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Study finds rate of foreign doctorate recipients staying in the United States remains high

No evidence that visa restrictions are reducing stay rates, according to report

Jan. 18, 2012

OAK RIDGE, Tenn.—The number of foreign students pursuing science and engineering doctorates in the United States continues to trend upward, and the rates at which they remain in the United States to work after graduation are at or near the highest levels observed for the various groups studied. These findings are the latest installment in a series of bi-annual reports which have been produced by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science Education and funded by the National Science Foundation since 2000.

The report, titled Stay Rates of Foreign Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities, 2009, 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.
Released in January 2012, the report contains estimates based on 2009 data, which is the most recent data currently available for study. An annual survey called The Survey of Earned Doctorates collects information from each graduate school on persons completing doctorates each year. The Social Security Administration then calculates the proportion of those graduates with annual earnings of $5,000 or more to produce the stay rate.

“Stay rates continue to vary substantially by country of citizenship, and some scholars have expressed concern that the difficulty of obtaining U.S. work visas would reduce stay rates,” explained Michael Finn, senior economist at ORISE and author of the report. “But, paradoxically, we found that doctorate recipients from China and India, countries with among the most challenging visa processes, have had stay rates near 90 percent—much higher than all other countries combined.”

The 2009 stay rate for all foreign doctorate recipients, including those on permanent visas at graduation, was 64 percent for those graduating five years earlier, and 66 percent for those graduating 10 years earlier. Those rates are down slightly from the peak levels observed two or four years ago but still up relative to earlier periods. However, for the subset of those graduates who were on temporary visas when they graduated, the combined five and 10 year stay rates in 2009 have increased significantly over the previous decade.

Among science and engineering disciplines, the highest stay rate was recorded for life sciences as of 2009, while computer/electrical and electronic engineering ranked highest in the 2007 report. The stay rates in agricultural sciences, economics, and the other social sciences were again the lowest, according to the report.

View the full report here:

Stay Rates of Foreign Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities, 2009 (PDF, 285 KB)

Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) is a university consortium leveraging the scientific strength of 101 major research institutions to advance science and education by partnering with national laboratories, government agencies, and private industry. ORAU manages the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education for the U.S. Department of Energy.

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