Counts of the Global S&E Labor Force
Migration to the United States
"There is no national science just as there is no national multiplication
table" (Anton Chekhov, 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 provide indirect indicators on the global labor
force. Production of new scientists and engineers through university
degree programs is reported in chapter 2.
Indicators of R&D performed by the global S&E labor force
are provided in chapter 4 (R&D expenditures
and alliances), chapter 5 (publication output
and international collaborations), and chapter 6
Although the number of researchers employed in the United States
has continued to grow faster than the growth of the general workforce,
this is still a third less than the growth rate for researchers
across all Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
(OECD) countries. Foreign-born scientists in the United States are
more than a quarter, and possibly more than a third of the S&E
doctorate labor force, and are even more prevalent in many physical
science, engineering, and computer fields. Along with the increases
in graduate education for domestic and foreign students elsewhere
in the world (as discussed in chapter 2),
there has been an increase in efforts by national governments and
private industry to recruit the best talent from wherever it comes.
As a result, the United States is becoming less dominant as a destination
for migrating scientists and engineers.
Counts of the Global S&E Labor Force
Few direct measures of the global S&E labor force exist. Reports
on the number of researchers in OECD member countries do constitute
one source of data. From 1993 to 1997, the number of researchers
reported in OECD countries increased by 23.0 percent (a 5.3 percent
average annual rate of increase) from approximately 2.46 million
to 3.03 million (figure 3-29
During this same period, comparable U.S. estimates increased 11.8
percent (a 3.7 percent average annual rate of increase) 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 number of researchers came from
other OECD countries, with a 120 percent increase from 196,000 to
433,000. (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.)
Of course, non-OECD countries also have scientists and engineers.
shows an estimate (from disparate data sources) of the global distribution
of tertiary education graduates (roughly equivalent in U.S. terms
to individuals who have earned at least technical school or associate's
degrees, and also including all degrees up to doctorate) during
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 do not
belong to OECD: the Russian Federation, China, and India.
Migration 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, cutting-edge research and technology
inevitably create 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, from this international
flow of knowledge and personnel. However, competition for skilled
labor continues to increase. An NSB taskforce noted "[g]lobal competition
for S&E talent is intensifying, such that the United States
may not be able to rely on the international S&E labor market
to fill unmet skill needs" (NSB 2003). (See sidebar, "High-Skill
Migration to Japan.")
In April 1999, SESTAT figures indicated that at least 27 percent
of S&E doctorate holders in the United States were foreign born
(table 3-22 ),
along with 20 percent of those with S&E master's degrees and
10 percent of S&E bachelor's degree holders. Technical reasons
make it difficult to estimate the extent of participation of foreign-born
scientists and engineers in the U.S. S&E workforce in the 1990s.
Minimum estimates based on a sample drawn originally from the 1990
Census have turned out to be considerably low, reflecting the difficulty
in measuring the dimensions of high-skilled entry into the U.S.
during the 1990s.
An indication of the scope of the undercounting of foreign-born
scientists and engineers comes from a comparison of SESTAT occupational
data with approximately comparable data from the 2000 Census. Using
the 5 percent Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS), it is possible
to compare the proportion of foreign-born individuals among those
with S&E occupations other than postsecondary teacher
(table 3-23 ).
According to the 1999 SESTAT, 15.0 percent of college graduates
in S&E occupations are foreign born, compared with the 22.4
percent recorded by the 2000 Census. A particularly noteworthy difference
appears in the proportion of foreign-born individuals among those
with doctorates; this proportion increases from 28.7 percent in
SESTAT to 37.6 percent in the 2000 Census.
Among college-educated workers with occupations in the life sciences,
physical sciences, and mathematical and computer sciences, estimates
from the 2000 Census indicate that approximately one-fourth of individuals,
across all degree levels, were foreign born (table
At the doctorate level, 51.3 percent of individuals in engineering
occupations, and just under 45 percent in the life sciences, physical
sciences, and mathematical and computer sciences, were foreign born.
The lowest percentage of foreign-born individuals is found in social
science occupations, where just over 10 percent of workers are foreign
born (regardless of degree level).
