Global S&E Labor Force and the United States
- Section Overview
- Counts of Global S&E Labor Force
- R&D Employment by Multinational Corporations
- 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 rapid development of the capacity to make scientific and technical innovations is creating a new competitive environment. New ways of doing business and performing R&D take advantage of gains from new knowledge discovered anywhere, from increases in foreign economic development, and from expanding international migration of highly trained scientists and engineers.
Other chapters in Science and Engineering Indicators 2008 provide indirect indicators on the global S&E labor force. Production of new scientists and engineers through university degree programs is reported in chapter 2 (Higher Education in Science and Engineering). Indicators of R&D performed by the global S&E labor force are provided in chapter 4 (in sections on R&D expenditures and alliances), chapter 5 (in sections on publications output and international collaborations), and chapter 6 (in section on patenting activity).
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 doctoral degree 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), national governments and private industry have increased their efforts 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 Global S&E Labor Force
Few direct measures of the global S&E labor force exist; however, reports on the number of researchers in OECD member countries constitute one source of data. From 1993 to 2002, the number of researchers reported in OECD countries increased by 33.3% (a 4.2% average annual rate of increase) from approximately 2.5 million to 3.6 million
R&D Employment by Multinational Corporations
R&D is often done for companies that are based outside the country in which the researcher resides. Comparable data is available every 5 years on two aspects of this common phenomenon: the employment of R&D workers by U.S. firms at their foreign subsidiaries and by foreign firms at their subsidiaries in the United States. This information is derived from the Bureau of Economic Analysis surveys that are discussed in more detail in chapter 4.
It is worthwhile noting that these measures capture only some parts of industrial R&D employment for global economic purposes. R&D is often done by a company in one country under contract to a company in another country, in arrangements that range from simple consulting work to strategic collaborations. R&D is also done to develop products and services for specific foreign markets. Neither work is captured by measures that only look at a company’s own subsidiaries. Nevertheless, R&D work by subsidiaries is important in itself, and may be an indicator of other international R&D activity.
R&D employment in the United States by U.S. subsidiaries of foreign firms rose from 105,100 in 1994 to a peak of 135,300 in 1999, then declined to 123,900 in 2004, for an 18% net increase over the decade
Although the growth in R&D employment abroad by U.S. firms from 1994 to 2004 was fairly rapid (a 5.8% average annual growth rate), it does not represent a very large shift in the location of R&D employment by U.S. multinational corporations (MNCs). Over the same 10 years, domestic R&D employment of the same corporations increased by 31.0% (a 2.7% average annual rate) to 818,700 in 2004
The data in both
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 many 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 (see Regets 2001 for a general discussion of high-skilled migration). However, competition for skilled labor continues to increase. Many countries have both increased their research investments and also made high-skilled migration an important part of national economic strategies. An NSB taskforce noted that "[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 Canada and Japan.")
The nature of high-skilled migration makes it difficult to count foreign-born scientists and engineers working in the United States. According to an estimate based on data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, slightly over one million individuals in S&E occupations (26% of all college-educated workers in these occupations) were foreign born
NSF’s labor force surveys (SESTAT) gather information on education and workplace activities that can be used to identify the broader S&E labor force and that goes beyond the data in the decennial census or the American Community Survey. However, SESTAT data also have important limitations. SESTAT excludes individuals with foreign degrees who were not in the United States for the previous decennial census. As a result, SESTAT surveys miss foreign-educated S&E workers who have entered the country since the most recent census. Because high-skilled migrants often come to the United States for just a few years to pursue training or work, this can be a serious limitation. For example, the 1999 SESTAT survey provided an estimate of 15% foreign-born among college-educated individuals in S&E occupations; the corresponding census estimate is about 22%
In contrast, 2003 SESTAT estimates of the foreign born in S&E occupations are quite close to estimates from the 2000 census
The 2003 SESTAT survey also provides an estimate of foreign-born S&E degree holders by field of degree
Origins of S&E Immigrants
Immigrant scientists and engineers come from a broad range of countries.
Although many foreign-born scientists and engineers in the United States first came to the United States to study, many other individuals came to the United States after receiving their university training abroad
Across all levels of degree, 41% of the university-educated foreign born in the United States had their highest degree from a foreign educational institution and 55% had at least one foreign degree. At the highest level of education, 36% of foreign-born doctorate holders earned their doctorates from a foreign school.
The prevalence of foreign degrees among foreign-born S&E degree holders has been increasing over time
Citizenship and Visa Status of Foreign-Born Scientists and Engineers in the United States
The length of time for foreign scientists and engineers to earn U.S. citizenship affects both their decision to come to the United States and their subsequent decision to stay. As shown in
The length of time before acquiring citizenship is not necessarily because of a lack of interest on the part of the foreign-born scientists and engineers. Consider a hypothetical case of a bachelor’s-level engineer who enters the United States with a student F visa to pursue a doctorate, who spends 6 years completing the doctorate, followed by 2 years in a postdoc position, and then is hired by an employer for a permanent job on a temporary work visa. The employer applies for a permanent work visa for their new worker, who receives it 2 years after starting work. Now, 10 years after entering the United States, a 5-year waiting period begins after receiving a permanent visa, before the engineer can apply for citizenship. The engineer applies soon after becoming eligible, and after 1 year, becomes a U.S. citizen, 16 years after entry to the United States.
