Logo for: President's Alliance Higher Education & Immigration

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. 19,646,000
First-Generation Immigrant Students
  • Undocumented Students
Second-Generation Immigrant Students 3,614,000
International Students 914,095

Note: Undocumented Students are a sub-group of first-generation immigrant students. First-generation immigrants do not include international students on a visa.

Learn more about state-specific information by selecting a state in the search tool below.

Immigrant-Origin Students in Higher Education

Immigrant-origin students represent a diverse and growing community. Immigrant-origin students accounted in 2018 for 5.3 million students, or 28% 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 almost 60% of the growth in higher education students between 2000 and 2018.

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 Education5,316,000
First-Generation Immigrant Students1,701,000
Second-Generation Immigrant Students3,614,000

Undocumented Students in the U.S.

The U.S. is home to more than 427,000 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 Education427,345
DACA-Eligible Students in Higher Education181,624
Non-DACA Eligible Students in Higher Education245,721
Undocumented Students Graduating High School Each Year98,000

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

International Students in the U.S.

International students comprise about 5% of all students in higher education, and about 12% 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 Education914,095
Economic Contributions of International Students in the U.S.$28.4 billion
Jobs Supported by International Students in the U.S.306,308
Optional Practical Training (OPT) Participants223,539

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 Residents44,788,044
Total Spending Power$1.3 trillion
Federal Tax Contributions$330.7 billion
State and Local Tax Contributions$161.7 billion
Immigrant Entrepreneurs3,242,085
Employees at Immigrant-Owned Firms7,975,310
Undocumented Residents (Includes DACA-Eligible Residents)10,315,559
Total Spending Power$214.8 billion
Federal Tax Contributions$18.9 billion
State and Local Tax Contributions$11.7 billion
Undocumented Entrepreneurs823,750
DACA-Eligible Residents1,114,709
Total Spending Power$20.2 billion
Federal Tax Contributions$3.4 billion
State and Local Tax Contributions$2.7 billion
DACA-Eligible Entrepreneurs46,737


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 Immigrants25.9%
Workers in Pharmacies and Drug Stores Who Are Immigrants142,619 (15.6%)
Workers in the Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Industry Who Are First-Generation Immigrants132,307 (24.8%)
Number of DACA-Eligible Workers in Healthcare57,465
Share of STEM Workers Who Are First-Generation Immigrants22.9%
First-Generation Immigrant Staff in Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools892,382


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

  • Effective Practice

    Report: The Initiative on U.S. Education Pathways for Refugee Students

    This report contains an outline for the U.S. to develop and implement a university sponsorship program for refugee students. The report is a collaboration of several organizations and institutions involved in the RESPONSE Campaign.

    Continue Reading
  • Policy

    Key Policy Recommendations For The Implementation Of University Sponsorship Of Refugee Students

    Key policy recommendations for policymakers regarding the potential implementation of an U.S. Education Pathways for Refugee Students program, in which universities and colleges can sponsor refugees in the U.S.

    Continue Reading
  • Policy

    Creating a New Pathway for Refugee Students Through University Sponsorship

    An infographic that details how university sponsorship for refugee students creates a complementary pathway and expands access to higher education for refugee students. This is a resource from the RESPONSE campaign.

    Continue Reading