A 2004 report on skilled workforces highlights some key trends in skilled immigrants working in the United States. I have excerpted passages on foreign supply of scientists and engineers, the foreign presence among Silicon Valley leaders, and the broad effect of globalization.
The study is titled Preparing Chemists and Chemical Engineers for a Globally Oriented Workforce: A Workshop Report to the Chemical Sciences Roundtable (2004)
I have previously posted on foreign trained physicians in the United States, the U.K., Canada and Australia.
Effects of globalization on the domestic supply of IT workers
If in 1980 the United States had closed its borders and not allowed IT to globalize as it did, there probably would not have been the IT boom enjoyed in the 1990s. The IT industries would not have been able to deliver the productivity gains and price declines that they did.
To summarize, research by economists has concluded that in recent decades globalization appears to have been more beneficial for more-skilled workers in the United States than for less-skilled workers. It also seems that the boom time in real wages since 1995, driven largely by IT, has had a lot to do with globalization. These gains from global integration are widely distributed across skill groups.
Foreign supply of scientists and engineers
According to data from the National Science Board, the fraction of science and engineering doctoral students in the United States who are U.S. citizens has dropped from 70 percent to 56 percent in the last 25 years; the average enrollment dropped steadily from 118,000 in 1992 to about 100,000 in 1998. Reversing these trends will be difficult, and the consequences of not doing something, potentially damaging. According to the Department of Labor, 60 percent of future jobs require skills only 20 percent of Americans have.
International students have typically been attracted to the United States by the standard of living and the great opportunities to carry out science and engineering research. This has been of great benefit to the U.S. science and engineering workforce. In the United States, 10 percent of holders of bachelor’s degrees, 20 percent of master’s degrees, and 25 percent of doctorates in science and engineering were born in other countries. This trend might not continue in the future. In fact, some countries other than the United States are trying to counteract it as competition for scientists and engineers increases. For instance, China now has special programs with funds for Chinese citizens that want to return to China and start up laboratories. Recently in the European Union (EU), 1.9 million high-technology jobs were made available to non-EU applicants.
The percentage of students going into science and engineering outside the United States is increasing rapidly but the percentage of U.S. students going into science and engineering remains very low (a few percent each year). If that continues, the United States will become less competitive. We should continue to focus on improving the quantity and quality of U.S. students so that there is no need to worry about the supply coming in from other countries or about foreign students returning home.
Silicon Valley entrepreneurs
More recently, there have been comprehensive surveys of startup companies in information technology (IT), especially in the Silicon Valley of California in the 1980s and 1990s. About one-third of startup companies in Silicon Valley between 1995 and 1998 were either started or headed by immigrants from India or China (Saxenian, 2002). In 1998, they headed 2,775 Silicon Valley high-tech firms, employed 58,000 people, and had total sales of $16.8 billion.