Friday, May 16, 2014

Foreign doctorates staying?

From this week's C&EN, an article by Linda Wang that I've been meaning to mention since Monday: 
Despite strict immigration policies in the U.S. and the lure of improving conditions in their home countries, a majority of foreign nationals who earn doctorates in science and engineering from U.S. universities are staying in the U.S. That’s according to a report produced by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science & Education (ORISE). 
The report, “Stay Rates of Foreign Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities, 2011,” found that in 2011, 68% of foreign doctorate recipients who graduated five years earlier (in 2006) had stayed in the U.S. Further, it found that 65% of recipients who graduated 10 years earlier (in 2001) had remained in the country. 
The report findings counter a growing concern that foreign students get doctorates in the U.S. and then leave in large numbers after graduation. “The numbers speak for themselves,” says Michael G. Finn, a senior economist at ORISE and author of the report. 
The data used in the report were collected using 2011 tax records of foreign doctorate recipients without violating individual confidentiality. A “stayer” is defined as a foreign doctorate recipient who earned $5,500 or more and paid taxes on it for the year or years specified. 
“One could assume that foreign doctorate recipients from U.S. universities are finding regular employment in the U.S. even after completing postdoctoral appointments,” Finn says. 
The majority of foreign doctoral graduates staying in the U.S. in 2011 were from China and India—graduates from these countries account for nearly half of science and engineering Ph.D.s earned by non-U.S. students. Other countries with above-average stay rates in 2011 include Iran, Romania, and Bulgaria. The countries with the lowest stay rates were Thailand and Chile.
I found the report quite interesting and something that might detract from the whole "we're kicking out new science graduates!" meme that goes around the chattering classes. I do find it interesting that in Table 6 and Table 7 of the paper, it seems that the stay rates of Chinese, Indian and South Korean S/E Ph.D. graduates are declining, but slowly. 


  1. Yup. I have come to the conclusion that anytime you have a filed with a lot of immigrants or minorities, its a good sign that wages are depressed--even if its a science/engineering field. The surprise to me in life is that high tech is not protected in some fashion from this basic rule of supply and demand. Im accepting it (not joining the Nazi party), but my entire family seems to see me as a failure for having a crappy salary. Oh well.

  2. I can't think of a single foreign Ph.D. in my department who couldn't get someone to support their H1-B. Ten years out, and they're all still here.

  3. "Stay rates vary greatly depending on country of citizenship and these differences have persisted for a long time. China, India, Iran, Romania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia have stay rates that are well above average."

    As far as I know, Yugoslavia broke up in early 90's and was officially renamed in early 2000's.

    I also noticed that the science and engineering doctorates awarded to "foreign citizens" increased by about ~2 percent while it increased ~30 percent for US citizens (Table 1) between 2007 and 2011. So, while the stay rate for foreign doctorate recipients increased, the total number of them did not changed dramatically.

    The report also gives data combined for foreign students with temporary and permanent visas. To stay with a temporary visa after obtaining the degree is much more simpler than getting a permanent status. But, there are still limits to this even with a temporary visa. The jobs foreigners can apply are limited contrary what some people think. On a temporary visa, one can not apply for government jobs or some companies with national&security concerns. You can actually see this fact if you look at Table 1 again. The number of people with temporary visas is about 10 times higher than the number of people with permanent visas.

  4. Not the Michael G Finn I expect to see in C&ENews

  5. Might as well kick them out if the current system continues. Workers without their rights, those where the power in the employer/employee ratio is a very high number, depress wages and there is no way around it. The current system where the new graduates shut up, take lower pay, and hope that their boss one day decides to bestow on them a green card as long as they work long hours and don't complain, reduces wages even for the Americans. Once those immigrants become Americans and start demanding their rights, they will likely be fired in favor of a more pliable new international graduate.

    However, what's interesting is that although this phenomenon has been happening with blue collar workers for a long time, it seems to be accelerating in the area of science employment, an area that many thought was immune from competition. What's helping here is America's unique brand of current bad laws on immigration that gives this extreme power to the employee. Not only is this bad for scientists, but it's bad for society as a whole, as it accelerates inequality and results in bad research in companies based on innovative thinking, where employees are afraid to challenge their managers.

    So yes, kick them all out is much, much preferable to the current system. Either that, or give them all green cards so that they won't be taken advantage of. Either way will be much, much better than the current system.

    1. Are you being sarcastic? If not, you appear to have changed your tune (as I recall).

    2. I'm not being sarcastic. And I still favor the second option of giving everyone green cards, because even if it will depress wages in a specific area, a lot of smart immigrants will be better for society as a whole even if they don't end up working in the fields they studied. However, they must be given rights and power against their employer, since if they are not, the wages will be depressed much, much further. This is the situation which you see today.

      The changing power dynamic between employer and employee is what has caused the stagnation of the wages of the middle class for the last thirty years across all areas of employment. This is something that is now well documented and that is happening in all capitalist countries in the world. However, couple it to unquestioning indentured servant laborer who is afraid to lose their visa status, and you get a disaster.

      Maybe the last time I commented on this topic, I wasn't aware of this middle class stagnation thing. But I'm currently in between jobs and I have a lot of free time, so I've been learning a new language and reading lots of investigative journalism articles in that language, so I've ran across some views from economists such as Piketty and Friedman, who presented some very compelling data on this. And everyone is talking about Piketty's new book 'Capital in the 21st Century'. Maybe that's what changed.