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Foreign-Born Scientists and Engineers Fuel U.S. R&D

March 1996

The United States relies heavily on foreign-born scientists and engineers, especially for research and development, according to a recent report from the Division of Science Resources Studies (SRS). More than one-fourth (28%) of the doctoral- level scientists and engineers doing R&D in the United States are foreign-born, the report states. And foreign-born S&E doctorates are more likely to work in R&D than their native-born U.S. counterparts.

"The study shows the importance of foreign-born individuals to U.S. science and engineering," says Science Resource Analyst Mark Regets, who prepared the report using data released by the National Survey of College Graduates (NSCG).

Regets notes that while foreign-born individuals comprise about 8% of the nation's total population, they make up 23% of the Ph.D.-level scientists and engineers in the U.S.

The NSCG surveyed 215,000 individuals under the age of 76 who had college degrees in 1990. The survey included a wider age range than most as well as a more complete educational history. "A particular strength of this survey is its ability to identify individuals with science or engineering degrees from foreign institutions," Regets writes.

For purposes of the study, the terms "immigrant" and "foreign-born" are defined as individuals born outside of the United States or U.S. territories to parents who were not U.S. citizens at the time. Of the immigrants with doctoral degrees in S&E, 55% are U.S. citizens.

Within the S&E fields, engineering has the highest proportion of foreign-born workers, ranging from 14% of engineers with bachelor's degrees to 40% of those with doctoral degrees. In mathematics and computer science, 34% of the Ph.D.-level scientists are foreign-born.

The lowest proportion of foreign-born S&E workers are in the social sciences, where 13% of the Ph.D.-level scientists came from another country.

While most of these scientists and engineers went to U.S. graduate schools and stayed, 34% of all doctoral recipients earned their most recent degree from foreign schools.

"Foreign-school doctorates are particularly important in the life sciences and physical sciences," Regets writes.

The survey also shows that foreign-born scientists and engineers have long been important to the United States. While the percentage of foreign-born doctorates is highest for the youngest groups (28% of 31-to-35-year-olds), the percentage is above 20% for all age groups.

For a copy of this data brief, call SRS at (703) 292-8774, or send an e-mail to srsweb@nsf.gov.

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