GaWC Research Bulletin 79

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US Science & the Fear of a Backlash: The Possible Fallout of September 11th on the Immigration of Scientists & Engineers to the US

S. Mahroum*


The US is largely and increasingly depended on foreign scientists and technologists to fuel to its knowledge-based economy. The country is the most powerful magnet of international talent in the world and is the envy of most industrialized nations who continuously accuse the US of brain draining them of their best talent. In the aftermath of the September 11th terror attacks in the US, a backlash against people of Arab and South Asian origins was feared, and indeed a number of assaults on immigrants and people with various ethnic origins were committed. Subsequently, immigration and visa procedures became targets for more restrictions and for calls for momentarily ban on student visas. The fear of more terror attacks on the US have put both the immigrant groups and US security officials on alert. This article seeks to shed the light on the impact of changing US policies and public attitudes on the immigration of highly skilled immigrants to the US. A thorough analysis of the actual impacts of such changes can not be undertaken yet, as these are still current events. However, this article aims to provide a quick overview of the possible implications of immigration backlash on the immigration of highly skilled scientists and engineers on the US.


The geography of science has never been a fixed map. For thousands of years it has been drawn differently again and again. The science map of antiquity looked very different of that of the Middle Ages, and the latter did not resemble much the map of science of the 18th and 19th centuries. Perhaps one of the ironies of the geography of science and its evolution is that the "place" of science does not necessairly reflect the 'ethnicity' or 'nationality'of the scientist. Greek philosophers flourished in Egypt and Persian scientists worked for the Caliph of Bagdad, whereas Maimonides, who was Jewish, worked for Islamic science in Islamic Spain. Similarly today, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and scientists from other nationalities work for American science; African, Arab, Russian, and other scientists flourish in French Science. There are countless nationalities fuelling a handful of thriving scientific environments that make up the map of science today. Yet, the geography of science does not stay still, but rather keeps changing slowly more like a geological map.

Ever since WWII, the US has become a major destination and host country to scientists in search of opportunity, refuge, or growth. The war in Europe, worsened by fascism, and its aftermath, which saw the rise of authoritarian communistic regimes over half of the continent and an unparalled scale of destruction, implied that a large number of the European scientific community had been made 'aspirant' emigrants. The centre of gravity of science has moved from Europe to America. However, it was not only a push-factor that contributed to this development, America was also embracing itself for a powerful role on the international scene for science and technology. No other place looked more appealing and attractive to European scientists, especially those working on the vanguard of science that were made to feel particularly welcome to help support ambitious (Big Science) programs. It is assumed that regardless of the war, many young scientists would have spent at least part of their career in the United States anyway, because of the greater opportunities available there (Fleming, 1996). Their numbers most likely would have been smaller, however.

European scientists continued to flow into the US ever since in varying proportions, but the crème de la crème of European scientists continue to flock to the US till this day (Mahroum, 1999). Yet, the immigration scene to the US had started to change already in the 1970s as the nationality composition of immigrants began to change too. Europe was no longer the major source of immigration to the US, Asia and Latin America has replaced it. Today, India and China rank first and second and together account for one-quarter of all non-native scientists and engineers. The other three leading sending countries (Japan, Philippines, and Vietnam) are also in Asia. The rise of the Asian scientists and engineers was perhaps the most significant change in the US immigration scene. Today, the size of the S&E immigrant communities in the US is far larger than it used to be in the past, and so is the world of opportunity for scientists and engineers. This paper seeks to raise the question of whether the September 11 events will signal the beginning of a major chance in the immigration S&Es to the US. Early empirical evidence derived from the International Institute of Education (IIE) shows declining numbers of enrolment applications made by overseas students to US universities and colleges for the year 2002-2003 (IIE, 2002). The fear of a growing anti-immigrant sentiment, less security, harder visa requirements, and a perception of less civil rights for aliens in the US have all been cited as main reasons behind the decline of applications from foreign students (IIE, 2002). It is true that foreign students are only one source of skilled immigration to the US, but reasons that deter them are similar to those that might deter any other immigrant who have viable alternatives to choose from. Additionally, foreign students, as we shall see later in this paper, does serve as the backbone of skilled immigration to the US.

Yet before going into a great details of the possible impacts of September 11th and the security mania that has followed, I want to do three things dealing with three trends. I want (i) to shed the light on the significance of foreign S&Es for US science and technology, (ii) talk about the changing ethnic composition of S&E immigration in the US, and (iii) discuss the changing immigration scene for S&Es internationally. After I introduce and discuss the three aforementioned trends, I'll put the September 11th aftermath into context and discuss possible implications.


