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Rate of Foreign Doctorate Recipients Who Stay in the U.S. has Declined Slightly in Recent Years, According to Report

April 7, 2008

OAK RIDGE, Tenn.—The number of foreign students receiving doctorates in science and engineering from United States (U.S.) universities and staying in this country historically has increased. In recent years, however, stay rates peaked and then declined slightly, according to a report issued by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) and funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The report, titled Stay Rates of Foreign Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities, 2005, documents a study in which tax records were used to estimate the proportion of foreign doctorate recipients from U.S. universities who stayed in the U.S. after graduation for any reason. All data given in the report are specific to a particular year.

Released in March 2008, the report contains estimates based on the most recent data available at the time the report was completed, said Michael Finn, senior economist at ORISE and preparer of the report. An annual survey called The Survey of Earned Doctorates collects information from each graduate school on persons completing doctorates each year. That information was sent to the Social Security Administration, where it was matched with tax records, Finn explained.

"In many fields of science and engineering, foreign students make up the majority of doctorate recipients," Finn said. "Universities, research labs, and other high-tech employers have become dependent on these scientists and engineers."

"However, some of the actions taken to improve security after 9/11 were widely seen as having made it harder for foreign doctorate recipients to obtain visas," Finn said. "Also, there was concern that the increased restrictions made foreign scientists feel less welcome. In addition to security issues, the macroeconomic performance of the U.S. economy may have been a factor as well. There was a weakness from 2000–2002 that may have contributed to the minor decline in the stay rate. This report indicates that the adverse impact on stay rates was quite small—the U.S. is still keeping about two-thirds."

Two-thirds (66 percent) of foreign citizens who received science or engineering doctorates from U.S. universities in 2003 lived in the United States in 2005, the study found. The two-year stay rate had peaked at 71 percent in the early part of this decade; thus, the more recent 66 percent rate represents a slight decline in the stay rate of foreign doctorate recipients.

Among science and engineering disciplines, the highest stay rate was recorded for computer/electrical and electronic engineering. The stay rates in agricultural sciences, economics, and the other social sciences were the lowest, according to the report.

Most foreign doctorate recipients come from the four largest source countries: China, India, Taiwan, and Korea.

The report can be accessed at

The Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) is a U.S. Department of Energy institute focusing on scientific initiatives to research health risks from occupational hazards, assess environmental cleanup, respond to radiation medical emergencies, support national security and emergency preparedness, and educate the next generation of scientists. ORISE is managed by Oak Ridge Associated Universities.

ORAU provides innovative scientific and technical solutions to advance national priorities in science, education, security and health. Through specialized teams of experts, unique laboratory capabilities and access to a consortium of more than 100 major Ph.D.-granting institutions, ORAU works with federal, state, local and commercial customers to advance national priorities and serve the public interest. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation and federal contractor, ORAU manages the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

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