Skip all navigation and go to page content

Chapter 3. Science and Engineering Labor Force

Global S&E Labor Force


Science is a global enterprise. The common laws of nature cross political boundaries, and the international movement of people and knowledge made science global long before "globalization" became a label for the increasing interconnections now forming among the world's economies. The rapid development of the capacity to make scientific and technical innovations is creating a new competitive environment. New ways of doing business and performing R&D take advantage of gains from new knowledge discovered anywhere in the world, from increases in foreign economic development, and from the expanding international migration of highly trained scientists and engineers.

This section begins with an overview of what is known about S&E labor forces in advanced countries, which mostly concerns researchers and people performing R&D for multinational firms. The remainder of the section deals with foreign-born scientists and engineers in the United States.

Other chapters provide indirect indicators on the global S&E labor force. Chapter 2 reports on the production of new scientists and engineers through university degree programs. Chapter 4 provides indicators of R&D performed globally, chapter 5 discusses publications output and international collaboration, and chapter 6 has information on high-technology activities and global patenting activity.

Counts of Global S&E Labor Force

There are no comprehensive measures of the global S&E labor force, but fragmentary data on the global S&E labor force suggest that the U.S. world share is continuing to decline, even as U.S. reliance on foreign-born scientists and engineers may be near or at a historic high. Data exist within some national data systems, and some countries report data in standardized form to international agencies such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Existing data provide a strong indication of rapid growth in the number of individuals who pursue advanced education and find employment in technical fields, particularly in developing nations.

OECD collects data on researchers from its member countries and selected other countries. Unfortunately, this source misses many countries that appear to have high levels of S&T activity, including India, Brazil, and Israel.

Figure 3-48 shows the growth between 1995 and 2007 in the reported number of researchers in selected countries/economies. The United States had about the same growth of researchers as the EU-27, about 40% each over the time period. The number of researchers in Japan rose by just over 5%. Over the same 12-year period, the reported number of researchers in China rose by 173% to more than 1.4 million in 2007—close to the estimated U.S. figure and the number of the combined EU-27. An important caution in interpreting these data is that although countries used a common definition of "researcher" when reporting their data to OECD, there are many judgments necessary to translate from a wide variety of national data systems to the OECD definition.

Tertiary Education
One widely available measure of the education level of a country's population is the number of its residents with a tertiary level of education. This is roughly equivalent in U.S. terms to individuals who have earned at least a technical associate's degree, but also includes all higher degrees up to the doctorate. Figure 3-49 , based on estimates by Barro and Lee (2000), shows the global distribution of tertiary education graduates in 2000 or the most recent available year. About one-fourth of the world's tertiary graduates were in the United States; the next three largest countries in terms of tertiary education are China, India, and Russia, which are all non-OECD members.

Highly Skilled Migrants in OECD Countries
Docquier and Marfouk (2004) made estimates of the highly educated international migrants residing in OECD countries by using data from various national censuses. Based on their data, figure 3-50 shows the leading countries of origin of non-natives with tertiary-level education who lived in OECD countries in 2000. With 1.4 million, the United Kingdom has the largest high-skilled diaspora. (Although originally used to describe much less voluntary dispersals of population in history, the term diaspora is increasingly used to describe the internationally mobile portion of a country's nationals, which forms a network for contact and information flow. These networks can provide advantages for a country that help mitigate the loss of human capital through migration.)

The United States, ranking 11th with 448,000 tertiary-educated citizens who live in other OECD countries, has a fairly small high-skilled diaspora compared with its population, and particularly compared with its number of educated workers.


R&D Employment by Multinational Companies

MNCs perform a substantial proportion of R&D through foreign direct investment (FDI) (see chapter 4). Data on MNC R&D employment include all employees engaged in research and development, including managers, scientists, engineers, and other professional and technical employees. Data on R&D employment of parent companies of U.S. MNCs and their overseas affiliates are available every 5 years from the Survey of U.S. Direct Investment Abroad conducted by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). Separately, data on R&D employment by foreign-based MNCs in the United States are available from BEA's Survey of Foreign Direct Investment in the United States.

By definition, FDI does not include external arrangements ranging from R&D contracting to consulting work and strategic collaborations.[18] Nevertheless, R&D employment by subsidiaries is an important indicator of international R&D activity.

R&D employment in the United States by foreign firms grew slightly faster than R&D employment abroad by U.S. firms. R&D employment in the United States by majority-owned affiliates[19] of foreign firms rose from 89,800 in 1994 to 128,500 in 2004, for a 43% increase over the decade (figure 3-51 ). Over the same 10 years, R&D employment by U.S. firms at their majority-owned foreign affiliates grew 35%, from 102,000 in 1994 to 137,800 in 2004. Adding U.S. parent company R&D employment of 716,400 workers, U.S. MNCs employed 854,200 R&D workers globally (figure 3-52 ) in 2004.

