The impact of the foreign exchange student shortage on your business

Tom Quinn |
Tom (he/him) is a growth marketing manager at Snagajob helping small businesses find hourly workers.

Before the pandemic, things looked quite cheery for foreign exchange students and businesses who rely on their help. Students from across the globe were coming to study in America’s world-class institutions of higher learning.


A November 2019 report from The Institute of International Education said that “the number of international students in the United States set an all-time high in the 2018/19 academic year, the fourth consecutive year with more than one million international students.” The report showed that these students added $44.7 billion to the national economy in 2018.


But then came the spring of 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic. Students could no longer travel to the states, and the students already here were forced to pack their bags and head home.  The Migration Policy Institute says that at the beginning of the fall 2020 semester when the pandemic was roughly four or five months along, the total number of students enrolled in U.S. schools dropped by 16%.

 The group also says that the number of new international students fell by 43%. Whether these students are simply delaying U.S. attendance or putting it off completely is a major concern for small businesses who count on their labor support. 


What a Shortage on Foreign Exchange Students Means to Small Businesses


Small and medium-sized businesses from various sectors use foreign exchange students to support their products and services. International students fill many essential roles, especially for retailers, restaurants, and other service-based businesses. The summer tourist season, for example, needs a high amount of workers to fill positions at numerous businesses. 

Hiring international students is one way that employers can avoid a shortage of skilled workers. But since there is little international travel, business owners and managers have to find creative ways to fill the gap.


While every person’s situation is different, international students are often available when domestic students are not. For example, during the holidays or throughout the summer, foreign exchange students are often available to support businesses when domestic students are with family or doing their own travels.


But there are positive signs. International students from China, Brazil, Iran, and South Africa will soon be exempted from travel bans that were imposed during the pandemic, which means the pool of international students could soon be on the rise. Students from these countries make a large portion of the overall population of international students, so this is a positive sign if you hire these people for your business.