As U.S. sees fewer international students, Utah welcomes more of them

(Al Hartmann | Tribune file photo) Students at the University of Utah walk from classes to the Olpin Union building for the first day of Fall 2015 classes. It attracts the most international students of the universities in Utah, although those numbers were down last year.

While the nation hosted fewer international students last year at a time of increasing anti-immigrant rhetoric, Utah bucked that trend to attract more of them.

Utah universities and K-12 schools welcomed 14,436 international students in 2019, roughly the combined population of Park City and Kanab.

That was an increase of 519 students, up 3.7%, according to a new report by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, part of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Still, their enrollment at many of Utah’s largest universities was down.

Nationally, the number of foreign students in 2019 declined by 1.7%. Utah was one of only two states in the West that saw an increase. The other, Arizona, had a tiny bump of less than two-tenths of 1%.

Why is enrollment down nationally for international students?

A report in March by NAFSA: Association of International Educators suggested, “University and industry leaders acknowledge that anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies contribute to a chilling effect on international study in the United States.” The group said it found that international students feel less safe and less welcomed amid current politics on immigration.

The international educators also warned that “competitors like Canada, China, and Australia are recruiting and attracting more international students and scholars and benefiting at the expense of the United States.”

The new data shows that despite the overall international student enrollment growth in Utah, it was down at several of Utah’s largest universities. (Only five universities in the state were included in the listing of school-specific data).

• The University of Utah, had 3,178 international students in 2019, down from 3,248 in 2018.

• Brigham Young University, 1,706 students, down from 2,193 in 2018.

• Utah Valley University, 851 students, down from 1,234.

• Utah State University, 771 students, down from 828.

• Southern Utah University, 743 students, up from 688.

About 1.52 million international students studied in the United States, scattered among 8,649 schools. About one of every 106 foreign students in the nation studied in Utah last year.

Roughly 86% of foreign students study at a university or vocational school, while the rest attend K-12 schools.

Three Utah educational groups ranked in the top 200 nationally for K-12 schools hosting international students — and they are the only ones with school-specific enrollment data provided.

Layton Christian Academy had 313 foreign students in 2019 (up from 234 in 2018); Wasatch Academy in Mount Pleasant had 183 in 2019 (after not finishing in the top 200 in 2018); and the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City had 149 (up from 144 in 2018).

Asia remains the top continent of origin for international students in the United States with nearly 1.14 million, despite a 2.4% decrease last year.

China (474,497), India (249,221), South Korea (84,071) and Saudi Arabia (53,283) sent the most nonimmigrant students to study in the United States last year, and all saw decreases compared with 2018.