The average annual growth in R&D employment abroad by U.S. firms from 1994 to 2004 was only 3% and did not produce a large shift in their overseas employment, which rose from 14% to 16% of their total.

The data in both figure 3-51 and figure 3-52 are consistent with two trends discussed in this chapter: rapid growth in S&T employment in the United States coinciding with a general expansion of the ability to do S&T work throughout the world.


Migration to the United States

The knowledge and specialized skills of scientists and engineers can be transferred across national borders through the physical movement of people. Governments in many industrialized countries increasingly view the immigration of skilled S&E workers as an important contributor to the quality and flexibility of their S&E labor force. Many countries have not only increased their research investments, but have also made encouraging high-skilled immigration an important part of their national economic strategies.

The United States has benefited, and continues to benefit, from this international flow of knowledge and personnel (see Regets 2001 for a general discussion of high-skilled migration). However, competition for skilled labor continues to increase. A National Science Board taskforce noted that "global competition for S&E talent is intensifying, such that the United States may not be able to rely on the international S&E labor market to fill unmet skill needs" (NSB 2003). (See sidebar "High-Skill Migration to Japan and the UK.")

Broadly consistent estimates of U.S. reliance on foreign-born scientists and engineers are available from several sources. Table 3-23 shows upward trends in the percentage of foreign-born individuals in U.S. S&E occupations over time. The percentage changes since 2000 may appear small but are quite substantial, given the short time span and the overall growth of the number of persons in S&E occupations from 2000 to 2007: of an estimated 341,000 total increase, 100,000 were foreign born.

SESTAT surveys include only individuals who were counted in the most recent Decennial Censuses or who received a U.S. S&E degree, thereby missing recently arrived foreign-born and foreign-educated scientists and engineers. Yet, a large proportion of the foreign-born and foreign-educated members of the S&E labor force are recent arrivals. For example, in 2000, about 43% of all college-educated foreign-born workers in U.S. S&E occupations reported arriving in the United States after 1990; among doctorate holders 62% reported arriving after this date.

The 2000 census data provide a good estimate of the foreign born who were actually in the United States in April 2000 but give no information about those performing S&E tasks in a wide variety of non-S&E occupations (as discussed earlier in this chapter), nor about which postsecondary teachers are in S&E fields. Within these limitations, the Census Bureau's 2007 American Community Survey permits an analysis of trends in the proportion of the foreign born in S&E occupations at each degree level during the current decade. It shows growth of 3 percentage points overall, with an extra 4 percentage points each at the master's degree and doctorate levels.

Between 2003 and 2007, employment of college graduates in nonacademic S&E occupations, as measured by the ACS, increased by 345,000: 235,000 U.S. natives and 110,000 foreign born (figure 3-53 ). The estimated overall proportion of the foreign born rose only slightly over these 4 years (from 24.6% to 25.2%) but increased by 2 percentage points each for those with master's degrees and doctorates in this short span.

Details on the proportion of foreign-born S&E degree holders by field of degree are shown in table 3-24 , based on 2003 SESTAT estimates. At the doctoral level, foreign-born individuals constitute about half the total number of workers in both engineering (51%) and mathematics/computer sciences (48%), up from 41% and 33% a decade earlier. Only in the geosciences and the social sciences are the foreign born significantly less than a third of doctorate holders in S&E fields. At the bachelor's degree level, 15% of S&E degree holders were foreign born, ranging from 7% of individuals in sociology/anthropology to 27% in physics/astronomy and 28% in electrical engineering. Given the continuing increase in foreign participation, it is likely that these 2003-based percentages are conservative estimates.

Origins of S&E Immigrants
Immigrant scientists and engineers come from a broad range of countries. Figure 3-54 shows country of birth for the 2.2 million foreign-born persons with highest degree in S&E in the United States (country details are in appendix table 3-10 ). Although no one source country dominates, 16% came from India and 11% came from China. Source countries for the 276,000 foreign-born holders of S&E doctorates are somewhat more concentrated, with China providing 22% and India 14%.

Source of Education for S&E Immigrants
The majority of foreign-born scientists and engineers in the United States first came to the United States to study, but a substantial number came to the United States after receiving their university training abroad. Table 3-25 illustrates the various educational routes that highly skilled workers from around the world take into the United States workforce and indicates how these workers help connect the United States to universities and research institutions worldwide.

