An analysis of majors and post-graduation planning for Chinese international students studying in the United States

According to the 2018 statistics put out by the United States Immigration Customs Administration, commonly referred to as the ICE; after surveying 229 regions across the globe, statistics show that although the number of Chinese students studying abroad in the U.S. dropped by a meager 0.8%, the actual number of Chinese students increased by 6,305 compared to the previous statistical year. In 2018, Chinese international students studying in the United States reached a new high of 377,070 [1].  In lieu of this information, the U.S. based Forward Pathway’s research team has decided to write an article to analyze the question, “Should Chinese international students stay in the U.S., or return to China to pursue a career after graduation?”

First, the number of Chinese international students who stays to work in the United States plus the number of Chinese international students who return to China equals to the total number of Chinese international students that will be studying abroad every year. While the data regarding total number of Chinese who come and those who stayed in the U.S. are easily accessible, the data and circumstances of those who will return to China to start their career will have to be inferred from the previous statistics mentioned. Second, an analysis of these three different groups will also inevitably involve their respective major and professional distributions.

1) How many Chinese international students who decided to stay and work in the U.S. will receive a H1-B? What are their respective majors?

Chinese international students who wish to stay in the United States and work will inevitably have to go through the work permit lottery process, commonly referred to as H1-B lottery. The 2017 survey conducted by the United States Immigration Service (USCIS) [2] shows that while Chinese international students accounts for one-third of all international students studying abroad in the U.S., the number of approved H1-B visas only tallied up to 15,000. This only takes up 14% of the total H1-B visa that’s being approved every year. However, Indian international students, for example, only account for one-sixth of the international student pool studying in the U.S. reached an astonishing 67,000 approved H1-B visas. This number equates to 63% of all approved H1-B visas. This drastic disparity stems from the different major choices chosen by the students of these two countries. Another startling fact is that almost 70% of all approved H1-B visas are for students in the computer related fields. From this fact alone, we can roughly state that 70% of international students who stayed in the United States studied in a computer-related major during their academic years. While this 70% saw a decrease down to 62% during 2017, it is still a high number nevertheless. Drawing from the data stated above, we can conclude that at present times, the demand for computer-related professionals in the U.S. is at an all-time high.

Keeping the 70% figure in mind, let’s now look at the respective fields that are often chosen by Chinese international students. According to the statistics published by Open Door in 2017, Chinese international students who comes to the United States are most likely to choose majors in the three following fields: Business/Finance (23.1%), Engineering (18.7%), or Science (25%) (With Science & Technology being the ever familiar STEM path.) [3] The International Education Association compiled data from 2010 to 2017. These data showed these three disciplines combined makes up for almost 70% of majors chosen by Chinese international students. A trend that has remained steady for the past several years. Of these 70%, approximately 40% of the majors also fell under the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) classification. From these data, we can see that when Chinese international students are selecting their preferred path of education, they do not do so with the intention of conforming to the needs of the U.S. computer-related fields. In addition, the number of Chinese international students in the liberal arts fields has more than doubled within the past seven years while those who are studying languages have been decreasing at a steady pace. However, these two groups are still considered as a minority when viewing the Chinese international student population as one can see from the chart below.

Figure 1: Chinese International Students in U.S. by Majors

Below is the breakdown of Indian international students and their chosen majors/disciplines starting from 2010 and ending at 2017. It is very apparent that Indian international students that studied a STEM related major accounts for almost 80% of the population. And starting from 2010, the number of Indian international students studying STEM related majors also steadily grew. These data show why Indian international students takes up 63% of the approved H1-B visa pool. Here, we can make an educated guess that Indian international students have been steadily increasing in pursuing majors in the STEM or computer-related field to better meet the needs of the U.S. job market as well as increasing their chances of obtaining the ever elusive H1-B work visa.

