How Many Computer Science Grad Students are International?

American graduate schools have a reputation for attracting international students. A new breakdown by the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) shows that international students constitute the majority of those in graduate school for computer and information science, which could have a sizable impact on how tech companies source their talent for years to come.

These international students represent 72 percent of all those enrolled in grad school for computer and information science (as well as 74 percent of those in electrical engineering, and 71 percent in industrial and manufacturing engineering). “Between 1998 and 2019, the annual number of full-time international graduate students in computer and information sciences increased by 310 percent, from 10,930 in 1998 to 44,786 in 2019,” added the NFAP’s report (emphasis theirs). “In comparison, over the same period, the annual number of full-time U.S. graduate students in computer and information sciences increased by 91%, from 9,042 in 1998 to 17,334 in 2019.” 

But when we break down the numbers for the past few years, we see that the number of international grad students is actually falling: 

“This decline in international graduate students was before the new restrictions imposed on Chinese students and the impact of Covid-19,” the report continued. “A continuation of this trend would present serious issues for U.S. employers and universities.” In addition to that, some employers and pundits have predicted that proposed changes to the immigration system, including H-1B visas, could also impact international students in coming years. 

A recent study by Wiley suggested that U.S. students of all demographics should be encouraged to consider STEM careers while still in high school, which would potentially boost the number of applicants to grad schools (and ultimately make the tech industry more diverse). Whether or not that actually happens, the percentages of international students in grad school will likely stay elevated for quite some time to come. 

5 Responses to “How Many Computer Science Grad Students are International?”

  1. jake_leone

    Let’s get real about IT work. Is it really necessary to have a degree in computer science, to do computer science work?


    And I am living proof of that. I work on tools for AI scientists, my company’s product is sold throughout the world and we are leading vendor. And I have had my job for more than 20 years now.

    The reality is we have had people from a variety of STEM background take on all kinds of computer science jobs at my company. One guy was chemist, another software tester (no degree). Anybody who is willing to put in the hours it takes to learn a needed programming language (Python, C++, Java, the Web Stack) can take on a job at my company.

    But, since there are hundreds of thousands of foreign graduates, with a computer science degree, that degree becomes an overwhelming attraction. It makes it easy for HR to justify escalating the resume. They don’t have to read anything past, computer science degree from a major university.

    But that laziness doesn’t alter the fact that many people who are working a computer science job are without a computer science degree, in some cases they might not have received a high school diploma. Yet they have a passion for computer science work.

    This is the reality.

    A lot of companies know this, but HR still has to weed out the hundreds of resumes they receive. So you might have experience and capability, but if you don’t have the right key words in your resume, your resume will not be escalated by HR. In such cases, you need someone to forward and highly recommend you. I have noticed that my colleagues from India will submit resumes readily, that’s what they do, they network very well, in fact they will pay kickbacks without question.

    So for many minorities in the United States, the applicants simply don’t know anyone in the tech companies, and they are bound by American laws and ethics (no kickbacks), hence they are passed by. Even if they might be qualified, if they don’t have a computer science degree, from a major computer science university, HR simply will not escalate them.

    So, keep in mind, most computer science jobs are actually routine stuff. Code your server, test it, check for race conditions/(logic errors/bombs)/memory leaks… This is old hat, and I have been doing this for 30 years now.

    Without a computer science degree. Frankly not even sure if I graduated from High School, cause I could care less (English literature bores the crap out of me and that’s what my highschool was touting as a necessary college prep course). I left 6 months before graduation to study computer science at the local community college.

  2. India got 55K student visas at present during pandemic. Not sure where US students should go for living. It is a great business for IT consulting and immigration attorney’s, probably revenue for Universities but US is exhausting its natural resources because of all kinds of importing legal, illegal, refugees, h/l scam visa etc.

    At same time India’ government should question themselves that why their people leaving their country just like people in other countries where they have security issues.

  3. Good report. Now expand the analysis back to a few years before Obama expanded (was it doubled?) number of OPTs?
    The foreign ‘student’ uses the OPT with as many loopholes and extensions as possible to delay having to return to their home country.
    The OPT allows the employer skip paying some employment taxes – meaning that paying a foreign student is about 15% cheaper than hiring a US national.
    This codified discrimination against Americans in America in favor of foreign students who have little intention of leaving the US and should be paying full taxes.
    The OPT program hurts the American students’ employment opportunities and hence their ability to support themselves in a graduate program. Similar concerns with the CPT.
    Check these out and realize there are a few factors that affect the statistics cited in the article. The raw numbers do not show greater aptitude or interest in the advanced degree by foreign students over Americans simply that our system has skewed in favor of the foreign students and it is a dangerous situation to be in as a country.

  4. Good article, I like how it shows that the majority of IT students are international and that it has direct and inevitable effects on the market. Showing real/hard data to ignorant people (and not the personal history of one individual) is the best way to show them how biased they are.

  5. “A continuation of this trend would present serious issues for U.S. employers and universities.” Bovine Droppings, US employers will have to pay American workers a proper wage, not hunt for the cheapest workers they can find. H1Bs are and have been a product of industry looking for cheap foreign labor