International Students Remain A Primary Source of U.S Tech Talent

The U.S. economy, technology companies and American universities owe a debt to international students. Without international students, the United States would have far fewer graduate students and other highly-educated individuals with backgrounds in science and engineering, and an even more significant talent gap between economic demand and the ability to fill that demand. That is the conclusion of a new analysis of education data from the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP).

A significant warning sign in the data: The number of full-time international students enrolled in graduate-level electrical engineering at U.S. universities declined 19.5% between 2015 and 2019. The number of full-time international students enrolled in graduate-level computer and information sciences at U.S. universities fell 9.5% between 2016 and 2019. The decline is before the impact on enrollment of the U.S. policy blocking many Chinese graduate students from the United States, as well as the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Between 50% and 82% of the full-time graduate students in key technical fields at U.S. universities are international students. Ominously, most of the graduate students are from India and China—two countries where U.S. policies are preventing or discouraging individuals from studying in America. International students from India in graduate-level computer science and engineering at U.S. universities dropped by more than 25% between the 2016-17 and 2018-19 academic years. A Trump proclamation kept in place by the Biden administration is leading to visa denials for many Chinese graduate students, alarming U.S. analysts, universities and employers.

Table 1: Full-time Graduate Students and the Percent of International Students by Field (2019)

Field Percent of International Students International Students (Graduate Students) U.S. Students (Graduate Students)
Petroleum Engineering 82% 803 181
Electrical Engineering 74% 26,343 9,083
Computer and Information Sciences 72% 44,786 17,334
Industrial and Manufact. Engineering 71% 6,554 2,632
Statistics 70% 5,497 2,406
Economics 67% 8,023 4,049
Civil Engineering 61% 8,775 5,527
Mechanical Engineering 58% 11,215 8,130
Agricultural Economics 58% 766 564
Mathematics and Applied Math 56% 9,902 7,876
Chemical Engineering 54% 4,590 3,975
Metallurgical/Materials Engineering 53% 2,981 2,671
Materials Sciences 52% 713 660
Pharmaceutical Sciences 50% 1,790 1,827
Source: National Science Foundation Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering, Public Use Microdata files, National Foundation for American Policy. U.S. students include lawful permanent residents.  Get the data  Created with Datawrapper

“At U.S. universities, foreign nationals account for 82% of the full-time graduate students in petroleum engineering, 74% in electrical engineering, 72% in computer and information sciences, 71% in industrial and manufacturing engineering, 70% in statistics, 67% in economics, 61% in civil engineering, 58% in mechanical engineering and agricultural economics, 56% in mathematics, 54% in chemical engineering, 53% in metallurgical and materials engineering, 52% in materials sciences and 50% in pharmaceutical sciences,” according to the NFAP study, which analyzed data from the National Science Foundation.

International Students Likely Keep Many Programs Available for U.S. Students: At many U.S. universities, it is unlikely important graduate programs would be available for American students without the tuition, research assistants and economies of scale provided by international students. “In electrical engineering, the majority of full-time graduate students (master’s and Ph.D.’s) are international students at 88% of the U.S. graduate school programs with at least 30 students, or 149 U.S. universities total,” reports NFAP. “In computer and information sciences, the majority of full-time graduate students are international students at 211 universities, representing 78% of the U.S. graduate school programs with at least 30 students.”

Table 2: U.S. University Graduate Programs with a Majority of International Students (2019)

Field U.S. Universities with More Than 50% International Students in Graduate School Program Percentage of U.S. Universities with a Majority of International Students in Graduate School Program
Electrical (and Electronics and Commercial) Engineering 149 88%
Industrial/Manufact. Engineering 65 86%
Economics 86 80%
Statistics 60 79%
Computer and Information Sciences 211 78%
Civil Engineering 93 76%
Mechanical Engineering 101 67%
Metallurgical and Materials Eng. 36 63%
Pharmaceutical Sciences 29 63%
Chemical Engineering 55 61%
Mathematics/Applied Math. 83 54%
Source: National Science Foundation, Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates, National Foundation for American Policy calculations.  Get the data  Created with Datawrapper

Computer and Information Sciences: In the last two decades, international students have played a critical role in filling the demand for high-level technical talent in America. “Between 1998 and 2019, the annual number of full-time international graduate students in computer and information sciences increased by 310%, from 10,930 in 1998 to 44,786 in 2019,” according to the NFAP report. “In comparison, over the same period, the annual number of full-time U.S. graduate students in computer and information sciences increased by 91%, from 9,042 in 1998 to 17,334 in 2019.” (The designation computer and information sciences encompasses what previously included computer sciences.)