Figure 2: Indian International Students in U.S. by Majors

This drastic difference in choosing a discipline is due to the difference in view between Chinese and Indian international students:

According to a Foreign Policy survey, 78% of Chinese international student stated that the main reason for them to come to study in the United States was for the stellar academic education that is readily available. Concurrently, it is an excellent opportunity for them to broaden their horizon and to foster and enhance their sense of independence and mental fortitude. This is opposed to the majority of Indian international students who hopes to gain the valuable opportunity to remain and work in the U.S. Thus, the natural course of action for Indian international students is to pick majors that appeals to the U.S. job market. This can be readily seen in the 70% computer-related job demand 80% STEM related majors in the Indian international student pool. On the other hand, Chinese international students are more inclined to pick majors that better suit their own personal interest and will have an impact towards their own future professional pursuits. Thus, explaining the drastic disparity of approved H1-B visas between the Chinese international student population versus their Indian counterpart.

2) Education/Professional choices failing to meet market demand, thus creating a lack of opportunities.

After analyzing the data presented above, we can reach the conclusion that for Chinese international student hoping to remain in the U.S. post-graduation and gaining employment is very difficult. According to statistics published by the U.S. Immigration Customs Administration, only 15,000 Chinese international students were granted H1-B work visas 2017. According to the U.S. Department of Education, in that very same year, 100,000 Chinese international students graduated from an U.S. College or University. So that means only 1/7 of the Chinese international student population obtained a U.S. work visa with the majority in the computer related field. Jobs reserved for other professions may only number in the “hundreds.”  Thus, we can see the difficulty presented for post-graduate Chinese international students. In addition, even for Chinese international students in the computer related fields, there are still many circumstances that needs to be considered. For example, many positions for American technology/computer companies are slowly being outsourced to India. At the same time, the U.S. government has become more stringent in policies regarding international workers.

According to the latest news from U.S. Immigration Services:

If the visa application materials are not in conformity with the standards set, the visa application will be rejected outright.

Due to this new regulation, many public and private companies, in order to reduce the risk have becoming unwilling to accept applications by international students. Further increasing the difficulty for Chinese international students who hope to remain in the U.S.

3) Returning to China where opportunities are aplenty

With the ever-increasing difficulty of remaining in the U.S. as a Chinese international student, many has decided to return to China post-graduation for their professional pursuits. In addition, the Chinese government have continuously been putting out appealing policies and regulations for returning Chinese students. The 2008 “Thousand Talents Program” where generous incentives were given out in order to attract leading international experts in various fields is perhaps the biggest example of this. According to a survey conducted, of the returning students 36.1% chose to work in private companies, 26.7% in foreign entities, 14% in state-owned enterprises and 8.9% in administrative agencies. In terms of geographical choices, the Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangdong area has attracted more than 50% of the returning students.

The difficulty of finding a job in China when compared to the U.S. as a Chinese international student is relatively small. Survey reports that 40% of international students found a job within one month after returning to China, 37% found a job within three months, 14% in 3-6 months, and only 9% of the population surveyed took longer than a year to find a job. Despite the enhanced background advantage for returning Chinese students, there are still other difficulties that they must work to overcome. The competition between returnees and local students has become extremely fierce. At the same time, those who came back from studying abroad will also enter a time of adjustment while they reintegrate back into Chinese culture. Despite these difficulties Chinese international students must remember their original intention of studying abroad: To strive for a better education, to broaden one’s horizon, and finally to better oneself through this experience while fostering and enhancing one’s mental fortitude and attitude. As long as the student remember the original intention of choosing to study abroad, he or she will always find themselves on a path towards success.

Since its inception, Forward Pathway has always adhered to the principles of “always striving for a better education” and “to guide Chinese international students towards a better future” while incorporating said mottos into our service attitude. Forward Pathway is aimed at being students’ personal education specialist, to be the first to update the latest news of studying abroad. To provide students with the best possible solutions towards applying to study in the United States.


[1] ICE, “SEVIS by the numbers,” 2018. [Online]. Available:

[2] UCIS, “Characteristics of H-1B Specialty Occupation Workers,” UCIS, 2017. [Online]. Available:

[3] IIE, “Fields of Study,” IIE, 2017. [Online]. Available:

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