The influx of foreign scientists and engineers to the US in the last 50 years had developed a strong element of dependency on those immigrants. A quick look at various sorts of indicators shows clearly this growing rate of dependency. In 1980, less than one out of five doctoral scientists was born abroad; in 1990 one out of four was (Levin & Stephan, 1999). Since 1990s, the number of foreign-born scientists and engineers in the labor force has increased by nearly 10 percent per year (Espenshade, 1999). Table 1 shows that in 1993 almost 20% of the total US R&D workforce was foreign-born. The proportion of these with PhD in industry was even higher reaching about 33.2%. The rate of dependency is obviously higher in the types of jobs that require PhD training.

Table 1 does not include those with degrees or PhDs in S&E who are not working in the R&D sector. Otherwise the total number of foreign degrees holders will double. The proportion of foreign S&E workforce in the US is indeed estimated to be much higher than is usually noted. For instance, Mark Regets from the NSF indicates the following "Because of practical difficulties tracking high skill migrants, SESTAT data on the United States S&E labour force excludes individuals whose science and engineering degrees were from foreign educational institutions unless they were in the United States as of the decennial census in 1990. This would exclude, for example, the majority of individuals entering the U.S. with the high skill H-1b temporary visa. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service reports that 60 percent of H-1b visa recipients are foreign degree." (Regets, 2001).

Table 2 shows that in 1997 there were around 1,149,000 foreign degrees holders in the US. The biggest single occupations of these were engineering and computer sciences. Table 2. Distribution of Foreign Degree Holders in Field & Occupation.

The dependency is greater in some scientific and engineering fields than others. In the engineering area, it is the Information Technology sector that is the most prominent for its worldwide dependency on foreign workers. In the natural sciences, NSF data shows a great dependency on foreign scientists in the biological sciences. Chart 1 provides a numerical overview of the concentration and distribution of foreign scientists in the biological sciences in the US.

Some research has already shown that the presence of foreign-born scientists in the US has not only a quantitative but also a qualitative dimension. Levin and Stephan (1999) have investigated whether foreign-born and foreign-educated scientists and engineers are disproportionately represented among individuals making exceptional contributions to science and engineering in the United States. Using six criteria, including election to the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering, they found that, in almost all instances, contributors are disproportionately foreign born and foreign educated. The authors of this research conclude "that the US has benefited from the inflow of foreign-born talent and that this talent was more likely to have been educated abroad than one would have predicted given the incidence of foreign-educated scientists and engineers in the population" (Science, Vol. 285, pp 1214). Chart 2 provides an overview of the proportion of foreigners in the US at different education/academic career levels between 1990-1999.

Chart 2 above shows that, firstly, the relative stability of the proportion of foreign scientists throughout the 1990s and, secondly, the greater concentration of foreigners at the Post-doctoral level. The latter observation highlights the importance of foreign nationals in American science.


In the 1990s, the immigrant scientist or engineer in the US was more likely to be from India or China than from Europe, while the majority came from countries in Asia (East, South, & West) such as Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam and Iran. Figure 1 provides a brief overview of the source countries.

Figure 1 shows a clear dominance of immigrant scientists and engineers stemming from courtiers in Asia. Graduates from the elite Indian Institutes of Technology, the National Taiwan University, American University of Beirut, etc. who had emigrated during the 1970s and 1980s, continued to do so in the 1990s and often achieved impressive professional and economic successes abroad. In a much quoted study of the Indian community in California by AnnaLee Saxenian (1998; see also 2000), it was found that Indian engineers were running more than 775 technology companies in the Silicon Valley that accounted for $3.6 billion in sales and 16,600 jobs. In 1996, Indian or Chinese executives ran 1,786 Silicon Valley technology companies with $12.6 billion in sales and 46,000 employees.

Likewise, several studies have shown that Middle Eastern immigrants are more likely to be professionals or self-employed than the average American. The 1990 Census (U.S. Census Bureau of the Census, 1990) provides some indication of the general level of education, and of occupational status, of this ethnic group. The figures show a very successful and thriving immigrant and ethnic community. For estimated one million Arab-American (this figure does not include all Americans with Arab ancestry), the figures looked like the following:

  • 82 percent have high school diplomas.

  • 36 percent have a bachelor's degree or higher.

  • 15 percent have graduate degrees.

  • 77 percent work in the private sector.

  • 12.4 percent are government employees.

