In the 1990s, and more recently during the Obama administration, there has been a wave of protectionism about United States technology and science jobs, with calls to cut visas for foreign-born workers.

It's a modern demonization of Asiatics, minus the buck teeth caricatures. In reality, it is forbidden by law to pay substantially less to someone because they are not a citizen, so foreign scientists and engineers were not undercutting Americans. In the Clinton era, this protectionism directly led to the exportation of jobs overseas - but student visas never slowed down, so we trained foreign students in the best schools in the world and then forced them to go back home to compete with America instead of becoming Americans.

Regardless of the blocks put in their way by the government, and prejudice in academic admissions, Asians have become more important to American science output. From 2003 to 2013, the number of scientists and engineers in the United States rose from 21.6 million to 29 million, and immigrant scientists and engineers went from 3.4 million to 5.2 million.

Immigrants went up to 18 percent of the STEM workforce during that, according to a report from the National Science Foundation's National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES). In 2013, the latest year for which numbers are available, 63 percent of U.S. immigrant scientists and engineers were naturalized citizens, while 22 percent were permanent residents and 15 percent were temporary visa holders.

Of the immigrant scientists and engineers in the United States in 2013:

  • 57 percent were born in Asia.

  • 20 percent were born in North America (excluding the United States), Central America, the Caribbean, or South America.
  • 16 percent were born in Europe.
  • 6 percent were born in Africa.
  • And less than 1 percent were born in Oceania.

Among Asian countries, India continued its trend of being the top country of birth for immigrant scientists and engineers, with 950,000 out of Asia's total 2.96 million. India's 2013 figure represented an 85 percent increase from 2003.

Also since 2003, the number of scientists and engineers from the Philippines increased 53 percent and the number from China, including Hong Kong and Macau, increased 34 percent.

The NCSES report found that immigrant scientists and engineers were more likely to have earned post-baccalaureate degrees than their U.S.-born counterparts. In 2013, 32 percent of immigrant scientists reported their highest degree was a master's (compared to 29 percent of U.S.-born counterparts) and 9 percent reported it was a doctorate (compared to 4 percent of U.S.-born counterparts). The most common fields of study for immigrant scientist and engineers in 2013 were engineering, computer and mathematical sciences and social and related sciences.

Over 80 percent of immigrant scientists and engineers were employed in 2013, the same percentage as their U.S.-born counterparts. Among the immigrants in the science and engineering workforce, the largest share (18 percent) worked in computer and mathematical sciences, while the second-largest share (8 percent) worked in engineering. Three occupations -- life scientist, computer and mathematics scientist and social and related scientist -- saw substantial immigrant employment growth from 2003 to 2013.

Source: National Science Foundation