According to an analysis of US visa data by The Wall Street Journal, fewer US student visas are being issued to Chinese nationals. The WSJ claims that the US has granted 50% fewer visas to new Chinese students in the first six months of 2022 than before the COVID-19 pandemic. From January to June 2022, the US issued 31,055 student visas to Chinese nationals.
In the same period for 2019, 64,261 US student visas were issued to Chinese nationals. The slump has sparked fears that US influence in the international student market is waning. Prior to the pandemic, Chinese students were by far the biggest international population attending US universities for 10 consecutive years.
In 2019, 369,548 Chinese students were attending US higher education institutions. Meanwhile, the US was also the most popular destination in the world for Chinese students. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen a dramatic decline in these numbers. In the 2019 - 20 academic year alone, there was nearly a 40% drop in Chinese students in the US.
COVID a factor but decline evident before pandemic
Grace Zhu, the branch director for China at market research company BONARD, said that while COVID has been a huge factor in the decline of Chinese students in the US, market insights show that the trend began pre-pandemic.
Zhu said: “The political tensions between the governments have contributed to the decline of Chinese students interested in the US. Meanwhile, there’s increasing interest among Chinese students in other English speaking nations – particularly the UK - and Asian destinations such as Hong Kong or Singapore.”
Meanwhile, BONARD’s research also found that education agents in major Chinese cities are promoting UK university courses more than US learning programs.
Further data released by internet engagement company, BOSSA – an umbrella organization for Chinese study abroad agencies – shows a long-term decline in interest in the US as a potential study destination among prospective students and families.
BOSSA spokesperson, Jon Santangelo, said: “We measured media consumption and search for ‘study in America’ themed content nationwide in China. The US was already behind the United Kingdom in 2019. The UK has vastly outpaced the US and demonstrated the most interest out of all study destinations worldwide, since before the pandemic.”
Trend not necessarily long-term
Despite the US falling behind the UK as a top study destination for Chinese students, Zhu said that the trend is ‘not necessarily long-term’. She argued that the US market ‘will bounce back’, but acknowledged that the US may ‘no longer dominate in China’ as other destinations increase in popularity among Chinese nationals.
Zhu said: “The US recovery as a leading destination for Chinese students depends on whether US educators are willing to make more effort and increase investment in the Chinese market.”
However, in recent years, the US has imposed a series of student visa restrictions on China amid ongoing political tensions.
Relations between China and the US hit an all-time low under the Trump administration, while the Biden government has done very little to improve US-China relations, though the US President is set to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping in November.
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