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Indicators 2002
Introduction Overview Chapter 1: Elementary and Secondary Education Chapter 2: Higher Education in Science and Engineering Chapter 3: Science and Engineering Workforce Chapter 4: U.S. and International Research and Development: Funds and Alliances Chapter 5: Academic Research and Development Chapter 6: Industry, Technology, and the Global Marketplace Chapter 7: Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Public Understanding Chapter 8: Significance of Information Technology Appendix Tables
Chapter Contents:
Profile of the U.S. S&E Workforce
Labor Market Conditions for Recent S&E Degree-Holders
Age and Retirement
Projected Demand for S&E Workers
The Global S&E Workforce and the United States
Conclusion and Summary
Selected Bibliography
Appendix Tables
List of Figures
Presentation Slides

Click for Figure 3-19
Figure 3-19

Click for Figure 3-20
Figure 3-20

Click for Figure 3-21
Figure 3-21

Click for Figure 3-22
Figure 3-22

Click for Figure 3-23
Figure 3-23

Science and Engineering Workforce

The Global S&E Workforce and the United States

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 world’s 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 nation’s international economic competitiveness, however, depends upon the U.S. labor force’s 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 chapter’s discussion of international patenting activity and in chapter 5’s 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 figure.) 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.[21]

It is not, however, only OECD countries that have scientists and engineers. Figure 3-20 figure shows an estimate from disparate data sources during the 1990s of the global distribution of tertiary education graduates—roughly 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.[22] 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 top of page

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 text table.)[23] 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 master’s degrees in S&E were foreign born. Even at the bachelor’s 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 percent).

Origins of S&E Immigrants top of page

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 figure 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 figure.) However, the total number of immigrants employed in S&E is somewhat higher than that before 1992—a 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.[24]

Stay Rates for U. S. Ph.D. Recipients With Temporary Visas top of page

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 1994–95 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 text table.) Within each discipline, the stay rate was mostly stable for the 1994–95 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.


[21]  Although these numbers represent OECD staff estimates of total researchers in all member countries, the rapid growth of "other OECD" may represent in part improvements in reporting.

[22]  The primary data source used is World Bank data on labor size and percentage of the labor force with a tertiary education, supplemented with data from various national data agencies. However, these data come from different years for different countries and are the result of estimates from very different national data collection systems. Hence, these data are not suitable for making direct comparisons between countries. In addition, data were not available from countries representing about 10 percent of the global population.

[23]  Because NSF’s 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 per decade, counts of foreign-born scientists and engineers are likely to be underestimates. Foreign-degreed scientists and engineers are included in the 1999 estimate only to the extent that they were in the United States in April 1990. In 1993, 34.1 percent of foreign-born doctorate recipients in S&E and 49.1 percent of foreign-born bachelor’s recipients in S&E had acquired their degrees from foreign schools.

[24] In addition, the easier availability of occupation-based permanent visas affects our measurements: many scientists enter on family-based visas, for which reporting of occupation is optional. If more of these individuals were using occupational visas, the number of foreign-born individuals identified as having S&E occupations would be greater.

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