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After a Brief Decline, Recent Foreign Ph.D. Graduates are Staying in the U.S. at Near-record Levels

Feb. 3, 2010

OAK RIDGE, Tenn.—Two years after completing doctoral degrees at United States (U.S.) universities, 67% of foreign students graduating in 2005 remained in the U.S., according to a new report issued by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) and funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). This is a three percentage point increase and a rebound in the proportion of foreign graduates willing or able to stay in the U.S. after finishing their degrees (known as the stay rate), which had uncharacteristically declined among 2003 graduates.

The report, Stay Rates of Foreign Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities, 2007, also documents a three percentage point decrease in foreign students remaining in the U.S. five years after graduation. According to the report’s author, Michael Finn, these findings together suggest that negative events—such as the weak economic conditions and post-9/11 restrictions that met 2002-2003 graduates—do affect stay rates, but that effects are temporary. “Those who are concerned that foreign doctorate recipients may be starting to leave the U.S. in increasing numbers should be reassured by the data in this report that this is not happening,” said Finn.

The study also found that foreign students receiving doctorates from the most highly-ranked universities, as defined by U.S. News and World Reports and National Research Council ratings, were less likely than others to remain in the U.S. The report indicates that this relationship is largely explained by patterns in foreign students’ countries of origin and fields of study.

Citizens of some countries were more likely to stay than others. Seven countries—China, Romania, Yugoslavia, Ukraine, India, Iran, and Russia—have five-year stay rates greater than 75%. According to the report, top-rated programs awarded proportionately fewer doctorates to students from the highest stay rate countries (36%), compared to all other programs (43%).

Stay rates were also highest among engineering and physical science disciplines and lowest among agricultural science, economics, and other social science disciplines. Five years after graduation 72% of computer science graduates, but only 42% of economics and 39% of other social science graduates, remained in the U.S.

This study is an analysis of the most current (2007) data available from the NSF Survey of Earned Doctorates. Stay rate reports have been produced every two years since 1997 and are available in the Science Education Publications section of the ORISE website. The latest report as well as an accompanying fact sheet can be accessed in its entirety below:

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