Both the Department of State and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security maintain data about F-1 students. The number of new F-1 visas has risen over the last decade; in 2012, there were close to 500,000. The amount of individuals in “active F-1 status” time hovers around 800,000 at any given time. F-1 students come to the U.S. from all over the world, but over 70% come from Asian nations. China is the largest sending country for F-1 students, followed by South Korea, Saudi Arabia, India and Japan. Even though the U.S. government possesses detailed information on F-1 students, including their age, gender, country of origin, whether they are working, and where, complete data is not publicly available. The Institute of International Education maintains an extensive database on F-1 students, including information on their employment. That data shows that the number of F-1 students who work in optional practical training programs has increased by 274% over the past decade, to an estimated 85,157 workers, who are mostly from India and China.


A. Number of F-1 Students in the U.S.

1. U.S. Department of Labor

The U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) does not have any role in the administration of the F-1 visa program.  As such, USDOL neither collects nor maintains data regarding the number of F-1 students that are working in the U.S.

2. U.S. Department of State

The Department of State publishes the number of F-1 visas that are issued annually. In 2012, 486,900 new F-1 visas were issued.88 

Source: U.S. Department of State, FY 1997-2012 NIV Detail Table, available at http://travel.state.gov/visa/statistics/nivstats/nivstats_4582.html(June 2013).

3. U.S. Department of Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security has two agencies involved in managing the F-1 program and thus, two sets of numbers.  The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) maintains the database tracking foreign students while they are in the United States. At the border or port of entry, the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) interviews individuals who have received F-1 visas, decides whether to grant their admission.

a) U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

ICE publishes SEVIS quarterly reports showing the number of individuals in active F-1 status.  During the quarter ending in March 2013, there were 937,033 active F-1 and M-1 students in the United States.

b) U.S. Customs and Border Patrol

Each time a nonimmigrant worker enters the United States, CBP counts the entry as an admission.  The number of admissions of individuals with F-1 visas is published annually.89 In 2012, there were 1,566,815 admission events for individuals with an F-1 visa.90  Given the fact that there is no limitation on the times an F-1 worker may depart and re-enter the U.S., the admissions number is high relative to the number of visas issued.  The way the data is collected does not distinguish between the first and return entries; all are counted as separate admissions.91  Many F-1 students return to their home countries for school holidays or on vacation breaks during the year, which results in inflated numbers due to multiple crossings by one individual.  Departures are not tracked.92

B. F-1 Student Demographics

1. National Origin

Asian countries account for 72% of all F-1 visas issued, with Europe a distant second.  

Source: U.S. Department of State, FY 1997-2012 NIV Detail Table, available at http://travel.state.gov/visa/statistics/nivstats/nivstats_4582.html

China is the largest sending country for F-1 students with 189,402 visas issued in 2012.93 South Korea, Saudi Arabia, India and Japan round out the top five sending countries for F-1 students, as accounted for by visas issued.  The leading country from Europe is Germany, and in the Americas, both Brazil and Mexico are in the top ten.  While the top ten sending countries for F-1 workers have remained somewhat stable over time, the number of Chinese students has increased by over 200% in the five years since 2008.

Canada is likely one of the largest sending countries as well.  Because Canadian F-1 students do not obtain a visa from the Department of State, they are not counted in the data set.  The rest of the top five sending countries as measured by admissions in 2012 were also in the top ten for visas issued.
Quarterly SEVIS reports show the top countries of citizenship of active F-1 academic and M-1 vocational students.  The F-1 and M-1 numbers are not disaggregated.  Nonetheless, the inclusion of M-1 numbers does not change the overall make-up of the top sending countries for foreign students.  As of June 2013, the four most recent calendar quarters show China, South Korea, India, Saudi Arabia and Canada as the most common nationalities for active students.

2. Student Location

DHS publishes information about the destination states of nonimmigrants based on information gathered when F-1 workers are admitted at the border.94 The five states with the largest flow of F-1 students are New York, Texas, California, Michigan and Massachusetts. 

SEVIS quarterly reports published by ICE show that California, New York, Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania are the top five states measured by the number of schools authorized to enroll foreign students under the F-1 academic and M-1 vocational visa programs.
C. F-1 Student Employment Numbers
Students with F-1 visas who work in the U.S. are certainly the most tracked and observed visa holders but perhaps among the least studied nonimmigrant workers. SEVIS tracks “non-immigrants from the moment they are accepted at a U.S. institution, through the completion of their program” and provides real-time information to the U.S. government.95   However, ICE only publishes the numbers of active foreign students, their fields of study and nationality.  The quarterly SEVIS reports do not mention any F-1 student employment statistics or employment-related demographic information.  
A Social Security Administration study found that in 2005, 24,504 F-1 students had obtained new Social Security numbers. Furthermore, the agency estimated that 96% of them had “accepted or were promised employment on campus,” many as teaching assistants or food service workers.96 The three countries of origin with the most F-1 students working were India, China and South Korea.97
While USCIS has information regarding the number of F-1 students who submit I-765s, for whom they plan to work, and how many EADs are ultimately approved and denied, this information is not regularly published either.  However, through a Freedom of Information Act request, journalists received this information regarding OPT from USCIS and have posted a searchable database of OPT employment online.
A non-governmental organization, the Institute of International Education (IIE), annually estimates the number of F-1 student workers with OPT programs, based on its Open Doors survey of U.S. colleges and universities.  While this information from IIE provides a very helpful snapshot of the scope and growth of the OPT program, it is just an estimate and does not all schools that have students enrolled in F-1 programs.  

1. Optional Practical Training Data

According to IIE, the number of OPT students has almost quadrupled in the span of a decade, jumping from 22,745 participants in 2002 to 85,157 in 2012.98 Since 2010, the top five sending countries for OPT workers are India, China, South Korea, Taiwan and Canada. 



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