Are U.S. Immigration Laws Causing International Students to Enroll Elsewhere?

According to recent studies, fewer international students are enrolling in U.S. colleges and universities. These studies highlight growing concerns about the economic consequences of stricter immigration policies in the United States. 

Downward Trends in Enrollment of International Students

recent study from highlights the data. Over the last decade, the United States has experienced substantial growth in international student enrollment, sometimes reaching 10% annually. However, from 2019 to 2020, the number of international students enrolled in American colleges and universities declined by 1.8%, marking the first decline in international student enrollment since at least 2009. 

Although the United States continues to welcome more international students than any other country, this precipitous decline in international enrollment appears to be increasing. In fact, new international student enrollment has dropped 11% over the past five years alone. 

This decrease is not uniform from state to state. It comes as no surprise that the states with the most international students include California, New York, and Texas. However, even Texas faces declining international enrollment numbers. According to a recent article from The Dallas Morning News, international student enrollment fell 5.9% in Texas between the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 school years. 

International Enrollment in Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley

In Pennsylvania, the nation’s sixth largest state in terms of international student enrollment, the story is the same. Although one recent article from Penn State University News boasts an influx of international students at Penn State Scranton, the data indicates that between the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 school years, Pennsylvania saw a 3.4% decline in international student enrollment overall.

Recently, in the “Lehigh Valley Has the Fastest-Growing Young Population in Pennsylvania, Ranging from18–34-Year-olds” blog post, we highlighted that Lehigh Valley hosts the fastest-growing young population in Pennsylvania, with substantial growth among individuals aged 18 to 34. Naturally, such growth promotes economic and cultural development in the region. However, given the increasing loss of international students in Pennsylvania, the impact of immigration policies on the economic future of the Lehigh Valley and the United States must be considered.

Impact of H1-B Policies on Student Enrollment 

Immigration policy continues to be the subject of fierce political debate in the United States. The shifting immigration policies of presidential administrations may have contributed to the recent decline in international enrollment numbers nationwide. 

Recent presidential administrations have tried to restrict foreign-born individuals from working in the United States. For instance, in 2020, the Trump administration issued rules designed to restrict the H1-B nonimmigrant visa program for highly-skilled workers. These policies sought to address alleged abuses of the H1-B program in order to protect market outcomes for U.S. workers. 

According to the Center of Strategic & International Studies, the Biden administration ended many Trump-era immigration restrictions, but continues to enforce restrictions for individuals seeking H-1B visas. Accordingly, the Biden administration’s policies concerning H1-B visas continue to align with those of the Trump administration. 

This debate is ongoing, and the proposed House reconciliation bill may even create new obstacles for H1-B workers. Specifically, if passed, the bill will implement additional fees to H1-B petitions. With this increase, companies will face an additional fee to pursue H1-B petitions for workers, which are already, arguably, prohibitively expensive for some companies.

Where International Students Are Going

The recent decline in international student enrollment makes sense. These numbers suggest that immigration policy may be driving international students to consider alternatives to an American education. 

In countries like Canada, international student enrollment continues to increase. Canadian policies offer alternatives for international students seeking a country where international graduates can easily work and gain permanent residency. Similarly, other countries are making efforts to attract highly skilled workers. Great Britain, for instance, has announced new specialty visas designed to attract highly skilled workers to the United Kingdom.

The economic impact of foreign-born workers cannot be overstated. After all, nearly half of all Fortune 500 companies are led by immigrants or their children. In order to protect U.S. interests in an increasingly global economy, future lawmakers will have to balance the costs and the benefits of immigration policies. 

To learn more about this blog post, or if you have any other immigration concerns, please feel free to contact me at or (484) 544-0022.

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