Chinese student numbers in the U.S. fell last year while more international students enrolled in American universities amid the COVID pandemic and political tension between Washington and Beijing.  

Nikkie Asia cited a report from the Institute of International Education (IIE) and the State Department, reporting that the number of international students increased by 3.8% for the 2021-2022 academic year, compared to a 15% decrease from a year ago due to COVID.  

Chinese students account for the largest source of international students in U.S. universities, 30.6% of the total. However, that country’s enrollment fell 8.6% to around 290,000 for the current school year after a 14.8% decline from a year earlier. 

Indian students’ enrollments reached nearly 200,000 last year, up 18.9% from a year earlier, securing the second-largest place of origin, while Korean students ranked third. 

The COVID pandemic and China-U.S. tensions contributed to the drop in Chinese students in recent years.

Allan Goodman, CEO of IIE, said, “There are different parental concerns when it came to younger students coming here given the travel restrictions early on.” 

Intelligence officials said that the American world-class academic institutions system had become a soft target for the Chinese Communist Party’s espionage war.

Bill Evanina, a former counterintelligence official in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told NBC in 2020, “A lot of our ideas, technology, research, innovation is incubated on those university campuses.”

He added, “That’s where the science and technology originates—and that’s why it’s the most prime place to steal.”

President Trump issued an executive order in May 2020 to restrict Chinese students and researchers from enrolling in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. The order effectively banned Chinese students in STEM from getting U.S. visas. 

The order noted that those Chinese students are “detrimental to the interests of the United States” and “their entry should be subject to certain restrictions, limitations, and exceptions.”

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