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Ph.D.s Stay Put

Majority of foreign nationals earning science Ph.D.s in the U.S. remain and work in the U.S., report finds.

by Linda Wang
May 12, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 19

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.


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