The United States saw a fall in the number of international scholars in 2020 by 9.6% due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a survey of 1,670 universities and colleges conducted by IIE Open Doors.
Head of Research, Evaluation and Learning at IIE, Mirka Martel said that the survey found that most of Fall 2019 went as planned and that foreign schools were able to travel to the US. However, the numbers started falling from January 2020 after travel restrictions were imposed by either the US or the home countries of the scholars.
Overall, the number of international scholars in the US declined by 13,055 in the 2019-20 academic year, causing disruption to 20 years of steady growth.
Before the pandemic, such a decline was seen in 2001 after the September 11 attacks, when the numbers fell by 2% from 2000-01 to 2001-02.
The decline in international scholars mapped to regions that were initially hit by the pandemic such as Asia and Europe, with the highest decline of 9% and 13% respectively.
India remains the top sender of scholars to the US, second only to China. South Korea comes third in the list although the number of scholars from these three countries dropped in the last academic year, registering 10.6%, 4% and 2,3% declines from China, India and S.Korea respectively.
Martel said that many scholars decided to stay in the US despite the travel restrictions although many elected to go back home. US institutions also took required measures to assist them.
In summer 2020, a survey was conducted by IIE to find out what factors institutions thought lead to this decline in the number. Majority of them believed that it was due to reasons such as travel and visa policy changes, full or partial closure of campuses that made labs and libraries inaccessible, constraints related to future hiring and budget.
45% of the surveyed institutions pointed out freezing scholar appointments or applications, while 36% said budget cuts or staff layoffs as the reason.
While the decline is unlike anything seen before, experts are optimistic that the sector will see a rise with the new political scenario of the Biden administration.
NAFSAs senior director of Public Policy & Legislative Strategy, Rachel Banks said that it is not only because of the pandemic but also because of the policies introduced by the prior administration.
Banks described that numerous harmful policy changes adopted by the Trump administration caused damage to the US reputation as a top destination for international scholars.
However, she added that the US is still a country that attracts the brightest talents from across the world. The Biden administration has made reengagement with the international community a priority.
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