Foreign born scientists and engineers in the United States

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In the United States of America, a significant proportion of scientists and engineers are foreign-born, as well as students in science and engineering programs. However, this is not unique to the US since foreigners make up significant amounts of scientists and engineers in other countries.

  • As of 2011, 28% of graduate students in science, engineering, and health are foreign. [1]
  • The number of science and engineering (S&E) bachelor's degrees has risen steadily over the past 15 years, reaching a new peak of about half a million in 2009. Since 2000, foreign born students in the United States have consistently earned a small share (3%-4%) of S&E degrees at the bachelor's level. Foreign students make up a much higher proportion of S&E master's degree recipients than of bachelor's or associate degree recipients. In 2009, foreign students earned 27% of S&E master's degrees and 33% in doctorate degrees. Significant numbers of foreign born students in science and engineering are not unique to America since foreign students now account for nearly 60% of graduate students in mathematics, computer sciences, and engineering globally. In Switzerland and the United Kingdom, more than 40% of doctoral students are foreign. A number of other countries, including New Zealand, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, and the United States, have relatively high percentages (more than 20%) of doctoral students who are foreign. Foreign student enrollment in the United Kingdom has been increasing. In 2008, foreign students made up 47% of all graduate students studying S&E in the United Kingdom (an increase from 32% in 1998). Top destinations for international students include the United Kingdom (12%), Germany (9%), and France (9%). Together with the U.S.,these countries receive more than half of all internationally mobile students worldwide. Although the United States continues to attract the largest number and fraction of foreign students worldwide, its share of foreign students has decreased in recent years.[2]
  • 55% of Ph.D. students in engineering in the United States are foreign born (2004).[3]
  • Between 1980 and 2000, the percentage of Ph.D. scientists and engineers employed in the United States who were born abroad has increased from 24% to 37%.[3]
  • 45% of Ph.D. physicists working in the United States are foreign born (2004).[3]
  • 80% of total post-doctoral chemical and materials engineering in the United States are foreign-born (1988).[4]
  • At the undergraduate level, US-born engineering students constitute upwards of 90-95% of the student population (most foreign born candidates for engineering graduate schools are trained in their home countries). However, the pool of BS engineering graduates with US citizenship is much larger than the number who apply to engineering graduate schools.[4]
  • the proportion of foreign-born engineers among assistant professors younger than 35 years has increased from 10% in 1972 to 50%-55% in 1983-1985, illustrating a dramatic increase on US dependence on foreign-born students in the US college system. The increase in non-citizen assistant professors of engineering is the result of the fact that, in recent years, foreign-born engineers received close to 50 percent of newly awarded engineering doctorates (naturalized citizens accounted for about 4 percent) and, furthermore, they entered academe in disproportionately large numbers.[4]
  • 33% of all U.S. Ph.D.s in science and engineering are now awarded to foreign born graduate students (2004).[3]
  • In 1982, foreign-born engineers constituted about 3.6% of all engineers employed in the United States, 13.9% of which were naturalized; and foreign-born Phds in Engineering constituted 15% and 20% were naturalized.[4]
  • In 1985, foreign-born Phds represented almost 33% of the engineering post-doctorate researchers in US universities. Foreign-born Phd engineers often accept postdoctoral position because other employment is unavailable until green card is obtained.[4] A system that further incentivising replacement of US-citizens in the upper echelons of academic and private sector engineering firms due to higher educational attainment relative to native-born engineer who for the most part do train beyond undergraduate level.[5]
  • In recent years, The number of applicants for faculty openings at research universities have increased dramatically. Numbers of 50 to 200 applications for a single faculty opening have become typical, yet even with such high numbers of applicants have yielded a foreign-born component in excess of 50%.[4]
  • 60% of the top science students and 65 percent of the top math students in the United States are the children of immigrants. In addition, foreign-born high school students make up 50 percent of the 2004 U.S.Math Olympiad’s top scorers, 38 percent of the U.S. Physics Team, and 25 percent of the Intel Science Talent Search finalists—the United States’ most prestigious awards for young scientists and mathematicians.[6]
  • Among 1985 foreign-born engineering doctorate holders, about 40% expected to work in the United States after graduating. An additional 17 percent planned to stay on as post-doctorates, and most of these are likely to remain permanently in the United States. Those, almost 60% of foreign-born engineering doctorate holders are likely to become part of the US engineering labor force within a few years after graduating. The other approximately 40% of foreign born engineering Phds mostly likely find employment working for Multinational corporations outside of the US.[4]
  • In the 2004 Intel Science Talent Search, more children (18) have parents who entered the country on H-1B (professional) visas than parents born in the United States (16). To place this finding in perspective, note that new H-1B visa holders each year represent less than 0.04 percent of the U.S. population.[6]
  • Foreign born faculty now accounts for over 50% of faculty in engineering (1994).[4]
  • 27 out the 87 (more than 30%) American Nobel Prize winners in Medicine and Physiology between 1901 and 2005 were born outside the US[7]
  • 1993 Median Salaries of U.S. Recipients of Ph.D.s in Science and Engineering: Foreign-Born vs. Native-Born:[8]
Years Since Earning Degree Foreign-Born Native-Born
1–5 years $44,400 $40,000
6–10 years $55,400 $49,200
11–15 years $64,000 $56,000
16–20 years $64,000 $56,000
21 years $70,200 $68,000


  1. ^ "Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering: Fall 2011" (PDF). National Science Foundation. 2013. p. 22. 
  2. ^ "Ch. 2 Higher Education in Science and Engineering" (PDF). National Science Foundation. 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c d William A. Wulf, President, National Academy of Engineering, Speaking before the 109th US Congress, September 15, 2005
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h 'Foreign and Foreign-Born Engineers in the United States: Infusing Talent, Raising Issues', Office of Scientific and Engineering Personnel, 1988. online text
  5. ^ Walker, 'Incentivizing Replacement of Native Talent in the Upper Echelons of Science and Technology', Flattening the United States. 2004.
  6. ^ a b Anderson, 'The Multiplier Effect', International Educator. 2004.
  7. ^ Vilcek J. and Cronstein B.N. FASEB Journal 20:1281-1283, 2006
  8. ^ Unpublished National Science Foundation tabulation of the 1993 Survey of Doctoral Recipients and the 1993 National Survey of College Graduates. Foreign-Born includes naturalized U.S. citizens, permanent residents and workers on temporary visas (including H-1B visas).