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Frontiers
Decline in Number of Immigrant Scientists and Engineers

November 1997

The number of immigrant scientists and engineers (S&Es) entering the United States declined dramatically in 1994, indicating a possible trend toward the 1980s level of S&E immigration, according to a recent Data Brief from NSF's Division of Science Resources Studies (SRS).

Since 1968, NSF has used records from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to track the S&E portion of total immigrants. These records show that during the 1980s, S&E immigration remained stable, at about 12,000 S&Es annually.

Between 1990 and 1993, the numbers increased dramatically for two reasons. First, the changes in the Immigration Act of 1990 increased immigration for highly skilled workers. Second, the Chinese Student Protection Act of 1992, passed in the wake of the 1989 Tianamen Square incident, allowed Chinese students temporarily residing in the United States to adjust to permanent resident status. By 1993, the number of S&Es admitted to the United States on permanent visas had almost doubled from its 1980s level, reaching 23,534.

However, the data for 1994 suggest a return to the S&E immigration patterns of earlier years, writes Joanne Streeter, a survey operations specialist and Data Brief author. "The number of S&Es admitted in 1994 was 17,403, a significant decline (down 26%) from the previous year," Streeter writes in the Data Brief. She continues, "According to the INS this decline was caused by a lack of employment-based admissions." The data support this view, showing employment-based admissions dropping from a high of 15,046 in 1992 to only 6,101 in 1994.

Streeter notes that the overall decline in S&E immigrants means that the immigration of engineers and social scientists decreased by 26%. The immigration of mathematical scientists and computer specialists fell by 33%, while natural scientists decreased by only 20%.

More detailed data are available in the SRS report Immigrant Scientists, Engineers, and Technicians: 1994.

For a copy of the Data Brief, call SRS at (703) 306-1773, or visit NSF's Web site: www.nsf.gov.


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