Migration of Scientists and Engineers in the United States
Origins of S&E Immigrants
Stay Rates for U.S. Ph.D. Recipients With Temporary Visas
"There is no national science just as there is no national multiplication
table." Anton Chekov (1860-1904)
Science is a global enterprise. The common laws of nature cross political boundaries,
and the international movement of people and knowledge made science
global long before "globalization" became a label for the increasing
interconnections among the worlds economies. The United States
(and other countries as well) gains from new knowledge discovered
abroad and from increases in foreign economic development. U.S.
industry also increasingly relies on R&D performed abroad. The
nations international economic competitiveness, however, depends
upon the U.S. labor forces innovation and productivity.
Other chapters in Science and Engineering Indicators 2002
provide indirect indicators on the global labor force: production
of new scientists and engineers through university degree programs
is reported in chapter 2, and indicators of work performed by the
global S&E labor force are provided in the chapters discussion
of international patenting activity and in chapter 5s data
on R&D expenditures.
Few direct measures of the global S&E labor force exist. One
source of data is the reports on the number of researchers in Organisation
for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries.
From 1993 to 1997, the number of reported researchers in OECD countries
increased by 23.0 percent (a 5.3 percent average annual rate) from
approximately 2.46 million to 3.03 million. (See figure 3-19 .) During
this same period, comparable U.S. estimates increased 11.8 percent
(a 3.7 percent average annual rate) from approximately 965,000 to
1.11 million. Although researchers in the United States, Japan,
and the European Union made up 85.7 percent of the OECD total in
1997, the greatest growth in researchers came from other OECD countries,
increasing 120 percent, or from 196,000 to 433,000.
It is not, however, only OECD countries that have scientists and
engineers. Figure 3-20 shows an estimate from disparate data sources
during the 1990s of the global distribution of tertiary education
graduatesroughly equivalent in U.S. terms to those who have
earned at least technical school or associate degrees but also including
all degrees up to Ph.D. About one-fifth of the estimated 240 million
tertiary graduates in the labor force were in the United States.
However, of the 10 countries with the largest number of tertiary
graduates, 3 are non-OECD: Russia, China, and India.
Migration of Scientists and Engineers to the United States
Migration of skilled S&E workers across borders is increasingly
seen as a major determinant of the quality and flexibility of the
labor force in most industrial countries. The knowledge of scientists
and engineers can be transferred across national borders more easily
than other skills. Additionally, any cutting-edge research or technology
inevitably creates unique sets of skills and knowledge that can
be transferred through the physical movement of people. The United
States has benefited and continues to benefit greatly from this
international flow of knowledge and personnel.
In April 1999, 27 percent of doctorate-holders in S&E in the
United States were foreign born. (See text table 3-24 .) The lowest
percentage of foreign-born doctorate-holders was in psychology (7.6
percent), and the highest percentage was in civil engineering (51.5
percent). Almost one-fifth (19.9 percent) of those with masters
degrees in S&E were foreign born. Even at the bachelors
degree level, 9.9 percent of those with S&E degrees were foreign
born; the largest percentages of degrees were in chemistry (14.9
percent), computer sciences (15.2 percent), and engineering (14.6
Origins of S&E Immigrants
Immigrant scientists and engineers come from various 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
3-21 by S&E doctorate and by high degree achieved in S&E.
Although no one source country dominates, of those with S&E
high degrees, 8 percent came from India, 7 percent came from China,
4 percent came from the Philippines, and 4 percent came from Germany
(including those born in the former East Germany). By region, 57
percent came from Asia (including the Western Asia sections of the
Middle East), 24 percent came from Europe, 13 percent came from
Central and South America, 6 percent came from Canada and Oceania,
and 4 percent came from Africa.
The 1999 data (which are the most recent) on Immigration and Naturalization
Service (INS) counts of permanent visas issued to immigrants in
S&E show a small decrease in permanent visas for each S&E
occupation. (See figure 3-22 .) However, the total number of immigrants
employed in S&E is somewhat higher than that before 1992a
year in which various legislative and administrative changes took
effect. See sidebars, "High-Skill Migration to Japan"
and "Foreign Scientists and Engineers on Temporary Work Visas."
The quantity of permanent visas issued in recent years has been
greatly affected by both immigration legislation and administrative
changes at INS. The 1990 Immigration Act led to increases in the
number of employment-based visas available, beginning in 1992. The
1992 Chinese Student Protection Act enabled Chinese nationals in
the United States on student or other temporary visas to acquire
permanent resident visas. These changes have allowed more scientists
and engineers to obtain permanent visas.
Stay Rates for U. S. Ph.D. Recipients With Temporary Visas
How many foreign students who receive S&E Ph.D.s from U.S. schools
remain in the United States? According to a report by Michael Finn
(2001) of the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, 51
percent of 199495 U.S. S&E doctorate recipients with temporary
visas were still in the United States in 1999. The actual numbers
of foreign students staying after obtaining their Ph.D.s imply that
approximately 3,500 foreign students remained from each annual cohort
of new S&E doctorates in all fields. By field, the percentages
ranged from 26 percent in economics to 63 percent in computer sciences.
(See text table 3-27 .) Within each discipline, the stay rate was
mostly stable for the 199495 graduation cohort between 1996
and 1999. Quite possibly, however, some of this stability came from
individuals in this cohort who reentered the United States and thus
replaced others who left. Finn also finds an increase over time
in the shorter one-to-two-year stay rate of temporary visa S&E
doctorate recipients from 40 percent in 1989 to 63 percent in 1999.
This increase in the short-term stay rate may reflect increased
opportunities for postdocs in the U.S. as well as an increased ability
of industry to hire high-skilled workers on temporary visas.