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Immigrant and International Students in Higher Education

The U.S. has a strong legacy of welcoming immigrant and international students. First- and second-generation immigrant and international students make up one out of every three students enrolled in higher education in the U.S. Immigrant and international students help strengthen America’s higher education community, driving an increase in overall enrollment figures.

All Students in Higher Education in the U.S. 18,659,851
First-Generation Immigrant Students
  • Undocumented Students
1,908,000
408,579
Second-Generation Immigrant Students 3,725,000
International Students 858,395

Note: Undocumented Students are a sub-group of first-generation immigrant students. First-generation immigrants do not include international students on a visa. For this chart, the data point for International Students does not include Optional Practical Training (OPT) participants.

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Immigrant-Origin Students in Higher Education

Immigrant-origin students represent a diverse and growing community. Immigrant-origin students accounted in 2021 for 5.6 million students, or 31% of all students, in higher education. More than 80% of all immigrant-origin students in higher education are people of color. Immigrant-origin students drove 80% of the growth in U.S. higher education enrollments between 2000 and 2021.

Immigrant-origin students constitute first-and-second generation immigrants in the U.S. First-generation immigrants were born abroad and immigrated to the U.S. to live. Second-generation immigrants are U.S.-born individuals with at least one immigrant parent.

Immigrant-Origin Students in Higher Education5,633,000
First-Generation Immigrant Students1,908,000
Second-Generation Immigrant Students3,725,000


Undocumented Students in the U.S.

The U.S. is home to more than 408,000 undocumented students, including DACA recipients, enrolled in higher education. Undocumented students are a heterogeneous community, representing the broad range of immigrants in the U.S.

Undocumented Students in Higher Education408,579
DACA-Eligible Students in Higher Education141,111
Non-DACA Eligible Students in Higher Education288,885
Undocumented Students Graduating High School Each Year120,000

Note: Undocumented students are a sub-group of first-generation students.


International Students in the U.S.

International students comprise more than 5% of all students in higher education, and about 20% of students at the graduate level. International students contribute to the education of all students through their global perspective. International students also provide economic and social contributions to their schools and local communities. Enrollment of international students is expected to decrease, in part as a result of federal administrative policy changes that make it more difficult for international students to come to the U.S.

International Students in Higher Education858,395
Economic Contributions of International Students in the U.S.$40.1 billion
Jobs Supported by International Students in the U.S.368,333
Optional Practical Training (OPT) Participants198,793

Note: For this chart, the data point for International Students in Higher Education does not include Optional Practical Training (OPT) participants.
Source: NAFSA: Association of International Educators


All Immigrants in the U.S.

Immigrant residents in the U.S., including undocumented and DACA-eligible residents, play an important role in the country’s economy, contributing spending power, paying federal, state, and local taxes, and driving innovation and the creation of new businesses.

All Immigrant Residents45,289,690
Total Spending Power$1.4 trillion
Federal Tax Contributions$346.3 billion
State and Local Tax Contributions$178.4 billion
Immigrant Entrepreneurs3,471,810
Employees at Immigrant-Owned Firms7,975,310*
Undocumented Residents (Includes DACA-Eligible Residents)9,736,978
Total Spending Power$228.0 billion
Federal Tax Contributions$18.9 billion
State and Local Tax Contributions$12.1 billion
Undocumented Entrepreneurs857,427
DACA-Eligible Residents913,965
Total Spending Power$21.2 billion
Federal Tax Contributions$3.6 billion
State and Local Tax Contributions$2.8 billion
DACA-Eligible Entrepreneurs58,201

*Employees at Immigrant-Owned Firms is based on 1-year 2020 American Community Survey

 


Immigrants Fill Critical Career & Skills Needs

Higher education helps prepare all students, including immigrant students, to fill critical career and skills needs in the U.S.

Critical Careers and Skills
Share of Nurses Who Are First-Generation Immigrants15.2%
Share of Health Aides Who Are First-Generation Immigrants25.8%
Workers in Pharmacies and Drug Stores Who Are Immigrants150,225 (15.9%)
Workers in the Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Industry Who Are First-Generation Immigrants184,626 (26.7%)
Number of DACA-Eligible Workers in Healthcare57,465
Share of STEM Workers Who Are First-Generation Immigrants22.8%
First-Generation Immigrant Staff in Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools892,382
Share of Immigrant-Origin Adults Without a Postsecondary Credential*30.5%

*Source: Migration Policy Institute.


Resources

Spotlight on reports, fact sheets, policy briefs, explainers, and other resources at the national level.

  • Effective Practice

    Georgia Piedmont Technical College: providing HSE, ESL, and career pathway options to refugee students to address community needs

    Georgia Piedmont Technical College’s (GPTC) Adult Education Division provides high school equivalency (HSE) and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes to the community. GPTC offers several career pathway options, including a Child Development Associate (CDA) program tailored to immigrant and refugee students. The program was developed in response to a community need for more multilingual employees in early childhood care centers. 

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  • Policy

    FAFSA Resources for Mixed Status Families

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  • Effective Practice

    Washington State University’s Health Navigator Program: Pairing Nurses and Newcomers

    Washington State University College of Nursing students in Spokane, WA, in collaboration with IRC-Spokane staff, serve as health system navigators by assisting with medical and dental appointments and providing training on insurance and health access issues for newly arrived refugee families

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