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12 September 2021

The US recovery has been unexpectedly fast and strong

The US has achieved a remarkable turnaround in sentiment over the past 15 months with agent responses indicating a renewed confidence in the destination after a challenging 2020

Throughout 2020, all signs were pointing to record low levels of sentiment and enthusiasm for the USA as a study destination. In the Navitas Agent Perception survey, the USA languished behind the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand on almost every measure.

Many in the sector expected that the Biden administration would lead to a renewal of USA’s reputation as the premier destination for international students. While many surveys pointed to a step change in perceptions earlier in the year, few would have anticipated just how quickly the USA would recover its footing and launch ahead.

Round three of the survey (March 2021) reflected a substantial, positive shift in agent perceptions, and the most recent survey (October 2021) shows a further improvement in agent perceptions of the USA as being “safe and stable” and “open and welcoming”. The extent of the improvement on both these dimensions is unique to the US, as visible in the figures below.

Figure 1: Over the past two months, the reputation of this country as safe and stable for international students has improved.

Figure 2: Over the past two months, the reputation of this country as open and welcoming for international students has improved.

This achievement is in large part the result of a concerted effort by the Biden administration to make the US more appealing to international students

The international education sector was anticipating a shift in the political rhetoric and substantive policies in the USA with the commencement of the Biden administration. A survey by IDP early in 2021 found that students were more positively predisposed towards the USA as a result of the presidential election, and anticipated more optimistic relations between the USA and their home country.

The policies that the Biden administration has put in place have lived up to these high expectations. According to NAFSA, the President has undertaken at least 17 significant immigration-related executive actions since taking office.

One of the key legislative steps taken has been the introduction of the US Citizenship Act of 2021, which amongst its many significant objectives, includes specific measures for international students:

  • The extension of ‘dual intent’ to international students (F category visas) at U.S. higher education institutions, which allows international student to have immigration intent[1]
    Exclusion of STEM PhD graduates from the annual green card and per country caps, which effectively offers these graduates a direct path to green card status
  • Allowing international students to apply for green cards without losing their ability to continue to extend their F category visa status
  • Allowing international students (along with a H-1Bs category visa holders) to extend their status in one-year increments while the Department of Labor or USCIS decides which filings are required for green card status.

These substantive changes to policy are a likely significant contributor to the USA’s sustained leap forward in terms of its reputation for being open and welcoming.

Given the remarkable improvement in trajectory, the United States is rapidly becoming the exemplar for other countries to follow. Australia and New Zealand in particular will be hoping to engineer a similarly spectacular rebound in 2022.

[1] Navitas has previously advocated for a similar policy, in terms of the lifting of the Genuine Temporary Entrants (GTE) requirement currently imposed on international students intent on coming to Australia.


Dr. Brian J. R. Stevenson

Dr. Brian J.R. Stevenson joined Navitas in January 2019 as President and CEO of its North America University Partnerships division. An established leader in both academia and government, Dr. Stevenson has built an impressive record of achievements over more than two decades in campus internationalization, international relations and foreign policy. He most recently served as the 2018-19 Fulbright Research Chair in the US-Mexico Studies Center of the School of Public Policy and Study at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). From 2010-2017, Dr. Stevenson served as President and Vice- Chancellor of Lakehead University, a comprehensive public research institution with two campuses in Ontario, Canada. While at Lakehead, Dr. Stevenson was also a professor in the Faculty of Business Administration. Prior to taking the helm at Lakehead, Dr. Stevenson served the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada as Provost and Vice-President, Academic from 2006 to 2010, where he was also a professor in the Faculty of Business and Economics.

Jon Chew

Jon Chew is the Global Head of Insights and Analytics at Navitas, and is one of Australia's foremost experts in international education market trends. The key theme throughout Jon's work has been the interrogation and interpretation of diverse quantitative and qualitative data to uncover the underlying narrative and meaning. His ultimate goal is to influence critical decisions through clear, rigorous and actionable insights. Jon's approach is characterised by deep technical expertise, storytelling, and a genuinely collaborative approach. Jon is passionate about education and is himself a product of global mobility having grown up in Malaysia and making the transition to university many years ago via a pathway program.
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