The number of Hong Kong students who were studying for undergraduate degrees in the United States in the previous academic year hit a record low, US government statistics show.

The US Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs and the Institute of International Education recently released figures that showed a decline in undergraduate numbers from the city for nine years in a row.

The latest figures were the lowest since the statistics became available in 2000 and is just half the peak level.

Only 3,021 undergraduate students from Hong Kong were studying in the US in the last academic year, a drop of more than 8 per cent on 2021-22, and less than half of the 6,200-plus peak recorded in 2002-03.

An education expo is held in Hong Kong. The shrinking presence of Hong Kong undergraduates in the US contrasted with a general increase in overseas student numbers after four years of Covid travel curbs. Photo: Nora Tam

Jeannie Tse, the country manager of EF Education First Hong Kong and Macau, said the low figures were linked to fears over personal safety in the US, including racism, riots and political tensions with China.

“The drop in the number of Hong Kong students going to the US has intensified after Donald Trump became president and amid poor Sino-US relations,” Tse said.

She added Secondary Six students who planned to go overseas to get their degree may choose Canada or Australia, which offered routes to permanent residence after graduation, instead.

Tse said the “study-to-emigrate” programmes offered by the two countries in the wake of the Beijing-imposed 2020 national security law had attracted more young students.

“They can be offered permanent residency after graduation, but we have not seen any similar plan from the US government,” Tse added. “That has had a great impact on the study abroad landscape.”

Fewer Hong Kong students choose to study in the US this year, data shows

But she added the top-ranked universities in the United States still had a significant number of Hong Kong applicants, although their tuition fees were the highest.

Tse was speaking after the figures detailing information on the number of foreign students in the US on undergraduate, postgraduate and non-degree courses were unveiled.

There were 1,589 Hong Kong students taking postgraduate courses, 193 taking non-degree courses and 1,064 taking optional practical training, which allows graduates to work after they finish their studies.

There were 5,867 Hong Kong students in the US in the last academic year, representing a year-on-year increase of 0.3 per cent, and placing the city 25th in the world for the number of residents studying in the country.

The top five US states for Hong Kong students at all levels were California, New York, Massachusetts, Washington and Illinois.

The shrinking presence of Hong Kong undergraduates in the US contrasted with a general increase in overseas student numbers after four years of Covid-19 restrictions on travel.

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The number from Hong Kong had dropped below 5,000 by 2016-17 and to 4,000 in 2019-20. The greatest number of overseas students in the US last year came from mainland China, 289,526, a 0.2 per cent decrease on 2022-23.

The Post earlier reported that the number of Hong Kong higher education students in Australia jumped after the country introduced a pathway to permanent residency in 2021.

Canada has also overtaken Britain for the first time as the most popular destination for Hongkongers going overseas for tertiary education.