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How Were International Chinese Students to the US Affected by COVID-19?

3.75 minute read
"There were over a million international students enrolled in US Universities and Colleges in 2019-20. China is the top source country of international students arriving in the US for higher education."
Written by My Visa Source Team
Published on:  Nov 8, 2021
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There were over a million international students enrolled in US Universities and Colleges in 2019-20. China is the top source country of international students arriving in the US for higher education. In the last academic year. Around 372,532 Chinese students enrolled in the US, closely followed by Indian students at 193,124. India and China together make up 50% of international student enrollment in the US. The third place is occupied by South Korea, followed by Saudi Arabia and Canada. 

How Were Chinese Student Visa Applications Affected During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

During the 2019-20 academic year, around 372,000 Chinese students were enrolled in undergraduate programs in the US, making up almost 35% of the total international student population. According to the US Department of Commerce, international students contribute over $44 billion to the US economy every year. Chinese students living in the US during this period contributed $15.9 billion in terms of living expenses, tuition fees, etc.  

In 2020, Student Visa applications from Chinese students declined by 18% compared to 2019. Despite the decline, there was a 9% increase in admission applications received by US universities and colleges from international students in 2021. This increase can be attributed to the election of President Joe Biden last November. 

The election of a new administration after Donald Trump has given hope to many foreign students and workers. However, there was a drop in Chinese students’ interest in coming to the US for higher education. This dwindling interest will hamper a steady source of revenue for major US universities. 

The declining interest may be attributed to the increase in anti-Asian racism in the US amid the pandemic and rising political tensions between the US and China. 

What Are the Top 25 United States Universities and Colleges for Chinese Students?

Chinese students come to the US mainly to study mathematics and computer science, followed closely by engineering, and business and management courses. According to the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the US universities with the most Chinese student population are as follows. These universities have been determined based on the Student Visas issued to Chinese students with a letter of acceptance from the following universities:




University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign


University of Southern California


Purdue University


Northeastern University


Columbia University


Michigan State University


Ohio State University


University of California, Los Angeles


Indiana University


University of California, Berkeley


New York University


Pennsylvania State University


University of Minnesota


University of Washington Seattle


Arizona State University


University of Michigan, Ann Arbor


Boston University


Illinois Institute of Technology


Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey


University of Texas, Dallas


University of Wisconsin-Madison


University of California, San Diego


Carnegie Mellon University


State University of New York, Stony Brook


Syracuse University

What Can Chinese Students Do in the US After Graduation?

Chinese students on an F-1 Visa and a postsecondary degree from a US university or college can apply for the Optional Practical Training (OPT) Program. The OPT program allows international students to work in the US for up to a year in a field that is directly related to their area of study. 

Many Chinese students opt for the OPT program after graduation to obtain US work experience. 

After a year, they can transition to the H-1B Visa. The H-1B Visa is for highly skilled foreign workers in a specialty occupation such as architecture, engineering, mathematics, physical sciences, social sciences, medicine and health, education, business specialties, accounting, law, theology, and the arts. There is an annual cap of 65,000 visas with an additional 20,000 visas for applicants with a US master’s degree or higher. 

How Can Chinese Student Enrollment Improve in 2021?

During the peak of the pandemic in 2020, researchers in Hong Kong and Australia examined the impact of the pandemic on the interest of students from Mainland China and Hong Kong in studying abroad. The US is still ranked as the top study destination for most Chinese students post-pandemic. Almost 80% of the 11th graders surveyed by Beijing’s Keystone Academy view the US as their number 1 study abroad destination. 

While the international travel restrictions have been relaxed, allowing Chinese students to travel to the US, Chinese students are more concerned about the general attitude towards Asians in the US and the logistic hurdles faced in obtaining a US Student Visa. 

Going forward, US universities can take certain steps to encourage Chinese student enrollments back to pre-pandemic levels. 

This includes communicating directly with the students and their parents and informing all the safety measures being taken to make the students feel welcomed and comfortable on the campus. Universities must also consider publishing their promotional materials in the Chinese language to be more inclusive of Chinese parents as they play a critical role in deciding the final choice of school. 

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