  • 10.9 percent live below the poverty level.

  • The 1990 median income was $39,580.

Figure 2 below shows Iran (perhaps ironically) as the source country number one for scientists and engineers migrating to the US from the Islamic world. The figures below do not include those from other Islamic countries (such as the Arabian Gulf, Jordan and North African countries) but are rather limited to major source countries. Apart from Iran, arguably all the other countries are considered in principle to have governments friendly to the US.


Although only one (Iran) of the source countries listed in figure one above is perceived by the US government (and the general public) as 'unfriendly' or 'hostile' to the US, many characteristics, such linguistic, ethnic, religious and racial characteristics cut across the "hostile"-"friendly" axis. The latter fact means that a troubled relationship with one country or elements of one ethnic group can have the effect of putting a multiple of nationalities and ethnic groups in a great unease. A quick investigation that was carried out by the Arab American Institute in the few months after the September 11th terrorist attacks has shown that not only Middle Eastern groups have become targets to a backlash, but also immigrant groups in general have become a target (see AAI, 2001). For instance, numerous assaults were made against South Asian and Hispanic immigrants, sometimes mistaken for being Middle Eastern and sometimes deliberately because "they are all foreigners".

The majority of the immigrant scientists and engineers to the US are individuals who are usually classified as members of 'visible' minorities, and who consequently are more susceptible to any racism and discrimination resulting from a backlash resulting from events taking place on the international scene. Some of the immigrants stem from countries officially classified as 'sensitive'. The term sensitive nationalities is a fluid one and changes over the time and in accordance with events in the US and around the world. Nevertheless, it would be safe to suggest that presently foreign residents from Middle East (Islamic), South Asia, China, and Russia are susceptible to US relations with the countries in these regions. Dramatic incidents in the Middle East, the subsequent stand-offs between China and the US, and the frequent friction in international policies with Russia (spiced with occasional spying scandals) contribute hugely to tarnishing the image of people from those regions in the US.

The impact of the 'war on terror' on Middle Eastern students was more immediate and more powerful. Some proposals have already been made to the Congress to ban students from Cuba, North Korea, Libya, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Sudan from studying in the US. Arab media sources did deal with this issue at length and some universities in the Middle East (in Egypt and Lebanon) reported introducing emergency procedures to assist in absorbing Arab students returning from the US. Media reports have already registered that Middle Eastern students who were planning to go to the US to continue their education have made last minute changes to their plans. Some students already in the US have decided to quit and go somewhere else.

However, whatever assurances these groups might receive from 'official' USA, dramatic events of confrontation with countries from these regions or certain groups there, reflect negatively on the immigrant communities from these regions in the US. The scientist or engineer immigrant is not impermeable towards the repercussions of a backlash. Thus, the 'traditional' path of studying in the US and staying on to establish a career and perhaps settle permanently becomes a less attractive one. The fear factor goes usually beyond physical safety (which tends to be worse in the period immediately after a mishappening) as students and immigrants in general fear that their career will be threatened by discrimination. As one Bangladeshi student at New York University puts it "For South Asian students who have my name - Muhammad - they're going to face problems [.] they will face discrimination." (Daily News, Nov. 3, 2001). Discrimination in housing and in the job market can manifest them as a different form of, perhaps 'cold', backlash.

Furthermore, the introduction of strict travel procedures, tougher immigration controls (translated into a greater rate of visa rejection), the wide spread negative feeling towards 'foreigners' coupled with a sharp rise of 'patriotism' and a general feeling of less security (due to terrorism, anthrax, etc.) in the US would reduce the 'spark' of the US as an attractive place for immigration. In addition, the US might start to lose what Richard Florida (2001) called "low entry barrier to human capital". Florida (2001:7) has argued, on the basis of some statistical evidence, that "Regions that are open to diversity are able to attract a wider range of talent by nationality, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation than those that are relatively closed." Likewise, Zachary (2000) argued that openness to immigration is a key factor in the innovation and economic growth of the US.

While it is early to decide whether this is a temporarily effect or a long lasting one, the events and their aftermath should trigger a thorough discussion that should focus on the following: How vulnerable is the US knowledge-base to a sudden change in the foreign pool of scientists and engineers? What would be the impact of a backlash against a larger ethnic group such as the Chinese? And what are the long-term effect of September 11th and its aftermath on the US attraction to highly skilled immigrants? Whatever the answers for these questions are, they have to be considered in the light of the following emerging trends on the international scene for science and technology.


