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U.S. Student Visas 2018 Update

Despite the rise of many study destinations, the United States still remains the top choice for international students. However, while there has been an overall increase, colleges reported decline in enrollment.

Crispin Aranda, Jennifer ArandaOriginally posted on May 22, 2018; updated May 22, 2018

U.S. Student Visas 2018 Update

Students and Exchange Visitors

In November 2017, the 2017 the Institute of International Education (IIEP) and the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (DOS-BECA) issued the Open Doors® Report on International Educational Exchangeshowing “a three percent increase in the number of international students in the United States over the prior year, and the number of American students studying abroad increased by four percent from the prior year.”

The more than a million international students in the US is confirmed by SEVIS Statistics (from Statista.com). Of the 1,184,735  foreign students, “more than three-quarters (77%) of the 1,184,735 international students in the US on an F-1 (academic), M-1 (vocational) or J-1 (exchange visitor) visa came from Asia. 

Other highlights of the report:

  • Close to a third – 362,368 – came from China, while 206,698 came from India, up 7% on the previous year.
  • South Korea and Saudi Arabia followed some way behind with 71,204 and 55,806 students respectively. However, both markets saw a decrease in students coming to the US in 2017.
  • An 18% plummet in Saudi students follows a crash in oil prices and drastic cuts to the outbound King Abdullah Scholarship Program, which have dramatically curbed outbound mobility.
  • Meanwhile, the number of South Korean students dropped by 7%, following a worldwide trend that has taken shape in the last few years as fewer Korean students have opted to study abroad.
  • Vietnam student numbers climbed 6% to 30,279.
  • Taiwan, Canada, Japan, Brazil and Mexico completed the top 10 sending countries.

Overall increase, but enrolment declined

While the overall number of international students studying in the United States has increased, the number of new international students—those enrolled at a U.S. institution for the first time in fall 2016, declined by nearly 10,000 students to about 291,000, a three percent decrease from the previous year. This is the first time that these numbers have declined in the twelve years since Open Doors has reported new enrollments.

The number of F-1 visas issued to foreign students seeking to attend college and other types of academic institutions in the United States decreased by 17% in the year that ended September 30, 2017, according to recent State Department data.

Enrolment decline

The number of newly arriving international students declined an average 7 percent in fall 2017, with 45 percent of campuses reporting drops in new international enrollment, according to a survey of nearly 500 campuses across the country by the Institute of International Education.

Experts cited an uncertain social and political climate in the United States as part of the reason for the decline in enrollment.

Mix of factors for decline.  

Rajika Bhandari, head of research for IIE said, “Concerns around the travel ban had a lot to do with concerns around personal safety based on a few incidents involving international students, and a generalized concern about whether they’re safe.”

The factors driving the slowing of growth include a mix of global and local economic conditions:

  1. Expanded higher education opportunities at home and declining populations. 
  2. The scaling back of large Saudi and Brazil government scholarship programs were a significant factor, as the number of students from those two countries showed the biggest decreases, particularly in non-degree study. 
  3. Other countries offered more attractive student-work-to residence options with lower tuition fees.

Then there is the post-graduate increase of students staying after their degree studies and pursuing Optional Practical Training (OPT) “related to their academic fields…and thus remaining longer in the U.S. higher education system.”

Top 10 Reasons why International Students Choose a US College/Educational Institution

  1. Cost of programs/courses
  2. Offered majors and programs
  3. Availability of financial aid
  4. Location
  5. Employment opportunities after graduation – full time within 6 months of graduation
  6. Average starting salaries of graduates
  7. Percentage of students who graduate
  8. Average amount of money students borrow
  9. Student loan default rates
  10. Recommendation from family and friends

Students: Academic and Vocational (F and M visas)

Most of the international students pursue either the F-1 (Academic) or M-1 (Vocational) student visa.   E Then there is the Exchange Visitors (J-1 visas) which has a more limited period of academic studies while offering more opportunities for internship, training and employment.

F-1 Student Visa

The F-1 Visa (Academic Student) allows you to enter the United States as a full-time student at an accredited college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution or in a language training program. You must be enrolled in a program or course of study that culminates in a degree, diploma, or certificate and your school must be authorized by the U.S. government to accept international students.

M-1 Student Visa

The M-1 visa (Vocational Student) category includes students in vocational or other nonacademic programs, other than language training.

Student Visa Categories

  • F-1       Academic students
  • F-2       Spouses and children of F-1
  • F-3       Canadian or Mexican national academic commuter students
  • M-1      Vocational students
  • M-2      Spouses and children of M1
  • M-3      Canadian or Mexican national vocational commuter students

Exchange Visitors (J visas)

  • J-1        Exchange visitors
  • J-2        Spouses and children of J-1

Students and Employment

(courtesy of official USCIS/SEVIS Websites being shared for advocacy program and public service at no cost)


F-1 students may not work off-campus during the first academic year,but may accept on-campus employment subject to certain conditions and restrictions. After the first academic year, F-1 students may engage in three types of off-campus employment:

  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
  • Optional Practical Training (OPT) (pre-completion or post-completion)
  • Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT)

M-1 students may engage in practical training only after they have completed their studies.

For both F-1 and M-1 students any off-campus employment must be related to their area of study and must be authorized prior to starting any work by the Designated School Official (the person authorized to maintain the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)) and USCIS.

Practical Training: CPT and OPT

Some F-1 students are eligible for practical training. There are two types of F-1 practical training: curricular practical training (CPT) and optional practical training (OPT).

Type of Practical Training


Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

·       Training relates directly to the student’s major area of study.

·       Training is an integral part of the school’s established curriculum.

·       Designated school official (DSO) authorized CPT in SEVIS, and the authorization prints on the student’s Form I-20.

  • Occurs before the student’s program end date on the Form I-20.

·       Authorization is for one specific employer and for a specific period of time.

·       Student must secure the training opportunity before CPT can be authorized.

·       Student can have more than one CPT authorization at the same time.

·       One year of full-time CPT eliminates a student’s eligibility for OPT.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

·       Training relates directly to the student’s major area of study.

·       DSO recommends OPT in SEVIS.

·       Student does not have to secure training before the DSO can recommend OPT.

·       Authorized by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), and the student is issued an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

·       Allows the student to work for any employer, as long as the training relates to the student’s major course of study

  • Can occur before or after the student’s program end date.

·       Periods of OPT cannot overlap.

·       Students are eligible for an additional 12 months of OPT authorization, when they change to a higher educational level.

Authors & Contributors

Crispin Aranda

Crispin Aranda

Crispin R. Aranda is an established International Visa Conselor and Immigrant Advocate. He is the president of IVC and is in several migration radio programs.

Jennifer Aranda

Jennifer Aranda

Jennifer S. Aranda is the COO of IVC Immigrant Visa Center, Inc.

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