From a national perspective, the motivation and rationale for the recruitment and retention of international students is often framed in economic terms. The recent rise of populism challenges this dominant discourse. The U.K. and U.S. cases suggest that populism will have a negative impact on international student numbers as economic realities are in conflict with politics. One likely outcome could be that international students become part of a ‘protected’ class. However, not all international students will be shielded, and the neo-racism theoretical framework sheds light on those likely to be protected and those who will not.