Foreigners and Innovation

 

Foreigners receiving PhDs have, in recent years, constituted nearly half of all such degrees awarded in science and engineering in the United States.  In 1997, the percentage was fewer than one-third.

Because the majority of these students choose to stay in the US after receiving their education, this is a boon to our economy and enables us to continue to lead the way in the world in innovation, despite the state of our public schools in the arena of math and science.  In 2000 these highly educated individuals made up 37.3 percent of our work force in their particular fields, a number that rose slightly over the first half of the decade.

Since the start of the recession in 2007, there are concerns that fewer students will be willing or able to stay after graduating.  Of 1,203 skilled Indians and Chinese who had returned home after receiving their PhD in the US, 70 percent of the Chinese and 61 percent of the Indians said their opportunities for advancement were better in their home country.  US companies are now increasingly outsourcing their sophisticated research and development, with over half having already incorporated initiatives to do so, up from 22 percent in 2005.

With rising taxes, fears of a double-dip recession, and ever-increasing burdens placed on businesses, the opportunities for these highly-educated foreigners become more and more bleak in the US.  China and India are the two countries that not only supply us with our greatest numbers of these workers, but 92 percent of Chinese stay at least 5 years, as do 81 percent of Indians.  As these countries continue to grow at a rapid pace, there becomes more of an incentive for natives to return home and a new type of brain drain could occur here.

Those workers we most need to move us forward as a society, the innovators, may choose to take advantage of our incredible educational opportunities and then, in greater numbers, take their skills back to their home countries.  A new way forward or the end of an era for the United States of America?

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