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High STEM grad retention in US, research shows

Over the past five years, approximately 77% of international STEM doctoral graduates from American universities had remained in the US post-graduation, research has found.

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Approximately 90% of Chinese and 87% of Indian nationals who completed STEM PhD programs in the US between 2000 and 2015 were still living in the country in 2017

Earlier this month, Georgetown University research analyst Jack Corrigan, data scientist James Dunham, and research fellow Remco Zwetsloot published an issue brief examining the statistical trends of international STEM doctoral students studying in US and remaining in the country after graduation.

Accessing data from National Science Foundation’s Survey of Doctorate Recipients, the authors identified several major findings in their The Long-Term Stay Rates of International STEM PhD Graduates study, made possible through Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology.

“One of the United States’ greatest advantages in attracting STEM talent is the strength of its higher education system,” the authors asserted.

The authors proffered that over the past 20 years, the international student population in the US accounted for over 40% of the nearly half million doctoral degrees awarded by universities. In their discussion of the impact of students who remain in the US post-doc, they argued, “Those who stay in the country after receiving their degrees strengthen the domestic STEM workforce and make valuable contributions to the economy and society.”

The PIE News previously reported on the updated policy that allows international students increased opportunities to remain in the US for up to three years after graduation. The January 2022 briefing from the Biden-Harris administration, introduced 22 new fields to the existing list of STEM categories approved for the Optional Practical Training program. The CSET authors’ data derived from the NSF survey was collected prior to the briefing and indicated no significant distinctions in stay rates between different disciplines within the STEM field.

Data was collected on the countries of origin for international students studying in US for the past two decades. Students from China and India comprised nearly 50% of all international STEM PhD graduates in the US. As well, the authors indicated that most Chinese and Indian graduates stay well after graduation.

The trio noted that in February 2017, “approximately 90% of Chinese nationals and 87% of Indian nationals who completed STEM PhD programs in the US between 2000 and 2015 were still living in the country, compared to 66% of graduates from other countries”, as detailed in a previous issue brief from 2020.

However, the authors also underscored that fact that as a result of caps placed on the number of green cards issued per country, Indian graduates often experienced “more difficulty acquiring permanent residency” than their peers from other countries.

Yuhan Wang is a former international student and website developer who graduated in 2019 from Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts with a STEM graduate degree. She spoke with The PIE News about her journey as a student in China who pursued STEM graduate work in the US.

“The OPT was appealing to me as a new graduate”

“I dreamed of joining a tech company like Amazon or Facebook before I came to the US. When I got the offer [to study] at NEU, I knew I was closer to my dream.” As with myriad other international students eager to work in the US post-graduation, becoming an international student in America was highly desirable to Wang for several reasons.

“It was not only an opportunity to prove myself, but also a great resource to network with excellent people and gain top experiences. Also, the [OPT] was appealing to me as a new graduate.” Wang received her H-1B visa this year and is actively seeking her “dream job” in a leading tech company.

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