Input of two kinds is required to improve policy responses to the flow of foreign-born students and researchers to the United States. The first kind of input is more and better data specifically designed to answer key analytic questions about the function of the labor market for the S&E workforce. The second kind is the results of rigorous labor-market analyses that can be used to help understand the nation’s needs for S&E workers, address the repeated claims of shortages of scientists and engineers, develop strategies that attract high ability US students to S&E, and assess the costs and benefits of such strategies.20

What can be said is this: there are both benefits and costs to having international graduate students and postdoctoral scholars in the United States. The benefits include increasing the S&E talent pool in the United States, enhancing and diversifying the academic community, lowering the cost of doing research, and enhanced international research collaborations. In short, talented graduate students and postdoctoral scholars constitute a critical input for our knowledge-driven economy. At the same time, having such an open supply of talent has significant costs. It affects job opportunities for all students. Restrictions on international travel or exchange can rapidly affect US research capabilities. International collaborations may lead to enhanced international competition.

At present, the strategy of the United States is to draw heavily on and profit from the international talent pool. However, increased security regulations are restricting entry of prospective international students and scholars and restricting the fields in which they may study. Other nations are fortifying their S&E infrastructure and competing for the best students and scholars. It is in this context that the United States needs to craft policies to maintain its current quality and effectiveness in S&E, including encouraging the interest of domestic S&E students, at the same time that it minimizes the barriers to mobility for international students. Given the lack of control over exogenous events, policies should be crafted to ensure that S&E institutions and the labor force develop enhanced flexibility to respond quickly to changing conditions.


Richard B. Freeman. 2004. “Data! Data! My kingdom for data! Data needs for analyzing the S&E job market.” In: The U.S. Scientific and Technical Workforce: Improving Data for Decisionmaking, eds. T. K. Kelly et al. Arlington, VA: RAND Corporation, p. 33.

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