Recently, the world scene for the international migration of highly skilled has been changing and is set to change more in the few years to come. Khadria (2001) depicts the ongoing change as a new paradigm shift characterized by, among other things, the shift from a 'push-determined' emigration to a 'demand- or pull-led' one (Khadria, 2001:49). The importance of this shift for Khadria resides in that the new "demand-led" emigration of skilled labor is being driven by many countries and runs contrary to the traditional 'push-determined' US emigration (Ibid., 49). Two main groups of players remain central in this change, foreign students and skilled immigrants. The push and pull factors for these two groups, which have been operating in, stable environments for years might be changing now. Two main factors might be driving the change in the US and consequently worldwide. Firstly, a drop in the stay rate of foreign students in the US. This might come partially due to a reduction in the number of foreign students going to the US, and partially due to growing repatriation. Secondly, the rapid emergence of new attractive 'destinations' for students and scientists other than the US. In what follows, I shed more light on the growth of these two factors.


In 1998, the US received 32% of foreign students globally making it the biggest single receiver of foreign students in the world (Figure 3). In 1977, foreign students earned about 22% of engineering degrees and 11% of Mathematics and computer sciences degrees. Yet, in 1995 these figures went up to 35% and 34% respectively. Indeed, only one third of the foreign PhD-holders in the US earned their degrees outside the US (Meyer, 2001).

The latest data from the Institute of International Education (Open Doors, 2001) show that the number of foreign students in the US has been on steady increase. The number of international students attending colleges and universities in the United States increased by 6.4% in the 2000/2001 academic year to a record total of 547,867. For the fourth year in a row, New York University's foreign student enrolment (5,399) was the largest, followed this year by University of Southern California (5,321), and Columbia University (4,837). Asian students comprise over one-half (55%) of all international enrolments (302,058, up 8%), followed by students from Europe (80,584 up 3%), Latin and South America (63,634 up 2.5%), the Middle East (36,858 up 6%), Africa (34,217 up 13%), and North America (25,888, up 7%).

A very recent survey carried out by the International Institute of Education (2002) has revealed very interesting, though widely expected, results. A post- September, 11th survey of 371 US representatives of US higher educational institutions that was carried out by the Institute for International Education (IIE, 2002) revealed the following:

  • Most respondents reported a higher rate of visa denials. According to respondents, the affected countries are: Kenya, India, Pakistan, Jordan, and Lebanon.
  • In some cases, even returning students were denied a visa.

Furthermore, the respondents have registered "a decline in applications from international students" (IIE, 2002). Respondents noted a severe decline in applications received from the Middle East. Also, there have been fewer students from China, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, UK, and Ireland. This re-enforces the suggestion that negative news have a dispiriting effects across nationalities and is not confined to nationals from one region or country.

The survey respondents have also revealed that "Many respondents noted that parents are concerned about safety of study in the US after September 11th and that "widespread community reactions toward "foreign" students have created an atmosphere that is at best unwelcoming." "Some parents are not allowing younger undergraduates to come to the U.S." (IIE, 2002). Safety concerns from parents and students are among other problems identified by the educators as growing barriers for recruitment from overseas. Furthermore, according to respondents, some students have expressed fear in coming to the US, or of travel within the US. "A student from UAE deferred the enrollment to another year concerning the situation for Middle Eastern students in the U.S." The safety concerns from prospective students and their families have led to some student cancellations, notably from Malaysia, India, and the Middle East, according to respondents (IIE, 2002).


The changing immigration scene and the growing dependency of the US economy and science in particular on foreign workforce have been partially and intertwiningly caused by the attraction of the US to foreign students. The foreign student population became the de facto backdoor for skilled immigration to the US. According to the NSF (1996), in 1993 68.5 percent of all S&E immigration in the US resulted from adjustment-of-status cases where mostly students adjusting their status to become immigrants. Finn (1999) shows that slightly over half (53%) of 1992-93 recipients of science and engineering doctorates from US schools were working in the United States in 1997. Table 3 below gives a brief sketch of Finn's data.

The stay rate of foreign students in the US is not the same for all nationalities but is rather higher for some countries than other. It is generally believed that students from developing countries are keener on staying. Students from China and India (the two main source countries) register higher rates of staying in the US (88% and 79% respectively). This is why any significant change of the inflows of these will have an ultimate impact on the skill composition of immigrants in the US. Students who finished their education in the US tended to stay on and settle in the country. In the light of the recent dramatic events in the US, the restrictions on travel and the introduction of a series of laws reducing the rights of foreign nationals in the US will inevitably drive more students away from the US. Anecdotal evidence, though, indicates that indeed foreign students are now exploring other destinations than the US (mostly reported by the media). The IIE survey did suggest that more students are opting to go to Australia, UK, etc.).

