Chapter 3:

Science and Engineering Workforce

Scientists and Engineers in an International Context:
Migration and R&D Employment 

Foreign-Born Scientists and Engineers in the United States top

In April 1993, 23.0 percent of individuals holding science and engineering doctorates in the United States were foreign-born.[16]  (See text table 3-16.) Of these, 34.1 percent received their S&E doctorates from a foreign school. At the bachelor's degree level, 9.8 percent of those with S&E degrees were foreign-born, with 49.1 percent of degrees from foreign schools.

The relative proportions of foreign-born doctorate— holders resident in the United States vary by S&E field. Psychology had the lowest percentage of foreign-born doctorate-holders in 1993 (9.0 percent), and civil engineering had the highest (50.6 percent). In general, the percentage of immigrants was highest in fields with favorable labor market conditions (as measured by unemployment and IOF rates), such as engineering and the computer sciences. It was lowest in the social sciences (except for economics); the life sciences; and the earth, atmospheric, and oceanographic sciences.

In recent years, the number of permanent visas issued by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to immigrants in S&E occupations has been greatly affected by immigration legislation and administrative changes at INS. The 1990 Immigration Act led to increases in the number of employment-based visas available starting in 1992.[17]  (See figure 3-12.) Further, 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. In addition to these legislative acts, changes in procedures for visas led alternatively to surges and backlogs in applications. Aside from these short-term effects, there appears to have been little change in the growth of S&E immigration.

Stay Rates of Foreign Recipients of U.S. Ph.D.s  top

How many of the foreign students who receive S&E Ph.D.s from U.S. graduate schools stay in the United States? According to a report by Michael Finn (1997) of the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, 47 percent of 1990-91 U.S. S&E doctorate recipients with temporary visas were still in the United States in 1995.[18]  By field, this percentage ranged from 28 percent in the social sciences to 53 percent in engineering and the physical sciences. (See text table 3-17.) The overall stay rate for S&E doctoral visa-holders in 1995 was also 47 percent for the 1970-72 cohort.[19]  The percentage of this cohort in the United States is stable over time, as 51 percent were in the United States in 1980 as well (Finn 1997). It is quite possible, however, that some of this stability comes from individuals in this cohort reentering the United States in mid-career, replacing others who leave the United States in mid-career. (For more information on this topic, see chapter 2, "Foreign Doctoral Students in the United States."  For a discussion of the obverse phenomenon-emigration of U.S.-born Ph.D. recipients-see "How Many U.S. Scientists and Engineers Go Abroad?") [Skip Text Box]

How Many U.S. Scientists
and Engineers Go Abroad? top

In 1995, at least 19,600 U.S. native-born, naturalized citizen, and permanent resident Ph.D. scientists and engineers lived outside the United States.* (See text table 3-18.) These included:

  • 3.3 percent (13,900) of native-born S&E doctorates,

  • 7.4 percent (1,400) of foreign-born S&E doctorates with U.S. citizenship at time of degree, and

  • 13.6 percent (4,300) of permanent residents at time of degree.

Not included are U.S. citizen Ph.D. scientists who had had only a temporary student visa or work visa when they received their Ph.D.; it may be reasonable to assume that this group is as likely to work outside the United States as those who had already been naturalized by the time of degree.

The likelihood of foreign residence for U.S. natives is greatest for those with the most recent degrees-ranging from 2.1 percent of 1945-54 native-born Ph.D. recipients to 3.4 percent of 1985-94 native-born Ph.D. recipients. By field, the proportion of native-born Ph.D.s resident in foreign countries is greatest in the mathematical and computer sciences and in the social sciences (4.2 percent for each). It is lowest in the physical sciences.

*Good estimates of the number of U.S. scientists and engineers who work abroad are not available, and the numbers presented here should be treated as lower bound estimates for several reasons. These estimates are based on a match of administrative data from the NSF 1995 Survey of Doctorate Recipients to individual data from the NSF Doctoral Record File created from the Survey of Earned Doctorates. The National Research Council (NRC) attempted to identify when a nonresponse was due to the sampled individual residing outside the United States as of the April reference date. To the extent that individuals residing outside the United States are more prevalent in the sample portion never located by NRC than they were in the located sample, these numbers will underestimate the extent of emigration. Note that, since a short-term trip abroad would not count as residence, and since the SDR data are collected over several months, there is little danger of miscategorizing a short absence as working abroad. There is, however, a somewhat greater danger of listing a person as living abroad who left the United States for many years and has since returned.

International R&D Employment top

Japan continues to surpass the United States in terms of the proportion of the country's labor force comprised of R&D-performing scientists and engineers. (See figure 3-13.) Both countries lead the remaining G-7 nations (Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Canada), although the U.S. share of total G-7 scientists and engineers engaged in R&D has fallen slightly-dropping from 48.0 percent in 1981 to 44.7 percent in 1993. (See figure 3-14.)

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[16] These estimates are taken from the 1993 National Survey of College Graduates, which, because it samples from decennial census records-rather than, like most surveys of scientists and engineers, from lists of graduates of U.S. schools-will be the best source of data for determining the percentage of scientists and engineers that are foreign born until about 2004.

[17] Because many immigrants-including scientists and engineers-enter the United States on family-based visas, where reporting of occupation is optional, S&E occupations might be undercounted.

[18] These estimates were derived by matching records from NSF's Survey of Earned Doctorates to earnings records from the U.S. Social Security Administration. Statistical adjustments for limits to Social Security coverage were made by comparing against coverage rates for native-born doctorate-holders.

[19] Data from the NSF Survey of Earned Doctorates do not allow for distinctions between temporary and permanent visas from this period.

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