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Back to May 2006 CRN Table
[Published originally in the May 2006 edition
of Computing Research News, Vol. 18/No. 3]
Foreigners and Graduate-Level Computer Science in
By Jay Vegso
Many science and engineering (S&E) fields in the United States rely
heavily on foreign students and workers. Two concerns that have been
raised in the press and elsewhere are that improved educational and
economic opportunities in other countries might cause both fewer
students to choose to study in the US and encourage others to leave
after they receive their degrees. While there is new evidence to
support these concerns, it is still too early to judge its significance.
Graduate-level CS programs depend on non-US citizens. According to data
from the National Science Foundation (NSF), 54 percent of CS doctorate
recipients in 2004 held visas.  Most of these (95 percent) were
temporary visas. Forty-six percent of master's degrees awarded in
2002 were to temporary residents.  Among enrollments, 58 percent of
full-time graduate students held temporary visas in 2003,  as did
over half of those enrolled in doctoral programs in 2004/2005. 
Most foreigners who receive US doctorates remain in the country: 74
percent of those on temporary visas who graduated with CS PhDs in 2001
were still in the US in 2003. Among all S&E doctorates, 68 percent
of the 2001 class was in the US in 2003—compared to a two-year
stay rate of 41 percent in 1989. Stay rates for doctorate recipients
from China and India, the two countries cited most frequently by those
concerned with global competition, are very high. The five-year stay
rate for Chinese students with temporary visas who received S&E
doctorates in 1998 was 90 percent. It was 86 percent among Indian
Where are these PhDs employed? Forty-four percent of those who received
their CS doctorates in the US and were working in academic institutions
in 2003 were born outside the US, including 46 percent of full-time
senior faculty and 53 percent of junior faculty. Tracking foreigners in
the overall workforce is more difficult. The NSF estimates that in
2003, 30 percent of those in the workforce who had their highest degree
in CS were foreign-born, including 46 percent of those with
master’s degrees and 57 percent of those with doctorates. 
There are hints that the foreign share of graduate-level CS education
and employment will level off or decline somewhat in coming years.
About 70 percent of full-time, first-time graduate students enrolled in
CS were foreigners in 2000 and 2001. By 2003, however, their
representation had declined to 52 percent—a drop of one-third
since 2001 in numerical terms (to 4,232). As a result, the number of
full-time graduate students in CS with temporary visas fell nearly 13
percent between fall 2002 and 2003, to 18,029. This was in contrast to
an average annual growth rate of 16 percent over the previous six
years. While the number of foreign students on temporary visas studying
CS full time in 2003 was still more than twice what it was in 1996, CS
was the only large field to see a significant decline between 2002 and
2003: its losses accounted for two-thirds of the drop in temporary visa
holders in S&E fields that had declining enrollments. 
Furthermore, survey results from the Institute of International
Education indicate that foreign enrollments in computer and information
sciences at all degree levels fell by about one-third between 2003/2004
and 2004/2005, to 38,966.  It would seem that most of the losses at
the graduate level were among master's programs as the CRA Taulbee
Survey has not yet revealed a drop in numbers among foreigners studying
towards a PhD.
Turning to post-graduation employment, it is only recently that there
has been evidence that more degree recipients are seeking jobs outside
the US. About 15 percent of the 2004 class of CS PhD recipients had
definite plans for employment abroad, compared to roughly 9 percent in
each year since 1997. Among those with temporary visas, 25 percent of
the 2004 class left the US for employment, compared to less than 20
percent in each of the previous four years.  In addition, after
several years of increases, the one- and two-year stay rates of the
most recent S&E doctorates has leveled off or declined slightly.
As can be seen, there is some evidence of a drop in the share of
foreign students who are coming to study in the US and who stay for
employment. Nevertheless, it is still too early to tell whether this
will have a significant impact on degree production and employment.
 NSF, Division of Science Resources Statistics, Science and
Engineering Doctorate Awards: 2004, NSF 06-308, Project Officer, Susan
T. Hill (Arlington, VA, 2006).
 National Science Board, Science and Engineering Indicators 2006,
NSB 06-01 and NSB 06-01A (Arlington, VA: NSF, 2006).
 NSF, Division of Science Resources Statistics, Graduate Students
and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering: Fall 2003, NSF 06-307,
Project Officer, Julia Oliver (Arlington, VA, 2006).
 CRA Taulbee Survey: /statistics.
 Finn, M., Stay Rates of Foreign Doctorate Recipients from U.S.
Universities, 2003 (Oak Ridge, TN: Oak Ridge Institute for Science and
 National Science Board.
 NSF, Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and
Engineering: Fall 2003.
 Open Doors 2005: Report on International Educational Exchange,
Hey-Kyung Koh Chin, ed. (New York: Institute of International
 NSF, Science and Engineering Doctorate Awards: 2004.
 Finn, op. cit.
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