The large increases shown by 2000 Census data may in part reflect
recent arrivals in the United States, because 42.5 percent of all
college-educated foreign-born individuals in S&E occupations
reported arriving in the United States after 1990. Among foreign-born
doctorate holders in S&E occupations, 62.4 percent reported
arriving in the United States after 1990. The NSF/SRS estimates
in table 3-23
include these post-1990 arrivals only if their degrees are from
a U.S. institution.
Origins of S&E Immigrants
Immigrant scientists and engineers come from a broad range of countries.
shows countries contributing more than 30,000 individuals to the
1.5 million S&E degree holders in the United States, by S&E
doctorate and by highest degree achieved in S&E. Although no
one source country dominates, among individuals whose highest degree
achieved is in S&E, 14 percent came from India, 10 percent came
from China, and 5 percent each came from the following countries:
Germany, the Philippines, the United Kingdom, Taiwan, and Canada.
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.
Fiscal year 2001 data from the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration
counts of permanent visas issued to immigrants in S&E show a
large increase in permanent visas for S&E occupations to 33,917,
dominated by growth in engineering and mathematical/computer sciences
This reflects both a general increase in permanent visas issued
due to efforts to eliminate backlogs (1,064,318 total permanent
visas were issued in 2001), and the first opportunity for many workers
on H-1b temporary work visas to adjust to permanent status. Adjustments
from temporary work visas (which includes other cases besides H-1b)
rose from 44,598 in FY 2000 to 85,227 in FY 2001. It is worth noting
that FY 2001 ended on September 30, 2001, and thus was mostly unaffected
by any changes in administrative practices or individual behaviors
resulting from the events of September 11, 2001. (See sidebar, "Has
September 11th Affected the U.S. Scientific Labor Force?")
Temporary Work Visas
In recent years, policy discussion has focused on the use of various
forms of temporary work visas by foreign-born scientists. Many newspaper
and magazine stories have been written about the H-1b visa program,
which provides visas for up to 6 years for individuals to work in
occupations requiring at least a bachelor's degree (or to work as
fashion models). Although a common misperception exists that only
information technology (IT) workers may use these visas, a wide
variety of skilled workers actually use H-1b visas.
Exact occupational information on H-1b visas issued is not available.
Some occupational data on H-1b admissions, which count individuals
who re-enter the United States multiple times, does exist. This
information can provide an approximate guide to the occupational
distribution of individuals on H-1b visas. Individuals working in
computer-related positions accounted for more than half (57.8 percent)
of H-1b admissions, and architecture and engineering constituted
another 12.2 percent. Another 9.0 percent labeled scientific and
technical occupations and 8.7 percent in categories such as education
and medicine also may include many individuals with S&E backgrounds
(table 3-26 ).
An important change to the H-1b visa program took effect on October
1, 2003: the annual ceiling on admissions fell from 195,000 to 65,000
due to the expiration of that had allowed the additional visas.
Although and academic research institutions are exempt ceiling,
this change is likely to constrain the use of scientists and engineers
by private industry for any located in the United States.
Scientists and engineers may also receive temporary work through
intracompany transfer visas (L-1 visas), high-worker visas under
the North American Free Trade (TN-1 visas, a program currently primarily
for will grant full access for Mexican professionals by 2004), work
visas for individuals with outstanding abilities (O-1 visas), and
several smaller programs. In addition, there are temporary visas
used by researchers who may also be students (F-1 and J-1 visas)
or postdocs, and by visiting scientists (mostly J-1 visas but often
H-1b visas or other categories). Counts of visas issued for each
of these categories are shown in table
The annual quota of H-1b visas is controlled through issuance of
visas to workers rather than through applications from companies.
Stay Rates for U.S. Doctoral Degree Recipients
With Temporary Visas
How many foreign students who receive S&E doctorates from U.S.
schools remain in the United States? According to a report by Michael
Finn (2003) of the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education,
56 percent of 1996 U.S. S&E doctoral degree recipients with
temporary visas remained in the United States in 2001. The number
of foreign students staying after obtaining their doctorates implies
that approximately 3,500 foreign students remain from each annual
cohort of new S&E doctorates in all fields. Stay rates differ
by field of degree, ranging from only 26 percent in economics to
70 percent in computer and electrical engineering (table
Within each discipline, the stay rate remained mostly stable for
the 1996 graduation cohort between 1997 and 2001. Quite possibly,
however, some of this stability came from individuals in this cohort
who re-entered the United States and thus replaced others in the
same graduation cohort who left.