Emigration Note: The Two-Way Movements of College Students

By David North on June 10, 2016

Those of us who write about migration — from all points of view — tend to focus all our thoughts on immigration. We often tend to forget that migration is a two-way street, with at least some people going in both directions.

To fill that gap there will be, from time to time, these emigration notes on people leaving the country for reasons other than tourism. Today, look at the international movements of college-age people, as they arrive in the United States and as they leave.

Most of the international movement of college students (on nearly a three-to-one basis) is from overseas to our universities. The bottom line of the table below shows a population of some 886,052 foreign students here in the States in the 2013-2014 academic year, while there were 304,467 American students overseas. (Both of these figures are from the Institute for International Education in New York; an entity that follows, and encourages, such migration.)


The Flow of International Students to and from the United States (thousands)

























Foreign Students in U.S. (data for 2013/2014) Nations (Ranked by Number of Foreign Students in the U.S.) Americans Overseas (Data for 2013/14) Balance (Foreign Students in Bold, Americans Overseas in Italics)
274,000 China 14,000 260,000
103,000 India 5,000 98,000
68,000 South Korea 3,000 65,000
54,000 Saudi Arabia * 54,000
28,000 Canada 1,000 27,000
21,000 Taiwan 1,000 20,000
19,000 Japan 6,000 13,000
17,000 Vietnam 1,000 16,000
15,000 Mexico 4,000 11,000
13,000 Brazil 4,000 9,000
10,000 United Kingdom 38,000 28,000
10,000 Germany 10,000 0
8,000 France 18,000 10,000
5,000 Spain 27,000 22,000
4,000 Italy 31,000 27,000
4,000 Australia 8,000 4,000
1,000 Ireland 9,000 8,000
1,000 Costa Rica 9,000 8,000
655,000 Total, listed nations 189,000 466,000
886,052 Total, all nations 304,467 581,585


























Source: "Open Doors 2014: International Students in the United States and Study Abroad by American Students are at All-Time High", Institute for International Education, 2015.
* Fewer than 500 students.





The table shows the 10 nations that sent us the most foreign students, from China's huge delegation of 274,000 that year, down to Brazil's 9,000 (with all numbers rounded), as well as the 10 nations, starting with the United Kingdom that attracted the most U.S. overseas students (38,000), down to Costa Rica, which had about 9,000 American students. (Only 18 nations are listed because China and Japan are on both lists.)

The numbers shown tend to overstate the significance of the emigration of American students; many of the 304,467 are going overseas rather briefly — in the popular junior year abroad scheme — while most of the foreign students are here for much longer periods, many seeking an America college degree, something that has prestige, particularly in Asia.

The flow to the United States is dominated by people from Asia, while the flow from the United States is largely to Western Europe. (My own contribution to these numbers, many years ago, is off the chart; I was one of a group of seven Fulbright grad students who went to New Zealand that year.) I frankly was surprised at the relatively large numbers of Americans in Ireland and Costa Rica; I had no idea of the lure of their universities.

The back and forth flows are about even with Germany, with about 10,000 going each way. By all odds the most lopsided pattern is with Saudi Arabia; the estimate was that only 25 Americans were there, while 54,000 Saudis were here. That is a 2,160:1 ratio. (While many of the Chinese and Indians tend to try to linger in the United States after they have completed their education, the predominant pattern is for the Saudis to go home.)

Another pattern that caught my eye was the relative imbalance at our northern border, with about 1,000 Americans going to Canada, while 28,000 crossed in the other direction. For several years I played the happy role of a parent of a U.S. student in Canada; my son, Rodney, got a first-rate degree at Dalhousie University in Halifax, while I paid fairly modest tuition payments. Further, after the first semester there, he was the guest of the Canadian government on that country's universal medical insurance plan. I am surprised that more Americans have not noticed this option.





I am grateful to Elise Barber, a CIS intern, for her research assistance.