SEVIS Data Points to Declining Enrollments from Key Countries

Ever since the presidential election last November, the U.S. higher education community has monitored how the Trump presidency will affect international student flows to the United States. Five months into the new presidential administration, data from SEVIS and other sources provide early insights into the impact of the “Trump effect.”

The news is generally sobering. Even in the best-case scenario, the high growth rates in international enrollments that U.S. universities have experienced over the past 12 years can be expected to shrink. A comparison of quarterly visa issuance shows that overall in-bound student mobility has declined in the last two quarters, especially among key groups of students. Numbers from China have decreased, although not as sharply as those from Mexico. Data from India are mixed, while numbers from some top sending countries still continued to grow. But most indicators point to the conclusion that international enrollments in the U.S. will decrease in the immediate term.

That said, the trend – which could presage the first decline in absolute numbers since 2005/06 – is unlikely to bring about a tectonic shift in international student flows and does not preclude long-term growth of international student enrollments in the U.S. in absolute terms. A look back at trends in the years after the 9/11 attacks, when U.S. institutions saw a significant drop in enrollments followed by a substantial and sustained recovery, should offer some cause for optimism.