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Urban geography of foreign students in US universities

Where are US’ foreign students coming from and where are they heading? What value do they bring? These are not existential doubts, but questions addressed by the Global Cities Initiative, a five-year joint project of the Brookings Institution and JPMorgan Chase, aimed at promoting a greater engagement in world markets for U.S. metropolitan areas. As part of the project, a study traced data on F-1 visas: the most common visa issued to foreigners studying in a full-time academic programme in the US. The main novelty of the project is its focus on the smaller geographical level of cities, contrary from other existing studies dedicating their attention to a broader country level. 

The study shows that the number of international students in US universities grew dramatically from 123 000 in 2001 to 550 000 in 2012 and it highlights interesting trends in students' origins, destination and chosen subjects. Most foreign students are in fact coming from large fast-growing cities in emerging markets: the top origin city is Seoul, sending 56 500 students during the considered period, followed by Beijing (50 000), Shanghai (29 000), Hyderabad (26 000), Riyadh (17 400), Mumbai (17 300), Taipei (17 000), Hong Kong (12 400) and – surprisingly within the top ten- Kathmandu (10 000). Concerning destinations, foreign students prefer metropolitan areas, and New York City results the top destination. A large majority (two-thirds) of foreign students are choosing the US to study specific subjects: science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM disciplines), but also business courses. According to the Institute of International Education (IIE) these trends confirm the findings of the 2014 Open Doors survey that will be released on 17 November.

The Global Cities Initiative highlights how international students are increasingly becoming a pulsing economic force, and estimates that between 2008 and 2012, foreign students contributed USD 21.8 billion in tuition fees and USD 12.8 billion in living costs to the 118 metropolitan areas where they studied. Brookings also analysed government data on work authorizations for students on optional practical training (OPT), a post-graduation period of 12-29 months in which students are permitted to stay in the U.S. and work in their field of study. Data found that 45% of international students pursue OPT in the same metropolitan area as their college or university, contributing to the local economy.

Read the full report: Brookings