NAIS Research: International Student F-1 Visa Data Reveal How International Student Enrollment at Independent Schools Is Changing

By Margaret Anne Rowe
NAIS Research Analyst

Executive Summary

Once a significant driver of enrollment growth at hundreds of independent schools, international students have begun to take a step back from the United States. With borders closed during the pandemic and visa applications still backlogged, the enrollment of foreign students on F-1 visas dropped and has yet to recover. And with global inflation, heightened geopolitical tensions, fears over safety and discrimination in the U.S., and increased competition from other nations’ private schools, there is heightened pressure impacting the decision-making of every family considering an education abroad for their child. 

Previous analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) found that the international student population in NAIS schools declined 22% between 2019-2020 and 2021-2022, with the bulk of the decline occurring between 2019-2020 and 2020-2021.  While NAIS research has shown admissions directors reporting declines and sporadic growth for certain countries, no hard numbers have been available until now. NAIS has also received additional data from SEVP that are broken down by students’ country of citizenship. Collected by immigration officials on the issuing of international students’ visas between July and June, these data represent the only disambiguated count of K-12 international students studying in independent schools, separate from other national data focus on postsecondary students

The data reveal a more nuanced picture of international student enrollment in independent schools than previously available. Mirroring national trends in higher education, enrollment from China and Asia as a broader region has declined significantly. However, enrollment of students from the Americas (primarily from Canada and Mexico) has surpassed pre-pandemic numbers, while that of students from Europe and Africa has nearly recovered. New country- and region-level information is available on the distribution of international students at boarding and day schools, as well as primary and secondary schools, showing the pandemic’s outsized influence on smaller student populations.

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