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NSF Press Release


Embargoed Until: 12:15 p.m. Eastern Time
NSF PR 03-127 (NSB 03-159) - November 19, 2003

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 Bill Noxon

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National Science Board, Citing Census Stats on Foreign-Born Scientists and Engineers, Releases Workforce Report with New Sense of Urgency

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The National Science Board (NSB) today released a report on the U.S. science and engineering (S&E) workforce following a three-year study, saying that new figures on the proportion of foreign-born workers in science and technology occupations make it crucial for the government to "act now" to meet future needs in science, engineering and technology fields.

NSB members briefing media at the National Press Club said that a sampling from 2000 census figures indicates a larger than previously known percentage of degree-holding, foreign-born professionals working in the United States in science and engineering occupations. The NSB presenters also revealed a downturn in the number of H1-B visas issued to foreign-born workers in science and technology.

According to the National Science Foundation's (NSF) figures derived from the 1990 census estimates of foreign-born workers in 1999 holding bachelor's degrees represented 11 percent of the total population in S&E-classified occupations. Foreign-born individuals with master's degrees held 19 percent of the S&E occupations held by master's recipients overall. Foreign-born Ph.D.s represented 29 percent of those positions.

The 2000 census figures, however, allowed for the first time a sampling that takes into account foreign workers holding degrees obtained in countries outside the United States. When factored in, the estimated proportions of foreign-born workers in S&E occupations in 1999 rose between six and 10 percent per category. Foreign-born workers with bachelor's degrees actually represented 17 percent of the total in S&E positions held by people with bachelor's degrees. The foreign-born proportion went up to 29 percent among those with master's degrees, and 38 percent among doctorate holders. NSF analysts point out that during the 1990s, there was a large influx of foreign-born scientists and engineers across most fields.

NSB members also reported that from 2001 to 2002, H-1B visas for foreign workers in science, engineering and technology-related fields declined sharply from about 166,000 to around 74,000.

The NSB began its review of the workforce in October 2000, even then recognizing that global competition for S&E talent was intensifying while the number of native-born graduates entering the S&E workforce was declining, a trend likely to continue, it said. The newest figures confirm the need for national-level action to ensure the nation's capacity in these critical fields in the face of an increasingly competitive global market, said members today.

"These trends provide policymakers with the unusual challenge in the coming years of producing enough talent from pools of both U.S. and foreign-educated professionals to fill the important and growing numbers of positions we expect in critical fields," said Warren M. Washington, NSB chair. Washington led the Press Club discussion on the board's new report, The Science and Engineering Workforce - Realizing America's Potential. Appearing with him were three members of the task force on national S&E workforce policies who led the study, Joseph A. Miller, an executive with Corning, Inc., George M. Langford, a research scientist, and Diana Natalicio, president of the University of Texas - El Paso. National Science Foundation director Rita R. Colwell was also on hand for the presentation.

The task force briefing team explained that the statistical trends reinforce a national policy imperative stated in the report - that the government needs to "step forward" to ensure the adequacy of the future U.S. science and engineering workforce. Members said stakeholders must "mobilize" to initiate efforts to "increase the numbers of U.S. citizens pursuing science and engineering studies and careers." But at the same time, the officials on hand today were careful to point out that this effort should not be a tradeoff for, or at the expense of, foreign-born talent that the nation needs, desires and appreciates.

Among the NSB's key recommendations was that the government should provide undergraduate students and institutions with substantial new support in scholarships, financial assistance and incentives to assure success in S&E study by American students. The membership called for more federal support for graduate and postdoctoral research programs through improved stipends, benefits and interdisciplinary opportunities. Pre-college teachers of mathematics, science and technology also need better compensation, in-service training and support as an integral part of the scientific and engineering professions.

"Data on trends do not indicate an immediate crisis situation. But the data give us a pulse, and are strong evidence of the critical need for the government to plan now for the future of the U.S. science and engineering workforce," Washington said.

In other areas, the NSB recommended a national effort to build a base of knowledge on international S&E workforce dynamics. In addition, it said the government must address how to best balance the needs of security while supporting policies that attract foreign-born talent and allow U.S. students to fully participate in much-desired research and education collaboration opportunities overseas.

The NSB is made up of 24 presidential-appointed scientists, engineers and educators from across the United States who serve as a policy oversight advisory body to the President and Congress on the state of U.S. science and engineering research, education and workforce. Its other role is to provide oversight for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the independent federal agency that provides support to science and engineering research programs in almost all fields, and for math and science education programs nationwide.


For the full report, The Science and Engineering Workforce - Realizing America's Potential, see:

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