Should U.S. policies seek to attract outstanding science and engineering
(S&E) students and postdoctoral scholars from around the world to
study and work here? How do foreign students affect the number of U.S.
citizens who choose to pursue S&E careers? Are U.S. visa, immigration
and university policies regarding foreign students and scholars appropriate?
A National Academies panel tasked with examining these questions encountered
a "lack of accurate and timely data" about foreign students
and scholars, the national security risks they present compared to domestic
students, and what factors influence their decisions to come to the
U.S. However, the committee notes that "decision-making does not
come to a halt in the absence of adequate data." In May, it presented
a series of recommendations to help bring clarification and greater
consistency to current U.S. policies.
The committee's report notes that foreign-born and foreign-educated
scientists and engineers,"at least in the recent past, have made
a disproportionate number of exceptional' contributions to the
S&E enterprise of the United States." Foreign-born scientists
and engineers grew from 12.7 percent of the U.S. S&E labor force
in 1980 to 22.7 percent of that labor force in 2000, the report says.
However, the committee found no indication that temporary residents
are displacing U.S. citizens from graduate programs. It also found that
temporary residents working as postdocs worked longer hours and earned
less than U.S. citizens in similar positions. The committee's recommendations
are summarized below:
Recommendation 1-1: To "maintain or enhance its
current quality and effectiveness in S&E," the U.S. should
seek "to attract the best graduate students and postdoctoral scholars
regardless of national origin" and "should make every effort
to encourage domestic-student interest in S&E programs and careers."
Recommendation 1-2: "The overarching goal for universities
and other research institutions should be to provide the highest-quality
training and career development to both domestic and international graduate
students and postdoctoral scholars of truly outstanding potential."
The highest priority for graduate admissions should be "the education
of the next generation of researchers." Admissions decisions should
take into account "career and employment opportunities," and
"data concerning employment outcomes should be readily available
to both students and faculty."
Recommendation 2-1: In addition to offering fellowships
and assistantships, universities "that have large international
student and scholar populations should conduct surveys to evaluate existing
services provided by the institutions" and "should offer orientation
days for international students, train teaching assistants, update Web
services, and provide professional development training for administrators
staffing international student and scholar offices."
Recommendation 2-2: "A high priority should be placed
on collecting and disseminating data on the demographics, working conditions,
and career outcomes of scholars who earned their doctoral degrees outside
the United States. When combined with current data collected by [NSF]
and professional societies, this should make possible a more complete
picture of the U.S. S&E workforce. Funds should be allocated for
this purpose by Congress to the NSF or by nonprofit foundations to other
Recommendation 3-1: "So that students can make informed
decisions about advanced training in S&E, career outcomes of recent
graduates should be communicated to prospective students by university
departments and faculty advisers.... Universities should develop graduate
education and postdoctoral programs that prepare S&E students and
scholars for the diversity of jobs they will encounter.... The committee
encourages discussion among universities, industry, and funding agencies
to explore how to expand graduate fellowships and encourage women and
members of underrepresented minorities to consider education and training
Recommendation 4-1: "The United States needs a new
system of data collection to track student and postdoctoral flows....
Funds should be provided to the NSF or other institutions to collaborate
internationally to create a data system similar to a balance-of-trade
account to track degree production, student and postdoctoral movement
between countries, push-pull factors affecting student choice at all
degree levels, and employment outcomes."
Recommendation 4-2: To maintain U.S. leadership in S&E,
"visa and immigration policies should provide clear procedures
that do not unnecessarily hinder the flow of international graduate
students and postdoctoral scholars." The committee recommends extending
the duration of Visas Mantis clearances for students and scholars from
all countries; ensuring that foreign students and scholars can attend
scientific meetings outside the U.S. without serious delays in reentering;
involving scientifically trained personnel in the security-review process;
enabling regular, independent review of the Technology Alert List by
scientists and engineers; giving high priority to multiple-entry and
multiple-year student visas in reciprocity negotiations; and improving
"change of status" procedures. The committee also calls for
the creation of new nonimmigrant-visa categories "for doctoral-level
graduate students and postdoctoral scholars, whether they are coming
to the United States for formal educational or training programs or
for short-term research collaborations or scientific meetings. The categories
should be exempted from the 214b provision whereby applicants must show
that they have a residence in a foreign country that they have no intention
of abandoning. In addition to providing a better mechanism...to track
student and scholar visa applicants, the categories would provide a
means for collecting clear data on numbers and trends of graduate-student
and postdoctoral-scholar visa applications."
To "draft effective policies," the report says, "the
federal agencies require a better understanding of the impact of foreign-born
scientists and engineers on U.S. research and education, economic competitiveness,
national security, foreign policy, and international relations. The
most reasonable approach is likely to be evolutionary, as policymakers
in government, academe, and industry grapple more directly with the
questions and findings of the many sources cited in this report."
A prepublication version of the report, "Policy Implications
of International Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Scholars in the
United States," can be read online at http://www.nap.edu/catalog/11289.html.