News | December 9, 1998

NSF Study: Foreign-Born Doctoral Recipients Stay For Jobs

Foreign-born students who earn science and engineering (S&E) doctoral degrees from U.S. academic institutions are staying here in greater numbers, according to a new special report by the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Division of Science Resources Studies (SRS).

The report, Statistical Profiles of Foreign Doctoral Recipients in Science and Engineering: Plans to Stay in the United States, says 63% of foreign-born students who earned S&E doctorates from U.S. institutions between 1988 and 1996 said they planned to locate here, compared to 50% or less of those previously studied. Two-thirds of those who planned to stay had firm plans for further study or employment.

Study author Jean Johnson said the number of U.S. science and engineering doctoral degrees earned by natives of Asia, Europe and North America grew from about 3,300 in 1988 to 8,000 in 1996—for a total of more than 55,000 during that period.

The number and percentage of U.S. science and engineering doctoral degree recipients from Asia, Europe and North America with plans to stay in the United States increased from 1,700 (51% of all recipients) in 1988 to 5,800 (73%) in 1996. For the entire period, 63% said they planned to stay.

Johnson attributed the increase to the strength of the U.S. economy and its "capacity to absorb 39% of the foreign-born students in its S&E workforce. Foreign-born recipients of S&E doctoral degrees from U.S. institutions are staying here because the United States is where the jobs are," she said.

Most firm offers to foreign-born doctorate holding S&E professionals were for postdoctoral assignments, followed by offers from industry and educational institutions. In industry, the largest numbers of job offers were in engineering, followed by physical sciences and computer sciences. Educational institutions offered the most jobs to students with degrees in psychology and social sciences, followed by engineering and mathematics.

Asian students by far represented the highest percentage of S&E doctoral degree recipients (43,171 of 55,444) and of recipients planning to stay here (28,280 of 34,917). Overall, 65.5% of Asians who received S&E doctoral degrees said they planned to stay in the U.S., compared with 55.9% (4,898 of 8,760) of European recipients and 49.5% (1,739 of 3,513) of those born in other North American countries.

The number of native Chinese S&E doctoral recipients remaining in the U.S. has stayed high since the Chinese Student Protection Act gave permanent resident status to those studying in U.S. institutions in 1992, said Johnson. She noted that China's educational and research and development systems are recruiting about 600 new science and engineering Ph.D.s over the next few years, while 2,000 Chinese natives are earning Ph.D.s in the U.S. each year in these fields.

The percentage of doctoral recipients from Korea and Taiwan who planned to stay in the U.S. was only about half that of those from China and India. Johnson said that was because the economic growth in South Korea and Taiwan between 1988 and 1996 enabled those nations to absorb more U.S.-trained doctoral scientists and engineers.

"Whether this trend continues following the Asian economic crisis of 1998 should be monitored," Johnson said, "as should the stay rate of all foreign doctoral recipients. It has implications for the U.S. economy and the concentration of scientists and engineers in the United States as well as on the economies of their native countries."

For more information: Jean Johnson, Sr. Analyst, Division of Science Resources Studies, National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Blvd., Suite 965, Arlington, VA 22230. Tel: 703-306-1777, ext. 6928. Email: