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[Excerpt] The increased presence of foreign students in graduate science and engineering programs and in the scientific workforce has been and continues to be of concern to some in the scientific community. Enrollment of U.S. citizens in graduate science and engineering programs has not kept pace with that of foreign students in those programs. In addition to the number of foreign students in graduate science and engineering programs, a significant number of university faculty in the scientific disciplines are foreign, and foreign doctorates are employed in large numbers by industry.

Few will dispute that U.S. universities and industry have chosen foreign talent to fill many positions. Foreign scientists and engineers serve the needs of industry at the doctorate level and also have been found to serve in major roles at the masters level. However, there are charges that U.S. workers are adversely affected by the entry of foreign scientists and engineers, who reportedly accept lower wages than U.S. citizens would accept in order to enter or remain in the United States.

NSF data reveal that in 2005, the foreign student population earned approximately 34.7% of the doctorate degrees in the sciences and approximately 63.1% of the doctorate degrees in engineering. In 2005, foreign students on temporary resident visas earned 30.8% of the doctorates in the sciences, and 58.6% of the doctorates in engineering. The participation rates in 2004 were 28.5% and 57.3%, respectively. In 2005, permanent resident status students earned 3.8% of the doctorates in the sciences and 4.5% of the doctorates in engineering, slightly above the 2004 levels of 3.7% and 4.2%, respectively.

Many in the scientific community maintain that in order to compete with countries that are rapidly expanding their scientific and technological capabilities, the country needs to bring to the United States those whose skills will benefit society and will enable us to compete in the new-technology based global economy. The academic community is concerned that the more stringent visa requirements for foreign students may have a continued impact on enrollments in colleges and universities. There are those who believe that the underlying problem of foreign students in graduate science and engineering programs is not necessarily that there are too many foreign-born students, but that there are not enough native-born students pursuing scientific and technical disciplines.

Legislation has been introduced in the 110th Congress to attract foreign students in the scientific and technical disciplines. H.R. 1645, the Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy Act of 2007, would provide, among other things, an expansion of the types of individuals who would no longer be subjected to the annual limits on legal immigrants. Included in this group would be those who (1) hold an advanced degree in science, mathematics, engineering, or technical fields and who have been working in the United States in a related field for three years on a nonimmigrant visa; and (2) been awarded a medical specialty certification based on post-doctoral training and experience in the United States.


Matthews, C. M. (2008). Foreign science and engineering presence in U.S. institutions and the labor force (97-746) [Electronic version]. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.