Innovation & STEM Fields

For America to compete in the 21st century, we need a robust innovation economy—which requires a workforce skilled in the science, technology, engineering, and math (or STEM) fields. Yet American students are not entering those industries in sufficient numbers, and the United States is projected to face a shortage of one million STEM workers by 2022.1 Foreign-born students frequently gravitate towards STEM disciplines, making up roughly one out of every three individuals earning graduate-level STEM degrees each year. Our broken visa system, however, makes it difficult for many of them to stay after graduation—a reality that hurts the ability of our employers to expand and create more opportunity for American workers.

1 President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, “Engage to Excel: Producing 1 million Additional College Graduates with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics,” February 2012. Available online.

Outsize Role in the Workforce

Immigrants punch above their weight class in the STEM fields, making up far larger portions of the STEM workforce than they do the U.S. population overall. This dynamic is particularly pronounced in several states. In New Jersey, for instance, immigrants make up almost two out of every five STEM workers, while accounting for only one in five of the state’s residents.

Key Facts
13.2%: Share of the U.S. population, foreign-born, 2014.
21.5%: Share of U.S. STEM workers, foreign-born, 2014.
1.8 million: Number of foreign-born STEM workers in the United States, 2014.
States with the Highest Share of Foreign-Born STEM Workers, 2014
State Foreign-Born Share of STEM Workers Foreign-Born Share of Population
New Jersey 39.8% 21.7%
California 39.8% 27.0%
Massachusetts 27.3% 15.6%
New York 26.6% 22.6%
Delaware 24.8% 8.5%

Labor Shortages

In recent years, many U.S. employers have struggled to find enough STEM workers. This lack of manpower has real consequences for the economy—making it difficult for firms to expand and create jobs for American workers at all skill levels. In several specialized fields, like physical science and software development, the unemployment rates of U.S.-born STEM workers are particularly low, indicating there are simply not enough U.S.-born workers to meet the needs of employers.

Take a look at our latest research about the shortage of STEM workers.

Key Stats
3.3 million: Number of STEM jobs posted online, 2016.
254,995: Number of unemployed STEM workers, 2016.
13: Number of STEM jobs posted for every unemployed STEM worker, 2016.
2.8 percent: Unemployment rate of U.S. citizen STEM workers, 2016.
U.S. Citizen Unemployment Rates in STEM Fields Most Heavily Reliant on Immigrant STEM Workers, 2014
Field Share of Workers Who are Non-Citizens Unemployment Rate for U.S. Citizens
Total STEM Occupations 10.0% 3.1%
Medical and Life Scientists 25.0% 3.5%
Physical Scientists, all Other 23.3% 2.6%
Software Developers, Applications and Systems Software 22.8% 2.4%
Computer Hardware Engineers 18.5% 3.9%
Chemists and Material Scientists 12.4% 2.3%
Computer Systems Analysts 11.9% 2.3%
Electrical and Electronics Engineers 11.8% 3.6%
Materials Engineers 11.3% 3.8%
Computer Programmers 11.3% 3.5%
Mathematicians and Statisticians 11.2% 2.2%

Earning STEM Degrees

International students make up a large share of STEM graduate students. In 2014, more than a quarter of STEM master’s degrees and more than a third of STEM Ph.D. degrees went to students in the country on temporary visas. Meanwhile, the number of American citizen and permanent resident students pursuing graduate degrees in science and engineering fields actually fell by 6.3 percent between 2010 and 2013.2 Our broken immigration system means that many of these international students will struggle to remain in the country after graduation, despite employers needing them.

2 National Science Foundation, Science and Engineering Indicators, 2016, Appendix Table 2-25. Available online.

Key Stats
26.7 percent: National share of STEM master’s graduates on temporary visas in 2014.
36.8 percent: National share of STEM Ph.D. graduates on temporary visas in 2014.
Share of Ph.D.'s in Selected Fields Going to Students on Temporary Visas, 2014
Engineering 51.6%
Computer and Information Sciences 51.5%
Mathematics 43.6%
Electrical, Electronics, and Communications Engineering 62.2%
Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering 62.1%
States Graduating the Most STEM Students on Temporary Visas, 2014
State Share of Master’s Grads on Temporary Visas Share of Ph.D. Grads on Temporary Visas
New Jersey 35.5% 40.0%
New York 34.8% 40.7%
Texas 33.9% 48.1%
Delaware 33.2% 50.0%
Michigan 33.1% 39.0%
Illinois 32.6% 34.6%
Indiana 32.2% 46.6%
Pennsylvania 32.0% 39.1%
Massachusetts 30.5% 36.2%
Ohio 29.7% 45.1%

States Needing STEM Workers

While every state was short STEM workers in 2015, the shortage was particularly acute in North Dakota and South Dakota, where employers listed 87 and 71 STEM positions, respectively, for each unemployed STEM worker. These are gaps that immigrants could help fill. In South Dakota, for instance, immigrants made up just three percent of all STEM workers in 2015, one of the lowest shares in the country.

