Without international students, much science in the United States would collapse. The just-released National Foundation for American Policy (NFAB) brief found: “In 2019, at U.S. universities, there were only 9,083 full-time U.S. graduate students in electrical engineering, compared to 26,343 full-time international students. ....[I]n computer and information sciences, in 2019, there were only 17,334 full-time U.S. graduate students compared to 44,786 international graduate students at U.S. universities.”
NFAB, a nonpartisan and non-profit organization that conducts policy research on trade, immigration and other issues, provides details. “At U.S. universities, international students account for 82% of the full-time graduate students in petroleum engineering, 74% in electrical engineering and 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 and applied mathematics, 54% in chemical engineering, 53% in metallurgical and materials engineering, 52% in materials sciences and 50% in pharmaceutical sciences.”
These foreign students are not taking away classroom seats from American students. Many years ago, I saw U.S. engineering doctorates to American students drop from 2400 in 1971 to under 1200 in 1983. Foreign students increased from 500 in 1971 to surpass 1200 in 1983. Foreign students not only prevented U.S. universities from closing down many graduate science departments, but actually allowed them to grow. The NFAB report notes “At many U.S. universities, the data show it would be difficult to maintain important graduate programs without international students.”
For instance, while full-time U.S. graduate students in computer and information science grew 91% (9,042 to 17,334) from 1998 to 2019, the annual number of full-time international grad students grew 310% (10,930 to 44,786). From 1998 to 2019, the number of U.S. grad students in electrical engineering only grew 12% (8,139 to 9,083) while international grad students in this field increased 130% (11,469 to 26,343). These are shortage fields in the U.S. The NFAB report quotes research showing “At the graduate level, international students do not crowd-out, but actually increase domestic enrollment.”
Without these international students, many U.S. universities would have to shut down graduate science departments and research programs. Both teaching faculty and researchers would be without jobs. Instead, “the high level of international students allows U.S. universities to attract and retain faculty.” A professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Ohio State University notes that “To get tenure and perform research, professors require a significant number of graduate students and there are not enough domestic students alone in certain fields.”
The next step after securing a doctorate in the sciences is often a “post-doc” position that assists in advanced university research. Overall, “Fifty-six percent of postdocs at U.S. universities are foreign nationals who work on temporary visas.” In engineering fields, foreign nationals make up over 70% of post-docs. Keeping science graduates working here after graduation relies on H1-B visas and Optional Practical Training (OPT) programs. However, recent U.S. efforts to block foreign graduate students, and in particular students from China, “...might deal a significant blow to future innovation and scientific research in America.”
This report notes that “Every 1,000 Ph.D. students blocked in a year from U.S. universities costs an estimated $210 billion in the expected value of patents produced at universities over 10 years and nearly $1 billion in lost tuition over a decade....”
American students have long known that when they attend certain graduate science classes, the majority of their classmates are often from foreign countries. Many of those foreign-born scientists remain to become citizens and form the backbone of American science. Theoretically, if every foreign-born American scientist left our country, engineering in the United States would collapse tomorrow, physics the next day, and chemistry the day after that.