New research published in the United States National Science Board's 'Science and Engineering Indicators 2008' found that highly skilled workers are becoming increasingly more mobile across national boundaries, especially at the doctoral level.
For the developed world, there is a strong trend towards more knowledge-intensive economies where research and development, intellectual property, and services have a strong role. Many highly educated individuals are taking advantage of this trend by attaining their education in developed nations such as the United States and the United Kingdom. Most of these individuals plan to stay on or immigrate to another country after their education.
The United States leads in attracting foreign students, even after seeing a dip in student visas after September 11th, 2001. 22 percent of global foreign students were educated in the US in 2004, followed by 11 percent in the United Kingdom, 10 percent in Germany, and 9 percent in France.
In the United States and the United Kingdom, the majority of science and engineering doctoral degrees are awarded to foreign students, often from the developing world. The research stated that these individuals are better equipped to immigrate to other countries as they are experienced in adapting to life in different cultures. They also have flexible skills which allow them to find desirable employment.
While there are increasing amounts of foreign science and engineering students, more and more science and engineering workers in the US were born overseas, as well.
Some attribute this trend to America's ability to attract foreign talent. However, others feel that the increase in foreign graduates is because the US does little to stimulate interest in science and engineering among its native-born students.
The study found that close to 60 percent of engineering doctorates degrees and approximately 50 percent of math and computer science doctorates degrees in the US were awarded to foreign students in 2005. The United Kingdom was the only other country to have similar figures, which could be attributed to immigration policies such as the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme and the International Graduates Scheme.
The US, currently in the middle of debate over how many workers should be allowed in for the annual quota-based H-1B program, has historically placed more emphasis on family-based immigration, unlike nations such as the UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. These nations have aggressive skilled immigration programs in place to attract top talent from around the world.
Whether the US chooses to stimulate the education of home-grown science and technology workers or adapt its immigration policies to attract more foreign talent remains to be seen; however, highly skilled migrants are not lacking in alternative destinations.