Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Immigration and the Missing Ph.D.s

• April 07, 2010 • 3:41 PM

Post 9/11, the United States has been chasing foreign-born scholars away, much to the nation’s detriment.

Jim Rogers echoed a common complaint of the science and engineering community last week when he tied the future of American competitiveness in a high-tech, clean economy to a seemingly unlikely issue — immigration reform.

“Every person in this country who graduates with a Ph.D. ought to have a visa stapled to that Ph.D.,” the charismatic Southern CEO of Duke Energy told a room full of scientists and energy policy wonks. Many heads nodded in assent. If the crowd wasn’t so buttoned-down, you might have heard an “Amen!” or two.

These are people for whom “immigration reform” has little to do with legalizing migrant workers from Mexico. Rogers was talking about highly trained experts, Indian engineers and Chinese chemists, foreigners who receive their advanced education here but then take that know-how elsewhere precisely because we require them to.

According to 2005 data, foreigners earned 34.7 percent of the science doctorates from American universities and 63.1 percent of the Ph.D.s in engineering. Those numbers suggest two problems: The domestic supply of “STEM” students is not what it should be, and the foreign supply is so deep the U.S. has been foolish not to better exploit it for our own high-tech work force.

As for the latter challenge, immigration roadblocks loom on both ends of the system, for students trying to enter the U.S. to study, and for graduates who would then like to then stay and work. Quotas on skilled-worker visas have long capped the size of the second group. But just getting into the U.S. to study became much harder after Sept. 11 and the passage of the Patriot Act.

[class name=”dont_print_this”]

Idea Lobby

THE IDEA LOBBY
Miller-McCune's Washington correspondent Emily Badger follows the ideas informing, explaining and influencing government, from the local think tank circuit to academic research that shapes D.C. policy from afar.

[/class]

“Students were considered to be a group of individuals that were more likely to raise terrorist concerns than other categories,” said Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. A couple of the Sept. 11 hijackers had misused student visas. “But there was also a more general worry about [whether] foreign students going to acquire knowledge that could be used against the U.S.?”

The Council of Graduate Schools found that foreign applications dropped 28 percent from 2003 to 2004 as a direct result of the newly onerous system. Every applicant was now required to have a face-to-face interview with a consular official, and the process was particularly cumbersome for students in fields potentially tied to national security, like science and engineering.

Foreign applications continued to drop after decades of steady growth, and they’ve only recently begun to turn around. In the interim, while the U.S. was discouraging foreign students, other countries with newly unveiled graduate programs were doing the opposite.

“Everyone in every advanced industrial society has caught on to the American strategy,” said Debra Stewart, president of the CGS. In other words: attract the best from around the world. “That worked at a time when nobody else had that strategy. But now, wherever you look around world, Germany, Canada, Australia, all of these countries are now basically implementing the American plan.”

American immigration policies and the rise of competitive foreign graduate programs have combined to create exactly the situation people like Rogers fear — one where the U.S. isn’t equipped to keep the lead on science and technology just as a sea change in the global economy is looming.

As one solution, the CGS has lobbied for the creation of a new visa category specifically for graduate students in the STEM disciplines that would also include a pathway to permanent residency. Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham have included such a provision — identical to Roger’s suggestion — in the initial outline for the comprehensive immigration reform legislation they have been negotiating.

“It makes no sense,” the senators wrote in The Washington Post, “to educate the world’s future inventors and entrepreneurs and then force them to leave when they are able to contribute to our economy.”

The broader piece of legislation, however, faces long odds given that its headlining provisions deal not with future inventors and entrepreneurs, but illegal immigrants accused of draining American jobs and social services. Scientists and engineers, then, may have to find a separate path for their slice of reform, one that will undoubtedly draw little attention as the immigration debate ratchets up.

No one will rally this summer on the national mall for Indian engineers, or turn up on cable TV to rail against Japanese physicists winning Nobel Prizes in American labs.

“If you talk to tech companies, Google, Microsoft, Intel, this is the dilemma they always face in their lobbying,” Alden said. “‘Should we be part of the lobby for comprehensive immigration reform? Or should we split away and push for a resolution of our own issues, because they’re a lot more popular than legalizing 11 million immigrants, and why do we want to associate ourselves with that?'”

