The Economic Impact of International Students on the U.S. Economy
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The Impact of International Students on the U.S. Economy

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The Economic Impact of International Students on the U.S. Economy

The Economic Impact of America’s International Students

For decades, the U.S. has been the top destination for students looking to study abroad.

It’s easy to see why. Not only does the country provide access to world-class economic hubs like Silicon Valley, but the U.S. is also home to 14 of the top 20 universities in the world, many of which are famed for their research and alumni networks.

Yet, there is cause for concern.

International enrollments in the U.S. have slowed, while other countries are attracting a larger share of the global talent pool. To help us understand what’s at stake if enrollments continue to decline, today’s infographic shows the impact of international students on the U.S. economy.

Driving American Innovation and Growth

International students and scholars are a vital economic asset, and America’s ability to attract them puts the country in an enviable position.

First, there are the direct economic benefits which result from tuition fees and living expenses. Throughout the 2018/2019 school year, these benefits totaled $41 billion, a comparable value to many other American exports:

ExportValue (2018)
Automobiles$158B
Commercial Aircraft$131B
Pharmaceuticals$51B
Education Exports$41B
Telecommunications Equipment$36B
Soybeans$17B

Source: NAFSA, Evans, WorldCity

Even after graduation, however, international students and scholars continue to make significant contributions to the U.S. economy.

For example, attracting the world’s brightest minds helps to grow the knowledge economy in the United States, and 40% of American Nobel Prizes won in chemistry, medicine, and physics since 2000 have been awarded to immigrants. Furthermore, students who return home often do so with a network of connections and an appreciation for American culture, thus promoting U.S. international leadership.

Finally, these individuals can also go on to become successful entrepreneurs and business leaders in the U.S. economy. The list is long, but here are two noteworthy examples:

  • Elon Musk, known for founding Paypal, Tesla, and SpaceX, was born in South Africa. He received two Bachelor’s degrees from the University of Pennsylvania before founding his first business.
  • Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, was an international student from India. He received an M.S. from the University of Wisconsin and an MBA from the University of Chicago before helping Microsoft develop its cloud computing capabilities.

Cause for Concern

In recent years, however, the number of new international students enrolling at U.S. institutions has been on the decline:

School YearNew International Student Enrollments in the U.S.Percent Change 
2013/14270,128--
2014/15293,7668.8%
2015/16300,7432.4%
2016/17290,836-3.3%
2017/18271,738-6.6%
2018/19269,383-0.9%

Source: Institute of International Education

With so many opportunities and success stories, why have international enrollments slowed? A survey of 509 higher education institutions in the U.S. revealed the top reasons for declining international enrollments:

Cited Reason for Decline in Enrollment% of Institutions
(Fall 2016)
% of Institutions
(Fall 2017)
% of Institutions
(Fall 2018)
Visa Application Process (delays/denials)34%68%83%
Social and Political Environment15%57%60%
Enroll in Another Country’s Institutions19%54%59%
Cost of Tuition51%55%57%
Feeling Unwelcome-49%50%
Securing a Job41%44%
Physical Safety12%33%44%

Source: NAFSA

Critically, the two most common reasons for declining enrollment—visa applications and the social and political environment—suggest that the quality of an American education is not the issue. Rather, it would appear that students are being discouraged from coming to the United States.

When we discourage or turn away international students, we lose much more than the students themselves… We lose their inventions and innovation, their collaborative input and their contributions to our communities.

– Dr. Martha E. Pollack, President, Cornell University

At the same time, other countries are taking proactive measures to attract global talent.

Australia

Australia allows its international students to work for up to 18 months after graduation. This limit can increase to 4 years for graduates of high-demand occupations. In 2018, the country saw a 15% increase in international enrollments.

Canada

Canada, a country distinguished for its multiculturalism, is quickly becoming an attractive destination for international students. The country offers expedited visa processing for qualified individuals, as well as a 3-year work visa for graduates. In 2017, international enrollments in Canada grew by an impressive 20%.

Potential Consequences

The world’s brightest minds are an important asset for continued innovation and growth, and today, there is a mass of countries welcoming them with open arms.

While the U.S. is still the preferred destination for international students and scholars, the country’s leadership in this space is at risk. In fact, since 2001, the share of international students in America has fallen from 28% to 21%.

Will the U.S be able to maintain global competitiveness if the number of new international students enrolling continues to fall? Can the country work to cultivate a more welcoming and barrier-free route to higher education?

These are potent questions that will need to be answered, especially with a sizable economic impact on the line.

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Misc

10 Travel Destinations for Post-Pandemic Life

Excited to get back to travelling the world? This infographic highlights the 10 most popular tourist destinations.

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10 Travel Destinations for Post-Pandemic Life

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization formally classified the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic. The resulting travel bans decimated the tourism industry, and international air travel initially fell by as much as 98%.

Almost two years later, travel is finally back on the table, though there are many restrictions to consider. Regardless, a survey conducted in September 2021 found that, as things revert to normalcy, 82% of Americans are looking forward to international travel more than anything else.

To give inspiration for your next vacation (whenever that may be), this infographic lists the 10 most visited countries in 2019, as well as three of their top attractions according to Google Maps.

Bon Voyage

Here were the 10 most popular travel destinations in 2019, measured by their number of international arrivals.

