The Top 25 Foreign Lands Sending College Students to the U.S.

One of the biggest U.S. exports is sort of an import -- college graduates from all over the world. Can you guess where the most come from?

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American college and graduate education has become a huge industry in the United States. With a reputation for academic excellence, a wide variety of courses and many opportunities to bolster English skills, American schools draw students from around the world.

In 2016, 1.2 million foreign students attended American colleges and universities, according to a Voice of America report. If that number holds (despite a decline in applications in the current year) it would represent about 1 in 20 of the 18 million undergraduate and 3 million postgraduate students the Department of Education expects on U.S. college campuses this fall.

That translates to a contribution of nearly $31 billion a year to the U.S. economy, the U.S. Commerce Department estimates.

The top five U.S. states for hosting international students are California, New York, Texas, Massachusetts and Illinois, says the Institute of International Education’s 2016 Open Door report. The most popular fields of study are business/management, engineering, and math/computer science. The three schools hosting the most international students are New York University, the University of Southern California and Arizona State University.

Where do foreign students come from? The IIE Open Door report ranks the top 25 places of origin of international students in the U.S. It covers the 2015-16 school year, when the number of international students first topped 1 million and the latest year for which details are available. Here they are:

No. 25: Spain

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Spain’s 6,640 students in the U.S. are fairly evenly divided between undergraduate, graduate and other types of studies and temporary jobs in their fields of study.

Spanish students’ top three fields of study in the U.S.: business/management, engineering and humanities.

Students from Spain contributed $233 million to the U.S. economy, the Commerce Department says.

For American students studying abroad, Spain is the third-most popular destination.

No. 24: Thailand

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Fewer students are coming to America lately from Thailand, which has fallen to 24th in the Open Door countries-of-origin rankings from 15th five years ago. About 4 in 10 of the 7,113 Thai students in the U.S. are graduate students, and another 4 in 10 are undergrads. The rest are in other study or temporary work programs.

Thai students’ top three fields of study in the U.S.: business/management, engineering and physical/life sciences.

Thai students contribute an estimated $267 million to the U.S. economy, the Commerce Department says.

California is by far the most popular state with Thai students, followed by New York, Massachusetts, Texas and Illinois, according to State Department numbers from 2013/2014.

No. 23: Colombia

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The number of Colombian students in the U.S. has rebounded in the past few years, reaching 7,815 after declining from a peak of nearly 8,100 in 2001. About 4 in 10 are undergraduate students, another 4 in 10 are graduate students. The rest are divided among study-related jobs and other study programs.

Colombian students’ top three fields of study in the U.S.: business/management, engineering and fine/applied arts.

Colombian students contributed $251 million to the U.S. economy last year, the Commerce Department says.

No. 22: Malaysia

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The number of students from Malaysia in the United States has grown 50 percent since a six-year decline ended in 2007. More than 70 percent of the 7,834 Malaysian students in the U.S. are undergrads; the rest are graduate students or in study-related jobs.

Malaysian students’ top three fields of study in the U.S.: engineering, business/management and social sciences.

Malaysian students contributed $268 million to the U.S. economy last year, the Commerce Department says.

No. 21: Hong Kong

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Two-thirds of the 7,923 students from the autonomous Chinese territory of Hong Kong studying in the U.S. are undergrads. The rest are graduate students, taking other study courses or in temporary jobs related to their studies.

The top three fields of study in the U.S. for students from Hong Kong: business/management, social sciences and fine/applied arts.

Students from Hong Kong contributed $296 million to the U.S. economy last year, the Commerce Department says.

No. 20: Venezuela

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The number of students from Venezuela is up to 8,267, nearly double the number at a low point in 2007. About 2 out of 3 students from Venezuela are undergrads. The rest are graduate students, study in other programs or — for just over 1 in 10 — work in temporary study-related jobs.

Venezuelan students’ top three fields of study in the U.S.: business/management, engineering and fine/applied arts.

