Chinese Still Largest Group of Foreign Students in US

Washington — Students from China retained their position in 2023 as the largest group of international students in the United States. Despite a slight dip, they are still the leading country of origin for foreign students pursuing an education in the U.S.

The State Department granted more than 600,000 international student visas in fiscal 2023, which ended in September, the highest issuance since fiscal 2017. Among these, 289,526 visas were awarded to Chinese students, a decrease of 560 students compared to the previous year, according to State Department data. 

In a November call with reporters about the agency’s 2023 visa operations, Julie Stufft, deputy assistant secretary for visa services in the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, said in fiscal 2024, they will be focusing on shortening wait times. 

“We’ve driven down wait times in all categories worldwide, except for one, and that category is first-time visitors,” she said wait times for the 20-plus different types of visa categories, including students, are almost non-existent.

As of December 4, the current wait times for student visa applicants from China vary at U.S. consulates across China from three to eight days.

For all other countries, Stufft said wait times have “gotten so low that we don’t necessarily have to track.” 

For those who have gone through the process, like Shawn Zhan, an international student from China, the visa process is complex and “a lot of paperwork,” he told VOA. 

“And just going through all the examinations, taking TOEFL, and also physical exams as well. Took a lot of vaccines. But I will say, it’s worth the trouble if you’re determined to come,” he said. The Test of English as a Foreign Language assesses the English language ability of a student who wants to enroll in an English-speaking university.

Zhan is in his last school year at the University of Maryland. He is graduating with a degree in economics and plans to stay in the U.S. for graduate school. 

“I’m going to continue in the business school program in MSBA, the Master of Science in Business Analytics, for one more year,” he said.

According to the Open Doors 2023 Report on International Educational Exchange, the total number of students from China has decreased in the last three years mostly because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The 2022-2023 school year, with 289,526 Chinese students, is the lowest number since the 2013-2014 academic year when 274,439 Chinese students attended U.S. colleges and universities. The highest enrollment number for Chinese students was 372,532 in 2019-2020. 

“However, this year we did see some modest increases in graduate students, non-degree, and students on [Optional Practical Training],” said Mirka Martel, head of research, evaluation and learning at the Institute of International Education.

Optional Practical Training allows international students to temporarily work in a field related to their academic focus.


In an email to VOA, a State Department official said on background that they have seen a two-year rebound of all international students in the United States following the pandemic, with more than a 14% percent growth in new enrollments this past year.  


The official also said the U.S. government is “committed to facilitating legitimate travel to the United States while maintaining high national security standards.”


Zhan said his first impression of the United States was “actually pretty nice,” and he had a host family who welcomed him.  


“It definitely helped me a lot to adapt to the language, environment, and all that. … People are so nice,” he said.

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