The importance of temporary visas is also shown in
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 mostly requiring at least a bachelor’s degree. A wide variety of skilled workers use H-1B visas; those in computer occupations have represented at peak levels a little over half, and at lowest level a little less than one-quarter, of new H-1B visas issued.
Over two-thirds of the slightly more than 110,000 recipients of H-1B visas in 2006 are in S&T occupations
In 2006, 51% of new H-1B recipients were in computer-related occupations, including 48% in the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services occupational category of "occupations in systems analysis and programming," which includes many S&E occupations, such as computer scientist, and technician occupations, such as programmer. This actually represents an increase in recent years (from a low of 25% in 2002) in the proportion of new H-1B visas going to computer-related occupations. In 2006, 44% of those receiving new H-1B visas in computer-related occupations had master’s degrees, and a little more than 1% had doctoral degrees.
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 because of the expiration of legislation that had allowed the additional visas. Universities and academic research institutions are exempt from this ceiling in their own hiring, and in 2005 an additional 20,000 exemptions from the H-1B quotas were added for students receiving master’s degrees or doctorates from U.S. schools. However, even with these extra allowances, the H-1B visa ceiling constrains the use of foreign scientists and engineers by private industry for R&D located in the United States. It also makes it more difficult for foreign students to stay in the United States after their studies, because long delays in the visa process usually makes it impractical to be directly hired with a permanent work visa without first being a temporary worker. For FY 2008, the ceiling on H-1B visas was reached in the first day that applications were accepted.
Scientists and engineers may also receive temporary work visas through intracompany transfer visas (L-1 visas), high-skilled worker visas under the North American Free Trade Agreement (TN-1 visas, a program previously primarily for Canadians, which granted full access for Mexican professionals in 2004), work visas for individuals with outstanding abilities (O-1 visas), and several smaller programs. In addition, temporary visas are 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). State Department counts of visas issued for each of these categories are shown in
Characteristics of Workers Issued New H-1B Visas
Education Levels. In FY 2006, 57% of new H-1B visa recipients had advanced degrees, including 41% with master’s degrees, 5% with professional degree, and 11% with doctorates. This degree distribution differs by occupation, with 87% holding advanced degrees in math and physical sciences occupations (47% with doctorates) and 89% in life science occupations (61% with doctorates).
For those with advanced degrees, it may be possible to infer the proportion without prior U.S. education by examining the number seeking to be counted against the larger quota for those with advanced degrees from U.S. schools. In FY 2006, 59% of doctorate holders, 21% of professional degree holders, and 52% of master’s degree holders indicated on their H-1B applications that their degree was from a U.S. school. This both documents the use of the H-1B visa as a way for graduates of U.S. schools to continue their careers in the United States, and the importance of the H-1B in bringing the foreign educated to the United States.
H-1B Country of Citizenship. H1-B visa recipients have a diverse set of citizenships, with a large representation of Indian citizens overall and Chinese citizens among those holding doctorates
H-1B Salaries. Salaries paid to new recipients of H-1B temporary work visas are shown in
Visa Applications and Rejections for Students and Exchange Visitors
The F-1 and J-1 visas used by students and exchange visitors have recovered from the decline experienced after FY 2001 (which ended on 30 September 2001). In FY 2006, student visa applications for the first time exceeded the previous 2001 high, and visa-rejection rates were below those experienced by applicants in FY 2001 (20.1% versus 22.9% rejections in 2001)
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 (2007) of the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, 65% of 2000 U.S. S&E doctoral degree recipients with temporary visas remained in the United States in 2005. This is up from a 61% 5-year stay rate found in 2003
Highly Skilled Migrants in OECD Countries
Estimates of international migrants residing in OECD countries were made by Docquier and Marfouk (2004) using data from the various national censuses. Based on their data,
The United States, ranking number 11 with 448,000 tertiary-educated citizens in other OECD countries, has a fairly small high-skilled diaspora compared with its population, and particularly compared with its number of educated workers.
 Bureau of Economic Analysis R&D employment data are counts of full-time and part-time employees that devote the majority of their time to R&D activities.
 Although Canadians with university degrees can use the easier-to-obtain TN visa to work in the United States, many prefer to seek H-1Bs, perhaps in part because TN visa holders are not permitted to apply for permanent resident ("green card") status. There is no preferential path to a permanent work visa for H-1B holders; they are not forbidden to seek a green card.