Students from Venezuela make up less than 1 percent of the U.S. international student population but contribute $276 million to the U.S. economy, the Commerce Department says.

No. 19: Indonesia

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Steady growth over the past few years has brought the number of students from Indonesia up to 8,727, still down from a peak of more than 13,000 in 1997.

About 2 out of 3 students from Indonesia are undergrads; 1 in 5 are grad students. Only about 1 in 10 are in other study programs or work in study-related jobs.

Indonesian students’ top three fields of study in the U.S.: business management, engineering and fine/applied arts.

Indonesian students in the U.S. contributed $303 million to the U.S. economy last year, the Commerce Department says.

No. 18: France

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The number of French students studying in the U.S. has been on the upswing since 2005, reaching a total of 8,764 in the 2015-16 academic year.

About 1 in 3 French students in the U.S. are undergrads; 1 in 4 are grad students, and about 4 in 10 are in other study programs or working study-related jobs.

French students’ top three fields of study in the U.S.: business management, engineering and social sciences.

French students in the U.S. contributed $334 million to the U.S. economy last year, the Commerce Department says.

France is the fourth-leading host for American students studying abroad.

No. 17: Nepal

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After years of decline from a peak of nearly 11,600 in 2008-09, the number of students from Nepal studying in the U.S. surged to 9,662 for 2015-16, up 18 percent from the previous year.

Nearly half the Nepalese students in the U.S. are undergrads; about 4 in 10 are grad students; only a tiny fraction are in other study programs; but about 1 in 8 are working in study-related jobs.

Nepalese students’ top three fields of study in the U.S.: physical/life sciences, math/computer science and engineering.

Students from Nepal contributed $302 million to the U.S. economy last year, the Commerce Department says.

No. 16: Kuwait

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The number of students in the U.S. from Kuwait has grown to nearly 9,772, a six-fold increase from a low of 1,633 in 2006. The growth is due largely to the Kuwaiti government granting scholarships for its citizens to study in the U.S., the IIE says.

Nearly 7 in 10 Kuwaiti students in the U.S. are undergrads; fewer than 1 in 10 are grad students; about 2 in 10 are in other study programs; and a tiny fraction hold temporary study-related jobs.

Kuwaiti students’ top three fields of study in the U.S.: engineering, intensive English and business management.

Kuwaiti students contributed $308 million to the U.S. economy last year, the Commerce Department and IIE estimate.

No. 15: Germany

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While the number of German students in the U.S. dropped slightly from the previous year to 10,145 in 2015-16, their presence is still more than 17 percent above a 15-year low of 8,656 in 2006-07.

Around 30 percent of German students in the U.S. are undergrads; a little under 30 percent are graduate students; and the remainder are in other study programs or hold temporary study-related jobs.

German students’ top three fields of study in the U.S.: business/management, social sciences and physical/life sciences.

German students contributed $396 million to the U.S. economy last year, the Commerce Department says.

No. 14: Nigeria

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More Nigerian students than ever — 10,674 — studied in the U.S. in 2015-16. That’s up 12.4 percent from the previous year’s 9,494.

Just over half the Nigerian students in the U.S. are undergrads, and nearly 4 in 10 are graduate students. The rest are in other study programs or hold temporary study-related jobs.

Nigerian students’ top three fields of study in the U.S.: engineering, business/management and physical/life sciences.

Nigerian students contributed $324 million to the U.S. economy last year, the Commerce Department says.

Nigeria replaced Kenya in 2014-15 as the only African country in the top 20 places of origin for foreign students.

No. 13: Turkey

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The number of students studying in the U.S. from Turkey has fallen to 10,691, off nearly 14 percent from this decade’s high of 12,397 in 2010.

Just 3 in 10 Turkish students in the U.S. are undergrads, and nearly half are graduate students. The rest are in other study programs or hold temporary study-related jobs.

Turkish students’ top three fields of study in the U.S.: engineering, social sciences and business/management.

Turkish students contributed $423 million to the U.S. economy last year, the Commerce Department says.

