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1.2 million foreign students in American universities

Conservative Review

Numbers and quantities matter in all facets of public policy, but nowhere are numbers more consequential than in the debate over immigration and visa programs. 

Today, Immigration Customs and Enforcement released its quarterly international student data detailing the number of foreign students residing in this country under the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).  Here are some of the key data points:

  • As of March 2016, there were 1.18 million foreign students living here on F-1 visas (foreign students) and M-1 visas (vocational training).  There are another 200,000 foreign exchange students living here on J-1 visas. 
  • 478,851 foreign students are enrolled in programs in pursuit of STEM fields.
  • California, Texas, New York, and Massachusetts top the list as the state with the most foreign students.
  • There are 8,687 U.S. schools with federal certification to enroll international students.
  • The top sending countries are: China (353,069), India (194, 438), South Korea (78,489), and Saudi Arabia! 71,655.   


The sheer number of foreign students, particularly from a country like Saudi Arabia pose potential cultural and security problems.  Last year, I posted slightly older data from the Institute of International Education and found that roughly 157,000 foreign students for the previous academic year hailed from predominantly Muslim countries.  

In addition to the unlimited growth under the King Abdullah Scholarship Program for Saudi nationals, we’ve brought in tens of thousands of foreign students from Iran, Turkey, and Kuwait.  And while the SEVP report from the government did not break down the data by country, the report shows that 76% of the students from “west Asia” are male. Hence, we are bringing in hundreds of thousands of predominantly young male students straight from the Middle East.  Also, Arabic is the fastest growing language on U.S. campuses.  Is there any wonder so many of our campuses are full of pro-Palestinian activism? 

It’s not hard to see how young aspiring terrorists could come here on student visas and recruit cells of terrorists on our soil.  While there are obviously many individuals who are coming to learn, clearly many of these students from the Middle East bring with them the subversive and often anti-Semitic culture they have been exposed to back home.  It’s not hard to see how their migration back and forth to their countries of origin throughout their time here as foreign students could make them prime recruiting targets of professional Jihadist organizations. 

There is another sad casualty of mass numbers of foreign students in American universities: the decline of Americanism in our institutions of higher learning.  Now, obviously American liberals have done a good job stripping patriotism from the culture of college campuses long before the massive growth in foreign students, but a massive presence of students who have no stake in this country doesn’t help.  The massive growth in foreign students over the past two decades is as much rooted in the desire of universities to line their pockets with tuition from wealthy international students as it is in multiculturalism, but the result is the same.  As Professor Wilfred McClay observed in an incisive essay a couple of months ago, the explosion of foreign students has undermined “the formation of young people into fully informed and fully equipped citizens of the United States, knowledgeable about their own history and institutions.”  He further opined that, “[T]he problem with cosmopolitanism is not with the more expansive world it opens to us, but with the more proximate world it encourages us to neglect.”

This is something our elites fail to understand.  America is more than a spreadsheet of potential GDP growth based on population.  It is a culture and the leading beacon of freedom and western civilization.  Just like a certain number of immigrants help enrich the country, a certain number of foreign students can enhance our higher institutions of learning (and swell tuition rolls!).  But when a massive percentage of major universities are comprised of foreign nationals from Third World countries and Islamic cultures, our colleges are essentially importing those values instead of exporting our values.    

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