Columbia University’s campus on July 1, 2013 in New York City. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Seoul is sending more students to U.S. universities than any other foreign city, followed by Beijing and Shanghai, according to a new analysis of federal data that shows in vivid detail a huge surge of visitors from overseas in recent years seeking higher education in the United States.

From 2008 to 2012, the South Korean capital sent 56,503 students to the United States through F-1 visas. In the same time, Beijing sent 49,946 and Shanghai 29,145, reflecting the enormous demand in China for U.S. degrees. Those findings are from a Brookings Institution report released Friday that analyzed data on F-1 visas — visas for full-time students — obtained through a public records request.

Among the top 10 student-exporting cities was Kathmandu, capital of Nepal, which was the subject of a Post story this week on the surprising growth of Nepali students at Howard University in Washington. Kathmandu ranked 9th in the analysis, providing 10,721 students on F-1 visas, behind Hong Kong (12,406) and ahead of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (10,468).

In all, the number of foreign students on F-1 visas exploded from 110,000 in 2001 to 524,000 in 2012.

The report’s author, Brookings scholar Neil G. Ruiz, a political economist, said the trend has huge ramifications. These scholars — from places like Hyderabad, India, and Guangzhou, China — spend billions of dollars a year on tuition, housing and goods and services. They also bring enormous brainpower into the United States. Some stay afterward. Even if they go home, they forge lasting ties between their native lands and the cities that hosted them.

“Foreign students are basically big economic drivers to U.S. economies,” Ruiz said. “And they’re coming from the fastest-growing emerging cities around the world.”

Among other findings: Foreign students are concentrated in cities. They are disproportionately attracted to science, engineering and business fields. And after graduating, about 45 percent extend their visas to work temporarily after graduation in the same metropolitan area where they studied.

The report contains a searchable database that illuminates F-1 visa trends from 2008 to 2012 for particular cities of origin and destination for international students.

Kathmandu, for instance, sent 960 students to the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, Texas area in that time. It sent 518 to the Washington metro region and 487 to the New York area. The top metro area destinations for Seoul students were Los Angeles (7,109), New York (6,966) and Boston (2,056).

Washington ranked fifth among metro areas as a destination, with 35,459 foreign students on F-1 visas. The top receiving institutions in the area were Georgetown University, Stratford University (a for-profit school of about 2,800 students based in Fairfax), George Washington University, University of Maryland and University of Northern Virginia.

The University of Northern Virginia is a little-known institution with a Web site that indicates an address in Annandale, in Fairfax County. In July 2013, it was ordered to close because of state audit findings and issues related to lack of accreditation. Such cases illustrate that the proliferation of F-1 visas can raise oversight questions for higher education and government agencies.

The Brookings report found the top four U.S. metro areas that were destinations for foreign students were New York (101,586), Los Angeles (68,271), Boston (53,486) and San Francisco (37,610).

Here were the top 10 destination universities for foreign students on F-1 visas from 2008 to 2012:

1) University of Southern California: 13,996

2) Columbia University in New York: 13,434

3) University of Illinois: 12,969

4) New York University: 11,609

5) Purdue University: 11,352

6) City University of New York: 10,984

7) Northeastern University: 9,279

8) University of Michigan: 8,895

9) University of Washington: 8,509

10) Indiana University: 8,458