Across all levels of degree, 42% of the university-educated foreign born in the United States had their highest degree from a foreign educational institution and 56% had at least one foreign degree. At the highest level of education, 33% of foreign-born doctorate holders earned their doctorates from a foreign school.

The prevalence of foreign degrees among foreign-born S&E degree holders has been increasing over time (figure 3-55 ). Among foreign-born S&E degree holders who entered the United States before 1980, only 20% of doctorate holders and 23% of bachelor's degree holders had their highest degree from a foreign school. These percentages increase for more recent entry cohorts of immigrants. It should be noted that some portion of the increase in the most recent entry years reflects immigrants who entered during those years but have not yet had sufficient time to complete an American degree.

Citizenship and Visa Status of Foreign-Born Scientists and Engineers in the United States
The length of time it takes for foreign scientists and engineers to earn U.S. citizenship affects both their decision to come to the United States and their subsequent decision to stay. As figure 3-56 shows, only about half of foreign S&E degree holders who entered the United States in 1991 and remained in 2003 had obtained citizenship. Citizenship status may particularly affect the supply of S&T talent available to segments of the U.S. economy that can typically hire only citizens: the federal government and private companies engaged in defense and other classified research.[20] While a significant portion of any group of immigrants never seeks citizenship, the type of visas that scientists, engineers, and other high-skilled workers use for initial entry into the United States affects their path to citizenship. Time spent in the United States on a student or temporary work visa does not count toward the 5-year waiting period before immigrants can apply for citizenship.

Temporary Work Visas
In recent years, policy discussion has focused on the use of various forms of temporary work visas by foreign-born scientists and other high-skilled workers. The use of these temporary visas for high-skilled workers has increased over time (as seen in figure 3-57 ). For all types of temporary work visas, the actual number of individuals using them is less than the number issued. For example, some individuals may have job offers from employers in more than one country and may choose not to foreclose any options until a visa is certain.

J-1 Exchange Visas. Of the visa types shown, the J-1 exchange visitor visa is the most issued—more than 350,000 in FY 2008. However, many of these visas are given to lower skilled workers, and many J-1s are issued for semester or summer stays. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) showed approximately 165,000 J-1 visa holders in the United States, of whom 50% were in categories that were clearly highly skilled, including nearly 50,000 professors and research scholars.

Other Visa Types. There has also been growth in visas issued in other high-skilled categories. Between 2003 and 2008, issuances of L-1 (intracompany transfer) visas grew by 47% to 84,000. The smallest series shown in Figure 3-57 groups together four much smaller high-skilled visa programs: O-1 (a person of outstanding ability), O-2 (an assistant to an O-1, sometimes a postdoc), TN (college-degreed citizens of Canada and Mexico), and E-3 (college-degreed citizen of Australia). Taken together, these four visa types grew by 142% between 2003 and 2008, reaching nearly 22,000 in the number of visas issued.

H-1B Visas
H-1B temporary work visas are likely to account for a larger number of high-skilled workers than other visa classes. The United States typically issues H-1B visas for 3 years with the possibility of a 3-year renewal. In October 2003, the United States lowered its annual ceiling on admissions from 195,000 to 65,000, but granted universities and academic research institutions exemptions in their own hiring. In 2005, the United States granted an additional 20,000 exemptions for students receiving master's degrees or doctorates from U.S. schools.

Although the occupational categories used in H-1B visa records do not precisely correspond to the classifications used elsewhere in this chapter, it is safe to say that the bulk of H-1B visa recipients work in S&E or S&E-related occupations (figure 3-58 ; table 3-1 ).

In 2006, half of new H-1B visa recipients were employed in computer-related occupations. This represents a recent increase from a low of 25% in 2002. Of those receiving new H-1B visas in 2006 who were in computer-related occupations, 44% had master's degrees and just over 1% had doctorates.

Characteristics of Workers Issued New H-1B Visas
Education Levels. In FY 2006, 57% of new H-1B visa recipients had advanced degrees, including 41% with master's degrees, 5% with professional degrees, and 11% with doctorates. This degree distribution differs by occupation, with 87% of those holding advanced degrees in math and physical sciences occupations (47% with doctorates) and 89% in life science occupations (61% with doctorates).

Many H-1B visa recipients earned their degrees abroad. In FY 2006, 41% of doctorate holders, 79% of professional degree holders, and 48% of master's degree holders who received H-1B visas indicated on their applications that they did not have a graduate degree from a U.S. institution.[21] This indicates both the use of the H-1B visa as a way for graduates of U.S. schools to continue their careers in the United States and the importance of the H-1B visa in bringing foreign-educated individuals into the United States (DHS/ICE 2006).

