China-US Trade and Political Tensions to Impact Student Enrollment

enrollment of Chinese students impact of political visa tradewar

Trade tensions between the US and China are not only likely to hurt the diplomatic and economic relations, they are also impacting the sentiments and experiences of current and future Chinese students.

According to SEVIS data, 7,774 fewer Chinese students in the US in March 2019 as compared to March 2018. There are variations by the level of education. Shorter duration programs like Language Training and younger student segment like Secondary school are already feeling the pain in terms of decline of Chinese students.

This data does not even factor the full impact of trade-war which escalated in May 2019. This is serious in terms of timing as students are still in the phase of making their final decisions and some could still change course in search to other destinations of safety and welcoming environment.

A recent article in South China Morning Post notes that some Chinese students are stuck in limbo as the waiting time and scrutiny for visas grows longer. Citing espionage concerns, the State Department shortened the length of visas for Chinese graduate students in certain fields.

My quote in the article: “In the current climate of political tensions, the expectations of safety and positive experiences are becoming more important than the prestige of studying in the US…making them [parents and student] consider alternative destinations with welcoming immigration policies and cordial political ties.”

The impact of these shifts int he choices could be educationally and financially severe on universities. As an example, Michigan State University, which enrolled 486 fewer undergraduate students from China in the fall semester as compared to last year could experience a loss of nearly $20 million in revenue in the first year and $80 million in four years.

In a previous article in China Daily, I was quoted that “graduate students come to the US with higher expectations of career outcomes and, as a result, are more sensitive to changes in job opportunities and immigration policies.”