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Where US foreign doctorates go after they graduate

America’s science system relies heavily on foreign talent — but do immigrants stay in the United States after gaining their doctorates? According to a report published yesterday by the US National Science Foundation (NSF), the answer is: about two-thirds of them do, although stay rates vary by country.

Foreign citizens’ share of US doctorates was about 40% in 2010 (including social sciences and psychology). If you collate just physics, engineering, maths and computer science, the share is more than 50%, as Nature’s feature on global migration, ‘Science on the move’, noted this week. That number has doubled since the 1970s — as you can see from the Google motion chart below, which shows the progression of foreign US PhDs over time in science subjects. (Data from the NSF’s Survey of Earned Doctorates; flash-based chart may not work in all browsers.)

The NSF yesterday published extra information on whether foreign doctorates stay in the United States after graduation. Two-thirds of foreign graduates from 2001–07 were still in the United States in 2008, the NSF found, using follow-up surveys. That varies heavily by country. Ninety-three per cent of Chinese doctoral students remained in the United States (with only 3.7% returning to China), but only 54% of South Korean PhDs stayed in the United States (43.5% going back home). That chimes with separate research on stay rates done by Mike Finn, an economist at the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education in Tennessee. Nature’s feature on global migration looks further into how long the United States can retain its grasp on foreign talent.

The NSF also notes that most doctorate recipients staying in the United States find employment in academia after graduation. But foreign citizens are the exception — they report working in private, for-profit industries and in academia in equal proportion.


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