H-1B Country of Citizenship. More than half of recent H-1B visa recipients were from India and an additional 9% from China. Among doctorate holders, one-third were from China and another 13% from India (figures 3-59 and 3-60 ). Altogether, Asian citizens made up three-quarters of all H-1B visa recipients; among doctorate holders, they were well above half.

Relatively few doctorate holders from countries with better university systems had U.S. degrees. For example, the United Kingdom (21%), Germany (28%), Canada (29%), France (30%), and Japan (31%). In contrast, 71% of doctorate holders from China and 59% of doctorate holders from India claimed advanced degrees from U.S. institutions on their visa applications.

H-1B Salaries. Table 3-26 shows salaries paid to new recipients of H-1B temporary work visas by occupation group and level of degree. These starting salary figures, taken from final visa application forms sent to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, are different from, and generally higher than, H-1B salaries that firms report on their applications to the Department of Labor, which are filed much earlier in the H-1B process. The relatively low average salaries for doctorate holders in the life sciences may reflect the common use of H-1B visas to hire individuals for relatively low-paid postdoc fellowships.

Visa Applications and Rejections for Students and Exchange Visitors
The F-1 and J-1 visas used by students and exchange visitors have recovered from the declines experienced after September 11, 2001 (see table 3-27 ). F-1 visa applications declined from 380,385 in FY 2001 to a low of 282,662 in FY 2004. After 2004, the number of applications increased each year; the number of F-1 applications was 21% higher in FY 2008 than in FY 2001. J-1 visa applications experienced smaller declines after September 11, 2001, and were 35% higher in FY 2008 than in FY 2001.

Stay Rates for U.S. Doctorate Recipients with Temporary Visas
Many foreign students opt to stay in the United States after earning their degree. As reported in the Survey of Earned Doctorates, between 2004 and 2007, 76% to 82% of non-U.S. citizen S&E doctorates had firm commitments for work or study in the United States at the time of graduation. The rates were slightly lower for temporary visa holders over the same time period (75% to 81%) (see chapter 2 for further discussion).

Longer-term stay rates are also high. According to a report by Michael Finn (2009) of the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, 62% of 2002 U.S. S&E doctorate recipients with temporary visas were in the United States in 2007. This is down slightly from a 65% 5-year stay rate found in 2005 (figure 3-61 ), but due to a long upward trend in stay rates, this was still higher than any other 5-year stay rate estimated between 1992 and 2003. As shown in figure 3-61, stay rates differ significantly by country of origin, but have generally been increasing for most major source countries.

New doctorate recipients in 2002 faced relatively poor labor market conditions (see discussions earlier in this chapter), and foreign students earning degrees may have also been worried about greater difficulties with securing visas for themselves and their families.

There was also a geographic pattern to the changes in 5-year stay rates for foreign S&E doctorate recipients. Stay rates actually showed large percentage point increases for students from the largest European source countries: the UK (+6 percentage points) and Germany (+3 percentage points). The overall decline in stay rate between 2005 and 2007 was driven largely by decreases in stay rates for several Asian source locations: Taiwan (−8 percentage points), Japan (−6 percentage points), and India (−4 percentage points).

Finn also estimates stay rates for doctorate recipients from graduate programs of different quality based on ratings of faculty by the publication U.S. News and World Report and on separate ratings by the National Research Council. Finn used these ratings to select 20 to 25 "top-rated" departments in major S&E fields. Doctorate recipients from the graduate programs that Finn designated as top rated were somewhat less likely to remain in the United States than were graduates of other programs (see table 3-28 ). For doctorate recipients, the difference in 1-year stay rates was 3 percentage points: 67% of those from the top-rated programs and 70% of other doctorate recipients remained in the United States 1 year after receiving their degrees. By 5 years after receiving their degree, the two groups showed differences that rose to 5 percentage points, with stay rates of 58% and 63%, respectively.

Notes

[18] See section "Business-to-business linkages" in chapter 4 for information on international transactions in R&D services and technology alliances.
[19] An affiliate is a company or business enterprise located in one country but owned or controlled by a parent company in another country. Majority-owned affiliates are those in which the ownership stake of parent companies is more than 50%.
[20] Outside of government, it is illegal to discriminate in employment on the basis of citizenship status. However, if the work requires a security clearance, this usually also requires citizenship.
[21] These figures are likely to somewhat underestimate the proportion of H-1B recipients without U.S. graduate degrees. Because a portion of H-1B visas were restricted to applicants with advanced degrees from U.S. institutions, these applicants had an incentive to answer the optional question about where their degrees were earned; applicants whose degrees came exclusively from foreign institutions had no reason to answer this question.
 

Science and Engineering Indicators 2010   Arlington, VA (NSB 10-01) | January 2010

Close