November 20, 2003
Federal Aid Urged to Boost the Domestic Workforce in Science
More U.S. engineering and other technical jobs are being done by
foreigners, a study finds.
Greater federal assistance is needed to bolster the country's shrinking
native-born science and engineering workforce and to encourage more U.S.
college students to pursue careers in these fields, the National Science
Foundation said Wednesday.
The percentage of college-educated scientists and engineers who are
working in the U.S. but were born elsewhere jumped from 14% in 1990 to 22%
in 2000, a foundation study of workforce trends reported.
The study also found that among professionals with doctorates in science
or engineering who were working in the United States, almost 40% were
foreign-born in 2000, compared with 24% in 1990.
Furthermore, women, African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans are
less likely than white men to obtain undergraduate degrees in science and
engineering, according to the study, which was issued by the National
Science Board, the foundation's governing body.
"The number of native-born [professionals] entering the workforce is
likely to decline unless the nation intervenes," said Joseph A. Miller,
chairman of the National Science Foundation's task force on workforce
Miller said a national investment in "human capital and capabilities" must
be made to spur domestic growth in science and technical fields.
"It is important for the federal government to step forward to ensure the
adequacy of [a] science and engineering workforce," he said.
In addition, efforts to attract students, particularly women and
minorities, to become scientists and engineers must start in high schools
with stronger programs in math, science and technology, officials said.
The study also showed that the number of H-1B visas, which allow companies
to sponsor foreign employees with specialized skills for up to six years,
had dropped in 2002 compared with 2000 largely because of the economic
downturn, officials said. But, the study noted, U.S. dependence on foreign
labor without developing a highly skilled domestic workforce is
"We cannot subsist on a diet of imported aptitude," said Rita R. Colwell,
director of the National Science Foundation. Nurturing careers in science
and engineering among U.S.-born professionals would "ensure the continued
preeminence of this country in the future," she added.
At the same time, immigration policies should continue to let a national
and a foreign workforce interact, Colwell said.
"This is not a xenophobic response," she said. Not balancing the labor
market with domestic workers, she added, would "cheat our nation on its