Genuine Foreign Students Decline in Number, but Alien Grads Masquerading as OPT 'Students' Increase Nearly 10 Percent

By David North on November 18, 2019

The headline on the November 18 press release from the Institute of International Education, "Number of International Students in the United States Hits All-Time High", is simply a lie and the State Department should cease funding the IIE's survey until it stops cheating with numbers.

The headline relates to the annual survey of foreign students in our colleges and universities called "Open Doors", which is conducted, at some considerable cost, by the IIE, a pro-foreign student organization in New York City. These surveys have been conducted, on pretty much the same basis, for decades.

What IIE does with its numbers is hard to defend.

It takes the number of genuine foreign students in the country, 872,214, and then adds in 223,085 alien alumni who are in the nation's second-largest foreign worker program (after H-1B), but are still counted by IIE as "students", even though all are out of school, some of them having gotten their degrees three years earlier. These alumni are all in various Optional Practical Training (OPT) programs that are heavily subsidized by U.S. taxpayers (though no one would not know this from reading the IIE report).

IIE gets its numbers by polling the international student offices in America's colleges and universities. Not all colleges participate in the survey, and some of the most marginal ones (I sense) are not asked to join the process, so that the total numbers issued are always undercounts; but since they use the same system year after year, comparisons from one year to the next are appropriate. These numbers come from an incomplete, indirect polling operation, but IIE treats them as if they were complete numbers from a direct census.

It is with this self-deferential attitude that we get this kind of verbiage: "The total number of international students, 1,095,299, is a 0.05 percent increase over last year."

A political pollster would hasten to add that this is a statistical tie, and one/twentieth of a percentage point is about one sixtieth of the standard polling error.

As one gets deeper into the IIE press release, however, one finds useful numbers like these:

  • Foreign undergraduates: 431,930, a 2.4 percent decrease
  • Foreign graduate students: 377,943, a decrease of 1.3 percent
  • Those in non-degree programs: 62,341, down 5.0 percent; and
  • OPT people: 223,085, up 9.6 percent from the prior year.

The Washington Post's accurate coverage of these numbers, by Nick Anderson, bore this accurate headline: "Study finds fewer foreign undergraduates in U.S. colleges — the first drop in 13 years", but even the Post could not bring itself to say that the OPT alumni — and their employers — both get a more than 8 percent tax break because they don't pay payroll taxes, something not available to citizen grads; that gift is funded by our trust funds for the Medicare, Social Security, and Federal-State Unemployment Insurance programs, which are funded by the payroll tax.

This is in the sorry tradition we have noted before: big media and big foundations describing the OPT program while never mentioning that these subsidies to young aliens are coming from our ailing and our elderly.