Emily Badger
Emily Badger is a freelance writer living in the Washington, D.C. area who has contributed to The New York Times, International Herald Tribune and The Christian Science Monitor. She previously covered college sports for the Orlando Sentinel and lived and reported in France.

More From Emily Badger

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

November 26 • 4:00 PM

Turmoil at JPMorgan

Examiners are reportedly blocked from doing their job as “London Whale” trades blow up.


November 26 • 2:00 PM

Rich Kids Are More Likely to Be Working for Dad

Nepotism is alive and well, especially for the well-off.


November 26 • 12:00 PM

How Do You Make a Living, Taxidermist?

Taxidermist Katie Innamorato talks to Noah Davis about learning her craft, seeing it become trendy, and the going-rate for a “Moss Fox.”


November 26 • 10:28 AM

Attitudes About Race Affect Actions, Even When They Don’t

Tiny effects of attitudes on individuals’ actions pile up quickly.


November 26 • 10:13 AM

Honeybees Touring America


November 26 • 10:00 AM

Understanding Money

In How to Speak Money, John Lanchester explains how the monied people talk about their mountains of cash.


November 26 • 8:00 AM

The Exponential Benefits of Eating Less

Eating less food—whole food and junk food, meat and plants, organic and conventional, GMO and non-GMO—would do a lot more than just better our personal health.


November 26 • 6:00 AM

The Incorruptible Bodies of Saints

Their figures were helped along by embalming, but, somehow, everyone forgot that part.


November 26 • 4:00 AM

The Geography of Real Estate Markets Is Shifting Under Our Feet

Policies aimed at unleashing supply in order to make housing more affordable are relying on outdated models.



November 25 • 4:00 PM

Is the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Doing Enough to Monitor Wall Street?

Bank President William Dudley says supervision is stronger than ever, but Democratic senators are unconvinced: “You need to fix it, Mr. Dudley, or we need to get someone who will.”


November 25 • 3:30 PM

Cultural Activities Help Seniors Retain Health Literacy

New research finds a link between the ability to process health-related information and regular attendance at movies, plays, and concerts.


November 25 • 12:00 PM

Why Did Doctors Stop Giving Women Orgasms?

You can thank the rise of the vibrator for that, according to technology historian Rachel Maines.


November 25 • 10:08 AM

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.


November 25 • 10:00 AM

If It’s Yellow, Seriously, Let It Mellow

If you actually care about water and the future of the species, you’ll think twice about flushing.


November 25 • 8:00 AM

Sometimes You Should Just Say No to Surgery

The introduction of national thyroid cancer screening in South Korea led to a 15-fold increase in diagnoses and a corresponding explosion of operations—but no difference in mortality rates. This is a prime example of over-diagnosis that’s contributing to bloated health care costs.



November 25 • 6:00 AM

The Long War Between Highbrow and Lowbrow

Despise The Avengers? Loathe the snobs who despise The Avengers? You’re not the first.


November 25 • 4:00 AM

Are Women More Open to Sex Than They Admit?

New research questions the conventional wisdom that men overestimate women’s level of sexual interest in them.


November 25 • 2:00 AM

The Geography of Innovation, or, Why Almost All Japanese People Hate Root Beer

Innovation is not a product of population density, but of something else entirely.


November 24 • 4:00 PM

Federal Reserve Announces Sweeping Review of Its Big Bank Oversight

The Federal Reserve Board wants to look at whether the views of examiners are being heard by higher-ups.



November 24 • 2:00 PM

That Catcalling Video Is a Reminder of Why Research Methods Are So Important

If your methods aren’t sound then neither are your findings.


November 24 • 12:00 PM

Yes, Republicans Can Still Win the White House

If the economy in 2016 is where it was in 2012 or better, Democrats will likely retain the White House. If not, well….


November 24 • 11:36 AM

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it’s relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.


Follow us


Attitudes About Race Affect Actions, Even When They Don’t

Tiny effects of attitudes on individuals' actions pile up quickly.

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it's relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.

Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends' perceptions suggest they know something's off with their pals but like them just the same.

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.