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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
Second-Generation Immigrant Students 3,725,000
International Students 763,760

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 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 Education267,468
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 about 4% of all students in higher education, and about 19% 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 Education763,760
Economic Contributions of International Students in the U.S.$33.8 billion
Jobs Supported by International Students in the U.S.335,423
Optional Practical Training (OPT) Participants184,759

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 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 Immigrants23.1%
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.


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

  • Research

    Reupping Mental and Emotional Health and Well-Being Impacts of Policy Announcements on DACA Recipients in Aftermath of Hanen Decision

    The Im/migrant Well-Being Research Center and scholars from the University of South Florida and the Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute at George Washington University partnered to examine the mental, social, and emotional impact of this limbo on DACA recipients living with precarious legal status. The article, Undocumented Again? DACA Rescission, Emotions, and Incorporation Outcomes among Young Adults published earlier this year examines the effects of DACA’s 2017 rescission on Dreamers and explores how both the 2016 presidential election and 2017 executive action that rescinded DACA evoked emotions of sadness, grief, anxiety, and uncertainty.

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  • Effective Practice

    A Narrative Toolkit on the Social, Mental, and Emotional Effects of an Uncertain Future for DACA

    This toolkit takes a peer-reviewed study and compiles the real stories of Florida Dreamers to show how DACA’s instability has affected each of their lives. These Dreamers’ stories illustrate how DACA is not enough, and how continual public discourse affects Dreamers’ ability to plan for the future and participate economically in the country they were raised in. This document compiles their words to use as a storytelling resource for those who want to center DACA recipients in their narratives. All names have been changed to protect their privacy.

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  • Effective Practice

    Better FAFSA for Mixed-Status Families: Top 10 Things to Know So You Can Prepare

    The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA is getting an overhaul this year. Most residents, including citizens, legal permanent residents, T visa holders, and other specified non-citizens, are eligible for federal financial aid, even if their parents are undocumented. Changes to the FAFSA may however pose some challenges for mixed status families. This document provides an overview of key changes and things students and families need to know to get ready to apply for federal financial aid.

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