Table 3: Computer and Information Sciences (Full-time Graduate Students, 1998 to 2019)

Year U.S. Students International Students Percent International Students
1998 9,042 10,930 54.7%
1999 9,939 12,748 56.2%
2000 9,630 16,928 63.7%
2001 10,164 19,923 66.2%
2002 11,919 20,660 63.4%
2003 12,744 17,964 58.5%
2004 12,719 16,443 56.4%
2005 12,226 16,091 56.8%
2006 11,959 16,801 58.4%
2007 11,814 18,268 60.7%
2008 11,684 19,654 62.7%
2009 12,113 20,085 62.4%
2010 12,072 20,710 63.2%
2011 11,579 21,282 64.8%
2012 11,534 22,574 66.2%
2013 11,481 27,787 70.8%
2014 12,232 39,837 76.5%
2015 12,539 45,790 78.5%
2016 13,854 49,507 78.1%
2017 13,224 42,982 76.5%
Source: National Science Foundation, Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates, National Foundation for American Policy calculations. U.S. students include lawful permanent residents.  Get the data  Created with Datawrapper

In computer and information sciences, international students represent 80% of the full-time graduate students at Rice University, 67% at UCLA, 76% at North Carolina State, 70% at LSU, 77% at George Mason University, 61% at Vanderbilt, 56% at West Virginia University and 72% at Virginia Tech.

Electrical Engineering: The story is similar, if more pronounced, in electrical engineering. “The annual number of full-time U.S. graduate students in electrical engineering increasedby only 12% over the past 21 years, from 8,139 in 1998 to 9,083 in 2019. Over the same period, the annual number of full-time international graduate students in electrical engineering increased by 130%, from 11,469 in 1998 to 26,343 in 2019.”

Table 4: Electrical Engineering (Full-time Graduate Students, 1998 to 2019)

Year  U.S. Students International Students Percent International Students
1998 8,139 11,469 58.5%
1999 7,595 12,926 63.0%
2000 7,253 15,709 68.4%
2001 7,750 17,490 69.3%
2002 8,654 19,586 69.4%
2003 9,601 19,328 66.8%
2004 8,792 17,940 67.1%
2005 8,790 17,059 66.0%
2006 8,696 18,683 68.2%
2007 8,448 20,628 70.9%
2008 8,486 20,726 71.0%
2009 8,362 20,920 71.4%
2010 8,904 21,073 70.3%
2011 8,802 21,933 71.4%
2012 8,278 23,248 73.7%
2013 8,130 26,530 76.5%
2014 7,925 31,943 80.1%
2015 7,783 32,736 80.8%
2016 7,758 30,400 79.7%
2017 8,108 28,096 77.6%
Source: National Science Foundation, Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates, National Foundation for American Policy calculations. U.S. students include lawful permanent residents. This includes full-time graduate students in electrical, electronic and communications engineering.  Get the data  Created with Datawrapper

In electrical engineering, international students represent 83% of the full-time graduate students at Auburn University, 81% at Duke University, 61% at the University of Kentucky, 88% at Texas A&M and SMU and 73% at the University of Texas at Austin.

International Students Do Not Crowd Out U.S. Students: “At the graduate level, international students do not crowd-out, but actually increase domestic enrollment,” concluded economist Kevin Shih. The NFAP study noted, “The increase in both the size and number of graduate programs in science and engineering at U.S. universities indicates U.S. student enrollment has not been held down by the lack of available slots at U.S. graduate schools.”

Postdoc Researchers: Another source of talent is postdoctoral researchers. “Postdocs assist in critical research at U.S. universities after completing their doctorate,” explains the NFAP analysis. “Fifty-six percent of postdocs at U.S. universities are foreign nationals who work on temporary visas, including 73% in electrical engineering (954 postdocs in 2019), 72% in metallurgical and materials engineering, 69% in mechanical engineering, 68% in chemical engineering, 66% in oncology and cancer research (1,202 postdocs), 66% in physics (1,785 postdocs), 64% in computer and information sciences, 63% in chemistry, 53% in neurobiology and neuroscience (1,179 postdocs) and 49% (1,951 postdocs) in clinical medicine.”

Even before the pandemic, U.S. universities experienced declines in enrolling new international students. Covid-19 caused new enrollment to plummet. Fewer Indian graduate students likely will come to America unless Congress addresses the long waits for employment-based green cards—fueled by the per-country limit and low annual quota—and the rejection of 70% of H-1B registrations due to the inadequate 85,000-annual H-1B limit for companies. Many Chinese graduate students are now denied visas due to an ill-advised Trump administration proclamation now being carried out by the State Department under the Biden administration.

For America to attract and retain top foreign-born talent, Congress and the executive branch almost certainly will need to change U.S. policies.

Written By: Stuart Anderson, Senior Contributor

Stuart Anderson is the executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy that is a non-partisan public policy research organization which focuses on trade, immigration, and other related issues.

Original Link: https://www.forbes.com/sites/stuartanderson/2021/08/19/international-students-remain-a-primary-source-of-us-tech-talent/?sh=5a08767b650d

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