No. 12: United Kingdom

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The number of students studying in the U.S. from the United Kingdom climbed for eight straight years to reach 11,599 in 2015-16. That’s up 39 percent from 8,367 in 2007-08 from the U.K., which is made up of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Nearly half the students from the U.K. in the U.S. are undergrads, nearly 2 in 10 are graduate students. The rest are in other study programs or hold temporary study-related jobs.

U.K. students top three fields of study in the U.S.: business/management, social sciences and fine/applied arts.

Students from the United Kingdom contributed $421 million to the U.S. economy last year, the Commerce Department says.

The United Kingdom is the leading destination for U.S. students studying abroad, hosting about 12 percent of the total.

No. 11: Iran

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The number of Iranian students studying in the U.S. reached a 27-year high of 12,269 in 2015-16. (That’s still far lower than a peak of more than 51,000 prior to that nation’s 1979 revolution.)

Nearly 8 in 10 of the Iranian students in the U.S. are undergrads; fewer than 1 in 10 are graduate students. The rest are in other study programs or hold temporary study-related jobs.

Iranian students’ top three fields of study in the U.S.: engineering, math/computer science and physical/life sciences.

Iranian students contributed $386 million to the U.S. economy last year, the IIE and Commerce Department estimate.

No. 10: Mexico

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After growing for most of the past 10 years, the number of Mexican students studying in the U.S. dropped about 2 percent to 16,733 in 2015-16 from the previous school year. However, the 17,052 studying that year in the U.S. — which was a surge of 15 percent from 2013-14 — made 2014-15 a peak year for Mexican students in the U.S. this century, says the IIE, which attributes the growth in part to NAFTA.

Mexico’s large and growing population along the U.S. border allows its students to easily study at border American schools, the IIE says. Some students from Mexico are charged in-state tuition and cross the border daily, saving on room and board.

More than half of the Mexican students in the U.S. are undergrads; about one-fourth are graduate students. The rest are in other study programs or hold temporary study-related jobs.

Mexican students’ top three fields of study in the U.S.: business/management, engineering and social sciences.

Mexican students contributed $605 million to the U.S. economy last year, the Commerce Department says.

No. 9: Japan

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Japan, once the leading sender of foreign college students to the U.S., in 2015-16 sent 19,060 — a nearly 60 percent drop since its peak of more than 47,000 in 1997-98.

Japan’s ranking dropped due to surges in students from India, China, South Korea and Saudi Arabia, the effects of a rapidly aging Japanese population and other economic factors, the IIE says.

Nearly half of the Japanese students in the U.S. are undergrads; almost 2 in 10 are graduate students. About 3 in 10 are in other study programs or hold temporary study-related jobs.

Japanese students’ top three fields of study in the U.S.: business/management, intensive English and social sciences.

Japanese students contributed $620 million to the U.S. economy last year, the Commerce Department says.

No. 8: Brazil

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After sharp growth earlier this decade, the number of students from Brazil dropped to 19,370 in 2015-16, off 18 percent from 23,675 in 2014-15. That was the last year of the Brazil Scientific Mobility Program funded by Brazil and administered by the IIE that helped many students go abroad to study. The three-year program led to a nearly 2.5-fold increase in the number of students from Brazil studying in the U.S.

Nearly 4 in 10 of the Brazilian students in the U.S. are undergrads; about 2 in 10 are graduate students. More than 4 in 10 are in other study programs or hold temporary study-related jobs.

Brazilian students’ top three fields of study in the U.S.: engineering, business/management and fine/applied arts.

Brazilian students contributed $820 million to the U.S. economy last year, the Commerce Department says.

No. 7: Taiwan

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The number of Taiwanese students studying in the U.S. ticked up to 21,127 in 2015-16 after eight years of decline. Taiwan was once the leading country of origin, sending 37,581 students in 1993-94.

Graduate students from Taiwan outnumber undergrads. More than 40 percent are graduate students, about 3 in 10 are undergrads. Nearly 3 in 10 are in other study programs or hold temporary study-related jobs.

