Chapter 3:

Science and Engineering Workforce

Foreign-Born Scientists and Engineers in the United States

In April 1997, 26.1 percent of holders of doctorates in S&E in the United States were foreign born. This is shown in text table 3-22 with data from the 1997 NSF/SRS SESTAT data file, a large national sample of those with U.S. S&E degrees and those with foreign S&E degrees who were in the United States in 1990.[28] The lowest percentage of foreign-born doctorates was in psychology (7.2 percent) and the highest was in civil engineering (52.0 percent). Almost one-fifth (19.2 percent) of those with masterís degree in S&E were foreign born. Even at the bachelorís degree level, 9.7 percent of those with S&E degrees were foreign born—with the greatest proportion in chemistry (15.9 percent), computer sciences (15.6 percent), and across all engineering fields (14.9 percent).

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Immigrant scientists come from a wide variety of countries. Countries contributing more than 30,000 natives to the 1.5 million S&E degree holders in the United States are shown in figure 3-15. Although no one source country dominates, 12 percent originated from India, 9 percent from China, 6 percent from the Philippines, and 6 percent from Germany (including those born in the former East Germany). By region, 57 percent originated in Asia (including the Western Asia sections of the Middle East), 24 percent from Europe, 13 percent from Central and South America, 6 percent from Canada and Oceania, and 4 percent from Africa.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) counts of permanent visas issued to immigrants in S&E occupations are shown in figure 3-16. The most recent data for 1998 show a continuing decrease in permanent visas for each S&E occupation from their peaks in 1992 and 1993, after a statutory increase in the number of work-related permanent visas. The total number of immigrants with S&E occupations is now less than in 1991 before the law took effect. (See the sidebar, "Foreign Scientists and Engineers on Temporary Work Visas.")

Permanent visa numbers in recent years have been greatly affected by both immigration legislation and administrative changes at the INS. The 1990 Immigration Act led to increases in the number of employment-based visas available, starting in 1992. The 1992 Chinese Student Protection Act made it possible for Chinese nationals in the United States on student or other temporary visas to acquire permanent resident visas. These changes resulted in at least a temporary increase in the number of scientists able to obtain permanent visas.[29]

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Stay Rates of Temporary Visa Ph.D. Recipients from U.S. Schools  top

How many of the foreign students who receive S&E Ph.D. holders from U.S. graduate schools stay in the United States? According to a report by Finn (1999), 48 percent of 1992Ė93 U.S. S&E doctorate recipients with temporary visas were still in the United States in 1994. By field, this percentage ranged from 29 percent in the social sciences to 55 percent in physical sciences and mathematics. (See text table 3-25.) Within each discipline, the percentage of the Ph.D. graduation cohort found in the United States increases with years since degree, reaching 53 percent in 1997. The increase in the stay rate occurs despite considerable evidence from other sources that large numbers of foreign Ph.D. recipients with U.S. degrees leave the United States after completing a postdoc, or at later points in their careers. This suggests a very dynamic picture of the international migration of Ph.D. scientists—with some graduates of U.S. schools returning to the United States even as others leave.



[28] Since NSFís demographic data collection system is unable to refresh its sample of those with S&E degrees from foreign institutions (as opposed to foreign born individuals with a new U.S. degree, who are sampled) more than once a decade, counts of foreign born scientists and engineers are likely to be underestimates. Foreign degreed scientist and engineers are included in the 1997 estimate only to the extent they were in the United States in April 1990. In 1993, 34.1 percent of foreign-born doctorates in S&E and 49.1 percent foreign-born bachelorís in S&E had their degrees from foreign schools.

[29] In addition, the easier availability of occupation-based permanent visas affect the measurements—many scientists enter on family-based visas, where reporting of occupation is optional. If more of these individuals were using occupational visas, we would identify more immigrants in S&E occupations for that reason.

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