While studying in the US can be a significant investment for international students, investing in international students themselves can have a huge return on investment for the US economy as a whole. New research compiled by NAFSA, the Association of International Educators, reveals that the US is missing the proverbial boat when it comes to this powerful source of both financial and intellectual capital. Which, it seems, is exactly the point.

The data, which was released as part of the organization’s International Student Economic Value Tool and draws on international student data from Institute of International Education’s Open Doors Report and economic data from the Wintergreen Orchard House, breaks down the economic contribution of international students on a regional, state-by-state, and congressional district level. This research thus serves as a lobbying tool that NAFSA hopes will convince reluctant supporters of immigration reform that such reform is in the best interest of all parties.

Big Money
All said, some 764,495 international students studied in schools across the United States in the 2011-2012 academic year. In the process they not only provided a welcome source of diversity (and revenue) to their campuses but, at the same time, supported nearly 300,000 jobs and contributed $21.8 billion to the nation’s economy. In fact, NAFSA’s analysis shows that for every 7 enrolled international students, 3 jobs are either created or supported by spending in a wide variety of economic sectors.

Could Be Bigger
As good as these numbers sound, however, they must be considered in the context of the larger picture. Though the number of international students that is enrolled in the US has risen 31% in the last decade, the number of international students worldwide has nearly doubled. That means that, despite the increase in sheer numbers, the relative US’s share of international student enrollment has actually fallen by 10%. This suggests that the US is losing out to other nations with friendlier attitudes towards international students (Canada’s rate, relative to the world, has remain consistent for example) – a suggestion that NAFSA and other advocates of international education would like members of Congress to realize; there is a positive economic impact on immigration reform if legislation successfully makes the rounds in Washington.