The Covid-19 pandemic and a flurry of immigration-related directives from the last US administration devastated enrolment of international students at US educational institutions in 2020, a media report said.
The number of international students, on their F-1 or M-1 visas, fell by 18 per cent last year, to 1.25 million, according to a new tally by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Student and Exchange Visitor Program, which manages the Department of Homeland Security's student visa monitoring system.
Visa records for newly enrolled students tumbled by 72 per cent, and F-1 student visas went down by more than 90 per cent in August 2020 when the new school year started, Xinhua news agency quoted The Wall Street Journal report published on Saturday as saying.
The F-1 visa is issued to full-time academic student, while the M-1 visa category includes students in vocational or other non-academic programs.
"US consulates around the world paused nearly all routine visa processing last spring, meaning aspiring students weren't able to schedule the required in-person interviews to be issued their visas," the report said.
"A series of orders over the summer barring international students not already in the U.S. and whose courses were being taught entirely online further complicated the process for those holding out hope of getting to a US campus," it added.
The ICE figures include students in K-12 (kindergarten to Grade 12) schools, those pursuing academic programs in colleges and universities and those studying in vocational programs.
The declines were spread across all degree levels, and for students from all regions of the world.
The report said that there was prevailing uncertainty about 2021 looking much better, as many consulates and embassies remain closed or are processing visas only on an emergency basis.
As of March 1, 43 out of 233 consular posts were operating at full capacity, according to the State Department.