Some research has been showing that repatriation is becoming stronger among certain communities already before the September 11th events. This is partially due to some governmental efforts (such as in China and Taiwan) and to due to reduced attractiveness of the US and improved attractiveness at home (e.g. the rise of the 'Bangalore Valley' and the recent 'technology meltdown' in the Silicon Valley). Some research has already registered a growing percentage of US citizens and permanent residents who are moving out of the US. Table 4 shows some figures. As said earlier in this paper, it is early to establish whether the recent events in the US will have a strong effect on the outward and inward movement of highly skilled immigrants.

In a study by Saxenian (1998) it was found that approximately 200 engineers and scientists returned to Taiwan annually in the early 1980s. A decade later, more than 1,000 were returning annually. According to the National Youth Commission, by 1998 more than 30% of the engineers who studied in the US returned to Taiwan, compared to only 10% in the 1970s. While only 184 Taiwanese had returned from the US to work in the Hsinchu Science Park in 1989, a decade later the total had increased more than ten-fold to 2,840. And these returnees were disproportionately likely to start their own companies. Some 40% of the companies located in the Science Park (110 companies out of a total of 284) in 1999 were started by US-educated engineers, many of who had considerable managerial or entrepreneurial experience in Silicon Valley. These returnees in turn actively recruited former colleagues and friends from Silicon Valley to return to Taiwan.


Historically, the attraction of the US for the immigration of scientists and other highly skilled groups has been based on the strength of the US in science and technology, the vast resources devoted to R&D in this country, and its flexible business and labour markets. Yet, perhaps more important, is the reputation of the US as a welcoming melting pot for aspirant immigrants that has given it much of its 'spark'. The same can be said about Canada and Australia, as despite their relative 'lag behind' scientifically vis a vis their OECD partners, they continue to attract a significant proportion of highly skilled immigrants. The positive image of these countries as immigration destinations is usually channelled through family, personal, and professional networks (see Meyer, 2001), as well as through the media (including the Internet) and other intermediaries such as headhunter organisations. The latter play increasingly a significant role in directing immigration by acting as information channels. Thus, both positive and negative information about one or more destination countries can be passed through these networks. Members of such networks usually expand across countries and 'country-shopping' becomes possible through them before the actual emigration takes place. An Indian engineer seeking employment in California might be re-directed by his/her contacts in California to Canada, UK or Germany where "Green-Cards" are now easier to obtain. The central point here is that what goes on in the host country makes news not only back home, but also throughout the world. In the US case, the perception of constant terrorist threat, coupled with the news of stricter immigration control, and growing suspicions towards the foreign population contribute negatively to the image and reputation of the country as an attractive destination for the highly skilled.

Furthermore, the recent years have seen newcomers to the business of 'skilled immigration'. While Australia and Canada have practiced it for long time, most recently Europe has joined in aggressively. Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Netherlands, Sweden and the UK have either introduced new legislation facilitating the immigration of skilled labour or provided tax discounts for highly skilled foreign labour (Mahroum, 2001). Even at the cultural level, language restrictions on foreign academics have been relaxed and many positions are now advertised in English (as the lingua franca of science). Increasingly, the continent has been experiencing a growth in academic 'harmonization' (Mahroum, 2002). This is reflected in among other things in the educational structure, titles of awards and certificates, and in career ladders (e.g. Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, etc.). The latter were formalised in the Bologna Accord, which is a declaration of the European Ministers of Education, which sets out an agenda for the future harmonisation of learning structures in higher education across Europe.

An interesting example in this context comes from France. In France Postdocs do not exist, so they are not part of the academic career structure. Yet, postdocs have been introduced to make possible the employment of foreign researchers wishing to work in the French research system. In Germany, a country that used to be a major destination for foreign S&Es and students, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) started an international recruitment program for university professors from abroad. The program aimed at attracting foreign professors to German universities to provide additional input into the teaching of subject areas where there is a lack of qualified German academics and to assist with internationalizing university curricula across the board. Close to three hundred foreign academics have been recruited through this programme for temporary appointments at German universities. The majority of recruits have so far come from the United States (Baron, 2001). Similar programmes have been developed throughout Europe (See Appendix A).