States with Greatest Shortages of STEM Workers, 2014
State Number of STEM Jobs Posted Number of Unemployed STEM Workers Ratio of Open Jobs to Unemployed Workers
North Dakota 6,486 74 87.6
South Dakota 11,233 157 71.5
Iowa 39,933 628 63.6
Nebraska 18,109 407 44.5
Vermont 4,022 104 38.7
Alabama 33,477 1,304 25.7

Creating U.S. Jobs

Rather than reduce the number of jobs available to American workers, foreign-born STEM graduates often create additional jobs for U.S.-born workers. Research shows that when a state gains 100 foreign-born STEM workers with graduate-level training from a U.S. school, an average of 262 jobs are created for U.S.-born workers there in the seven years that follow.3 More specifically, the temporary visa (H-1B) program for high-skilled workers is also linked to job creation for American workers and economic growth. However, the current system fails not only to provide visas that companies need to grow, but also to protect against fraud and abuse.

3 Madeline Zavodny, “Immigration and American Jobs,” The Partnership for a New American Economy and the American Enterprise Institute, 2011. Available online.

Key Stats
63,005: Number of foreign students who received STEM graduate degrees from U.S. universities, 2014.
82,537: Estimated number of jobs American workers would gain by 2021 if just half of those foreign-born students were able to remain in the country after graduation.
700,000: Number of jobs Apple founder Steve Jobs reportedly said he had to outsource to other countries because he could not find 30,000 American engineers to supervise domestic production.
262: Number of jobs created for U.S.-born workers when 100 more immigrants with a graduate STEM degree from a U.S. school move to a state.
States that Stand to Gain the Most from Retaining More Foreign-Born STEM Graduates
State Foreign-Born STEM Graduate Students, 2014 JobsCreated if Half of all Foreign-Born STEM Graduate-Degree Holders Stay
New York 7,479 9,797
California 6,815 8,928
Texas 5,459 7,151
Pennsylvania 4,025 5,273
Illinois 3,909 5,121

The Impact of our Broken Immigration System

Since the recession, some of the most robust growth in high-wage, American jobs has occurred in cities. The high-tech companies fueling this growth cannot succeed and grow, however, without qualified STEM professionals—a group that can be difficult to find. An annual cap on the number of available green cards and H-1B visas hinders efforts to hire immigrant STEM professionals when no American workers are available. At right, we explore how the H-1B requests for computer-related workers that did not make it through the 2007 and 2008 H-1B visa lotteries impacted wages and the number of jobs available for U.S.-born tech workers in the two years that followed.4

4 Partnership for a New American Economy, “Closing Economic Windows: How H-1B Visa Denials Cost U.S.-Born Tech Workers Jobs and Wages During the Great Recession," June 4, 2014. Available online.

Key Facts
231,224: Estimated number of additional computer jobs for U.S.-born workers that would have been created if not for the 2007 and 2008 H-1B denials.
188,582: Estimated number of additional computer-related jobs for U.S.-born workers without a bachelor’s degree.
$3 billion: Amount of additional wages that would have been earned without H-1B denials.
Metropolitan Areas Hurt Most by 2007 and 2008 Denials in the H-1B Lottery
Metro Area # of Denied H-1Bs Estimated # of Jobs Lost for U.S.-Born Computer Workers Aggregate Wage Growth Missed for U.S.-Born Computer Workers
Washington, DC/MD/VA 14,060 7,300 $519.5M
New York-Northeastern NJ 17,104 6,655 $470.5M
Chicago, IL 7,410 3,631 $233.5M
Detroit, MI 5,386 2,244 $135.9M
Atlanta, GA 4,346 2,238 $134.6M
Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX 3,820 1,740 $112.6M
Philadelphia, PA/NJ 2,216 1,115 $69.7M

Driving Innovation

International STEM students and graduates are behind some of America’s most impressive innovations, from artificial skin to moldable metal. Studies show that immigrants with an advanced degree are three times more likely than U.S.-born graduate degree holders to file a patent. When universities increase their share of international students, they often receive more patents—boosting revenue and creating more opportunities for all students.

Key Stats
76 percent: Share of patents awarded to the top 10 most productive research universities in 2011 that had at least one foreign-born inventor.
99 percent: Share of those patents in STEM fields.
$449.3M: Licensure revenue earned in 2010 by those schools.
6.8 percent: Estimated increase in the number of patents awarded to a university within seven years every time the number of foreign-born student rises by 10 percent.
Share of Patents Awarded to Top Patent Producing Research Universities with at Least One Foreign-Born Inventor, 2011
University System Number of Patents Patents with at Least One Foreign-Born Inventor
University of California System 369 76%
Stanford University 169 76%
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 168 72%
University of Wisconsin–Madison 143 71%
University of Texas System 134 73%
California Institute of Technology 110 80%
University of Illinois System 97 90%
University of Michigan System 95 74%
Cornell University 91 65%
Georgia Institute of Technology 90 88%

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