It’s that time of year again. Yes, at the same time when everything else is happening. Students are coming back to school. Freshmen are coming for the first time. You have new teachers, but not enough. You’re deciding live classes vs. remote. Masks or no masks. And then there’s the new student from Japan, or Germany, or Kazakhstan, or Brazil, or Thailand, or … well, at least, in the end, they’ll have a positive impact on your school. We all know that.
As much as COVID has had an impact on your school(s), it had a dramatic effect on cultural exchange and education programs all around the world. The Department of State runs popular exchange programs, bringing participants from well over a hundred countries to the United States. You are familiar with the High School Student Exchange program, but there is another program that touches both primary and secondary schools in the United States. The State Department brings in teachers from around the world, usually over 3,000 each year. But in 2020, due to the pandemic, only 398 teachers came into the United States, and we all know how we need every good teacher we can get.
What has been the impact on the high school student exchange program? Look at the chart.
From 2016 to 2019, each year we welcomed between 22,953 to 23,904 exchange students into US high schools. In 2019, 23,550 internationals came into the US, then came COVID. The pandemic impacted enrollments and in 2020, only 4,752 J-1 students entered the United States, just 20.2% of the average intake from the previous four years.
We don’t know the 2021 numbers overall just yet. Program sponsors note challenges in getting visa appointments at embassies and consulates resulting in students arriving late (earlier in the summer there was a backlog of 2.5 million visa appointments worldwide to catch up on!); more schools not accepting students; schools not certain about in-school classes, which impacts whether an exchange student can participate; reluctant host families; uncertain vaccination policies. We’ll report on updates as we get them.