CountryNumber of international arrivals in 2019 (millions)
🇫🇷 France*90.0
🇪🇸 Spain83.5
🇺🇸 U.S.79.3
🇨🇳 China65.7
🇮🇹 Italy64.5
🇹🇷 Turkey51.2
🇲🇽 Mexico45.0
🇹🇭 Thailand39.8
🇩🇪 Germany39.6
🇬🇧 United Kingdom39.4

*Estimate | Source: World Bank

France was the most popular travel destination by a significant margin, and it’s easy to see why. The country is home to many of the world’s most renowned sights, including the Arc de Triomphe and Louvre Museum.

The Arc de Triomphe was built in the early 1800s, and honors those who died in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. In 1944, Allied soldiers marched through the monument after Paris was liberated from the Nazis.

The Louvre Museum, on the other hand, is often recognized by its giant glass pyramid. The museum houses over 480,000 works of art, including Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

Art isn’t the only thing that France has to offer. The country has a reputation for culinary excellence, and is home to 632 Michelin-starred restaurants, the most out of any country. Japan comes in at second, with 413.

While You’re There…

After seeing the sights in Paris, you may want to consider a visit to Spain. The country is the southern neighbor of France and is known for its beautiful villages and beaches.

One of its most impressive sights is the Sagrada Familia, a massive 440,000 square feet church which began construction in 1882, and is still being worked on today (139 years in the making). The video below shows the structure’s striking evolution.

At a height of 172 meters, the Sagrada Familia is approximately 52 stories tall.

Another popular spot is Ibiza, an island off the coast of Spain that is famous for its robust nightlife scene. The island is frequently mentioned in pop culture—Netflix released an adventure/romance movie titled Ibiza in 2018, and the remix of Mike Posner’s song I Took a Pill in Ibiza has over 1.4 billion views on YouTube.

Beaches Galore

If you’re looking for something outside of Europe, consider Mexico or Thailand, which are the 7th and 8th most popular travel destinations. Both offer hot weather and an abundance of white sand beaches.

If you need even more convincing, check out these links:

Expect Turbulence

Under normal circumstances, hundreds of billions of dollars are spent each year by international tourists. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTCC), this spending accounted for an impressive 10.4% of global GDP in 2019.

Travel restrictions introduced in 2020 dealt a serious blow to the industry, reducing its share of global GDP to 5.5%, and wiping out an estimated 62 million jobs. While the WTCC believes these jobs could return by 2022, the emerging Omicron variant has already prompted many countries to tighten restrictions once again.

To avoid headaches in the future, make sure you fully understand the rules and restrictions of where you’re heading.

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Misc

Which Values Children Should Be Encouraged to Learn, By Country

Which qualities do people think are most important for children to learn? The answer differs from country to country.

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Qualities Children Should Learn

Many of the values we prioritize as adults were instilled in us during our childhood days.

They’re called our formative years for a reason—from when we’re born up until we’re about eight years old, our brains are easily molded and remain highly sensitive to external influences and environments. But depending on where you grew up, you may have been exposed to different values during your childhood compared to someone from another place.

These visualizations by Anders Sundell illustrate the most important values people think children should learn at home, across more than 80 different countries.

Methodology

Sundell used data from the World Values Survey, an international survey that interviews hundreds of thousands of participants from across the globe. Respondents were asked to pick up to five qualities they believe are the most desirable for children to have:

  • Good manners
  • Independence
  • Hard work
  • Feeling of responsibility
  • Imagination
  • Tolerance and respect for other people
  • Thrift, saving money
  • Determination and perseverance
  • Religious faith
  • Unselfishness
  • Obedience

Sundell took the survey data and calculated the proportion of people in each country that selected each quality. From there, he took the top qualities and created three separate plot graphs to show the contrast between them.

Let’s look at the importance that countries placed on different values, including (1) independence and obedience, (2) unselfishness and religious faith, and (3) hard work and imagination.

1. Independence vs Obedience

Nordic countries value independence greatly, and find obedience to be a less important quality to instill in children.

Independence_vs_Obedience

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Other available data also supports that adults in Nordic countries value independence. According to Eurostat, the most common age to leave home in Sweden is between 17 and 18—nearly a decade sooner than the average age across the EU (26 years old).

Denmark’s average age to leave home is also below the European average, at 21 years old.

On the other end of the spectrum, countries like Iraq and Egypt believe obedience is much more important for children to learn.

2. Unselfishness vs Religious Faith

Bangladesh, Egypt, and Jordan all place a strong emphasis on faith, and fall on the far right of this graph.

unselfishness_versus_faith

View the full-size infographic

Islam is a strong influence in all three of these countries. In Bangladesh and Jordan, it’s the official state religion. And while Egypt is a secular country, a majority of citizens identify as Muslim—about 90% of the population.

Interestingly, places like the U.S. and Hong Kong fall right in the between, placing relatively equal importance on religion and unselfishness.

3. Hard Work vs Imagination

Left-leaning Nordic countries like Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland think imagination is more important for children to learn than hard work.

Hardwork_versus_imagination

View the full-size infographic

Interestingly, Japan also scored high for imagination, seeing it was a more important value to teach children than hard work. This is despite the fact that the country has an international reputation for being a hardworking country, where even taking an extended vacation can be frowned upon. Then again, Japan has a reputation for producing wildly creative works of art that are popular internationally (anime, for instance).

As expected, countries and cultures contain multitudes, and can often seem paradoxical and complex to those who try to codify them.

What qualities do you think are most important, and what countries surprised you with their placements?

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