable and student-centered.

An IDP Education August 2022 survey of prospective, applicant, and current international students revealed that, while the U.S.’ quality of higher education is rated favorably, competing countries are doing more to make students feel welcomed and supported.

Jonah Duffin, Global Director of External Relations at IDP Connect, observes, “With more choice available to students, they are weighing up a number of factors across destinations. Countries who want to attract more applicants will need to demonstrate that students will be supported during a time when many nations are facing socioeconomic instability, and students are navigating new emerging challenges.”

As you interact with international students, parents, and families, be sure your communications, policies, and procedures are inclusive and student-centered. Now may be a good time to reevaluate various aspects of your program and discuss ways to improve these areas.

2. Anticipate and prepare for logistical challenges.

As international student numbers rise in the U.S., student housing, visa processing delays and complications, and continued concern about COVID’s spread are examples of logistical obstacles your program administrators may face. Providing them with support, information, and valuable resources so they can, in turn, provide advice and care for your international students is essential.

For example, be aware that visa processing times have now become a source of competition between destinations, and are a deciding factor for students and families looking to travel abroad.

3. Demonstrate your program’s holistic student care.

International families look to you as the authority for planning their child’s U.S. experience. Healthcare insurance is a particularly complex decision—one you can simplify by recommending an exceptional, vetted insurance carrier. Through our years of unrivaled experience, we’ve designed a single-carrier plan that meets the needs of your international students and eases their transition.

ISM’s International Scholar Protection offers comprehensive medical coverage, 24/7 multilingual support, and concierge service to your international students and families.

Our dedicated insurance service team gives you individualized support and assistance with all aspects of plan administration. Additionally, our International Scholar Protection portal provides families with tailored content and resources to help them understand U.S. healthcare options, choose the right insurance plan for their children, and explore health and wellness tips. With three health plan options (Gold, Silver, and Bronze), we have coverage and pricing flexibility to meet all budgets.

Take the guesswork out of health insurance choices for your international students and families by choosing ISM’s International Scholar Protection for your international student health insurance. To learn more about our International Scholar Protection, email us at or visit our website.


International Scholar Protection From ISM Insurance

Simplify the complex decision process of health insurance for your international families by offering International Scholar Protection from ISM. With comprehensive accident and health plans, access to quality care, and 24/7 multilingual support, your international students’ medical and wellness needs are met during their time abroad.



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