Taiwanese students’ top three fields of study in the U.S.: business/management, engineering and fine/applied arts.

Students from Taiwan contributed $739 million to the U.S. economy last year, the Commerce Department says.

No. 6: Vietnam

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The number of students from Vietnam studying in the U.S. has seen a 10-fold increase since the beginning of the century to reach 21,403. Vietnam has been in the top 10 countries of origin rankings since 2010.

Nearly 70 percent of Vietnamese students studying in the U.S. are undergraduates; nearly 2 in 10 are graduate students. The rest are in other study programs or hold temporary study-related jobs.

Vietnamese students’ top three fields of study in the U.S.: business/management, intensive English and engineering.

Students from Vietnam contributed $694 million to the U.S. economy last year, the Commerce Department says.

No. 5: Canada

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The number of Canadian students studying in the U.S. has fluctuated in recent years. At 26,973, the number for 2015-16 is down almost 10 percent from a 2008 peak of 29,697.

Nearly half of the Canadian students studying in the U.S. are undergraduates; almost 4 in 10 are graduate students. The rest are in other study programs or hold temporary study-related jobs.

Canadian students’ top three fields of study in the U.S.: business/management, health professions and social sciences.

Canadian students contributed $1 billion to the U.S. economy last year, the Commerce Department says.

No. 4: South Korea

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The number of South Korean students dropped in 2015-16 to 61,007, marking the first time in a decade the nation was not in the top three countries of origin. The number is off nearly 20 percent from a peak of 75,065 in 2008-09, prior to the financial crisis.

Just over half of the South Korean students studying in the U.S. are undergraduates; nearly 3 in 10 are graduate students. The rest are in other study programs or hold temporary study-related jobs.

South Korean students’ top three fields of study in the U.S.: business/management, fine/applied arts and social sciences.

South Korean students contributed $2.3 billion to the U.S. economy last year, the Commerce Department says.

No. 3: Saudi Arabia

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The number Saudi students reached 61,287, which was up 2 percent from the previous year but the first time since 2005-06 that growth wasn’t at a double-digit or higher rate. In 2005 participants in the Saudi Scholarship Program began enrolling in U.S. universities, the IIE notes.

More than half of the Saudi students studying in the U.S. are undergraduates; more than 2 in 10 are graduate students. Most of the rest are in other study programs and a few hold temporary study-related jobs.

Saudi students’ top three fields of study in the U.S.: engineering, intensive English and business/management.

Students from Saudi Arabia contributed $2 billion to the U.S. economy last year, the Commerce Department says.

No. 2: India

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The number of students from India in the U.S. reached 165,918 in 2015-16, reflecting the highest growth rate among foreign students’ countries of origin. The figure is nearly four times the number in the 1999-2000 school year, when 42,337 students from India studied in the U.S.

More than 60 percent of Indian students studying in the U.S. are graduate students; only 10 percent are undergrads. Most of the rest hold temporary study-related jobs while a few are in other study programs.

Indian students’ top three fields of study in the U.S.: engineering, math/computer science and business/management.

Students from India contributed $5 billion to the U.S. economy last year, the Commerce Department says.

No. 1: China

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The 328,547 students from China studying in the U.S. in 2015-16 make China the source of nearly one-third of this country’s international students. The number is nearly double that of second-ranked India. China supplanted India as top source of foreign students in 2009-10 and has held the position since.

Nearly 4 in 10 Chinese students studying in the U.S. are undergraduates; and nearly 4 in 10 are graduate students. A growing number, nearly 2 in 10, hold temporary study-related jobs while a few are in other study programs.

Chinese students’ top three fields of study in the U.S.: business/management, engineering and math/computer science.

The campus with the largest number of Chinese students is the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, followed by the University of Southern California and Purdue University, according to a Foreign Policy magazine analysis of F-1 visas.

Chinese students contributed $11.4 billion to the U.S. economy last year, the Commerce Department says.

Have you studied abroad or hosted a foreign student? Share your thoughts and experiences in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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