October 13

Profile Of A Foreign-Born STEM Worker

There is a misconception in our country that “decades of immigration have produced lower wages and higher unemployment for our citizens.” People also believe that low-skilled immigration is responsible for African American and Hispanic unemployment. Fundamental to misconceptions like these is a lack of understanding about who the foreign STEM worker is and how they benefit our economy.

A STEM worker is a person who is employed in the fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. Traditionally, the narrow definition of STEM occupations excludes workers in higher education, health care, and social sciences and has a scope of 46 occupations. The broader definition of STEM includes these occupations.

In 2015 STEM workers according to the narrow definition occupied 5% of the workforce while STEM workers of the broad definition occupied 12.6% of the work force. Since 1990 the share of foreign-born workers in the STEM workforce has doubled. 24.3% of STEM workers were foreign-born in 2015.

Foreign-born workers now constitute larger portions of all occupations including comprising 17 to 23 percent of managers, computer scientists and mathematicians, engineers and health care professionals. Of computer professions, software engineers are most densely comprised of foreign workers, 39.2% of software engineers are foreign born compared to 19.1% of all other occupations in the computer and math category.

25.7% of nuclear engineers are foreign born compared to 17.8% of engineers overall. 41.8% of physical scientists and 46% of medical scientists are foreign born. STEM workers are predominantly male with 25.3% of STEM workers according to the narrow definition being female and 43.1% by the broad definition.

Foreign-born STEM workers are highly educated professionals. 47% of all foreign-born stem workers have completed more than 5 years of college compared to 26.4% of all STEM workers. By comparison only 8.9 percent of Americans have a master’s degree.

The U.S. labor force as a whole has increased with total employment. Adding foreign workers does not crowd-out employment for native workers. To the contrary it adds jobs and employment opportunities by increasing the total number of people in the United States. This happens because a larger populating creates more demand for goods and services as well as production.

A study from the national Bureau of Economic Research found that a 1 percent increase in the number of immigrant workers per state led to a .5 percent increase in income per worker – including native-born U.S. workers. Native-born U.S. workers experience both short and long term increases in wages as a result of the addition of immigrant workers.

Migrants account for 47% of the increase in the workforce in the U.S. over the past ten years. They fill specialized niches in fast-growing and declining sectors of the economy. They are better educated than the retiring work force. They boost the working age population, and their skills contribute to the human capital development of our nation. Immigrants also contribute to technical progress. To saying that immigration has lowered wages and increased unemployment is exactly contrary to what immigration does for our nation.

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