Impact of COVID-19 pandemic significant; points to pressing need for a national recruitment and retention strategy for international students and scholars
For Immediate Release

Washington, November 15 , 2021 – NAFSA: Association of International Educators announced new data today that reveal the largest single-year drop in the dollar amount contributed by international students studying in the United States. Findings show that the nearly one million  international students at U.S. colleges and universities contributed $28.4 billion to the U.S. economy during the 2020-2021 academic year, a decline of nearly 27% (or $10.3 billion) from the prior academic year largely due to the pandemic. This is the second time, and second year in a row, that the dollar amount has declined since NAFSA began calculating the economic contributions of international students and their families to the U.S. economy, more than 20 years ago. The combined two-year decline totals $12.1 billion. Of the $10.3 billion drop, NAFSA estimates $9.4 billion (or 91%) is solely attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Given the severe impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on international academic mobility, this significant drop in economic activity is not surprising, yet it need not be a trend that we are resigned to seeing continue,” said Esther D. Brimmer, NAFSA executive director and CEO. “We know that U.S. colleges and universities are working tirelessly to support international students in a safe and effective manner during this challenging time. Their efforts would be greatly assisted by a coordinated governmental approach that both attracts and retains international student talent. We urge the Biden administration to advance its commitment to international education by adopting a comprehensive national strategy that would help restore and diversify international student enrollment on U.S. campuses. The vital academic, cultural, and economic contributions of international students and scholars are essential to our ongoing recovery from the pandemic.”

NAFSA has long advocated for a national strategy for international education to proactively recruit talented students and scholars to U.S. colleges and universities from around the world as well as increase the number and diversity of U.S. college students who are able to study abroad before they graduate. 

Additional findings from NAFSA’s new economic research include:

  • The total number of jobs supported (306,308) by the financial contributions of international students declined by 109,688 (or 26.4%) from the prior year;
  • At U.S. community colleges, international student spending contributed $1.5 billion (down 36%) and supported 7,850 jobs (down 37.4%);
  • The ten states that saw the largest amount of economic activity were: California, New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Texas, Illinois, Florida, Ohio, Michigan and Indiana. The list is largely unchanged from last year with the exception of Indiana which assumed the #10 slot from Washington;
  • Seven states broke the $1 billion mark (down from nine states last year).

This data is also available to view by state and congressional district at 

NAFSA’s analysis uses data from the following sources: enrollment data from the 2021 Open Doors report, published by the Institute of International Education in partnership with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs; tuition and expense data from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center of Educational Statistics; and job creation data from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration and Bureau of Economic Analysis.


Sample Tweet: Latest @NAFSA data: #IntlStudents contribute $28.4 billion & over 306,000 jobs to U.S. economy—but their economic contributions see largest decline in more than 20 years due to pandemic. 

About NAFSA: Serving more than 10,000 members and international educators worldwide, NAFSA: Association of International Educators is the largest nonprofit association dedicated to international education and exchange. Visit us at To learn more about our advocacy efforts on behalf of international education, visit Resources to guide our members on these issues can be found at