Immigrants have a growing presence in the U.S. science and engineering workforce, according to a new report by the National Science Foundation. Between 2003 and 2013, the number of U.S. scientists and engineers increased from 21.6 million to 29 million. In that time, the number of immigrants in the field rose from 16 percent of the total tech workforce (3.4 million) to 18 percent (5.2 million).
The percentage of foreign-born scientists and engineers who were employed in 2013 was about 81 percent—the same as their U.S.-born counterparts.
According to the report, 57 percent of immigrant scientists and engineers hail from Asia; this group includes naturalized citizens, permanent residents, and temporary visa holders. Immigrants from the Americas and the Caribbean make up 20 percent, and Europeans make up 16 percent. India was the leading source nation for immigrant scientists and engineers. Between 2003 and 2013, the number of U.S. scientists and engineers who immigrated from India nearly doubled from 515,000 to 950,000.
The report shows that foreign-born scientists and engineers are more likely to earn higher degrees than their U.S.-born counterparts. In 2013, 9 percent of immigrants earned a doctorate compared to 3.8 percent of U.S.-born citizens.
Nearly 15 percent of immigrants earned their highest degree in computer and mathematical science, and over 20 percent earned engineering degrees. For U.S.-born citizens, those shares were about 8 percent and 10 percent respectively.
The percentage of immigrants in the U.S. tech workforce is likely to keep increasing. While talk of a STEM skills shortage in the U.S. could be overblown, tech companies have been pushing for more H-1B visas, and corporate recruiters often cite STEM worker shortages. Last year, President Obama announced immigration plans that make it easier for foreign-born students to stay and work in the U.S.
The challenge might be training and retaining skilled, engaged scientists and engineers. Some foreign policy experts believe that the United States should wage a war for global talent and nab the world’s best scientists and engineers while the U.S. economy is getting stronger.
What do you think? Does the United States need to offer even more H-1B visas? Is that what’s necessary to attract the world’s best talent?
Prachi Patel is a freelance journalist based in Pittsburgh. She writes about energy, biotechnology, materials science, nanotechnology, and computing.