The change is not coming from Europe alone, Japan, New Zealand, and Singapore have all set ambitious programmes and policies to lure highly skilled immigrants and foreign students to their countries. Some developing and emerging economies countries such as Thailand, China, Taiwan and South Korea have launched their own initiatives to attract back some of their scientists and engineers abroad. Table 5 provides a brief listing of some of the changes introduced to immigration procedures for the highly skilled.

Many of these countries have been reaching out to scientists and engineers abroad. Canada for instance, introduced and widely advertised the Canada Research Chairs to lure foreign scientists and academics to the country. Thus Canada is set to benefit from any 'brain drain' from the US. Most recently, new Canadian immigration legislation was enacted to make it easier to grant 'temporary' work permits. Furthermore, the Canadian government launched the 'Canada Research Chairs' Program. These Chairs are open to both Canadian and foreign scientists residing both in and outside Canada, they are primarily targeting foreign talent and talent residing abroad. The chairs are created in the natural sciences, engineering, health sciences, social sciences and humanities.

In Australia, the Federal Government is set to support 25 new university research fellowships, worth A$225,000 each, on an annual basis in a bid to stem Australia's brain drain and lure talented Australian researchers from overseas. This is becoming ever more important, especially with Australia having to compete for attraction not only with the US and the UK (traditional attractions), but also with the growing attraction of certain Asian countries to Australian scientists (e.g. Singapore and Japan). Japan has more than doubled the number of postdocs provided to foreign scientists. For instance, the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Fellowship programme went from 537 fellowships in 1996 to 1225 fellowships in 2000. The majority of these fellowships went to support science and engineering research projects. In terms of nationality, they went mostly to researchers from Asia, followed by Europe and North America (JSPS, 2001).

In China, which is one of the largest exporters of scientists and engineers to the US, returned scientists are presented with opportunities in various key research projects such as biotechnology and materials science. The annual '100 Talents Programme', (started in 1994 at the China Academy of Science) has so far supported about 200 returned scientists with an average research fund of US$250,000 each. The 1997 'Spring Light Programme' has attracted in two years 600 Chinese scientists and scholars to deliver lectures perform experiments or conduct research with their fellow scientists in China. In addition, a special 'high technology zone' was set up to accommodate returning Chinese scientists wanting to start up their own businesses. In 1995, about 5000 Chinese scholars and scientists returned. In 1997, more than 8000 Chinese scholars who had gone abroad to study during the previous 15 years returned. Among these returned scientists, about 1000 of them have PhD degrees with an average of seven years post-doctoral working experience (Casey et al., 2001).


The United States has profited from the fact that at various points of its history it has attracted scientists and engineers who have contributed to the advancement of research at American universities and research establishments. A growing perception abroad of the US as a place with a growing xenophobia will inevitably hamper the development of the US research system in an era of global mobility. Likewise the perception of the US as a 'targeted' and 'unsafe' place will dispirit aspirant S&E emigrants and students and make them go to alternative destinations. The reports of FBI agents visiting campuses, question foreign (Islamic) students, and pressure university administrations to provide the most personal information on them will dissuade many aspirant students from coming to the US. In 1992, it took one incident, namely the story of the tragic killing of a Japanese student in the US due to a linguistic misunderstanding to put Asian students wanting to study in the US on high alert. Reportedly, students coming to America are always reminded that all Asians have to be careful there. Four possible trends might result from these perceptions:

  1. Fewer new skilled entrants (particularly students) to US, as more alternative destinations have become available. While this might well be a temporary trend, it does provide a window of opportunity for 'competitor' countries to lure away some of the best talent that the US otherwise would have poached or kept. The 'Matthew' effect might 'kick-in' well here. Accordingly, countries that increase their shares of foreign students, scientists, and engineers today will get more of them in the future. Ethnic and professional networks get established in, or extend to, the new destination countries and the latter start to appear on the 'hot-spots' of science destinations in the world.

  2. Increased repatriation efforts by the governments of the sending countries in response to a growing desire on behalf of the students to return to home. Governments who have been running, or contemplating, programmes for repatriation will be encouraged to push forward with their efforts as the likelihood for their success has become bigger.

  3. Non-permanent S&E residents who don't or can't repatriate would increasingly seek alternative destinations. Various push and pull factors combine to make new destinations more attractive. Europe and Canada are set to benefit from this trend. The latter due to its proximity to the US will increasingly look like a better destination, but also the diversity, depth and width of the European S&T scene drive might appeal to some of these S&Es.

  4. Increased emigration of established S&E permanent residents who would find the growing international labour market increasingly more attractive. Persons who would not have considered the option of emigrating again might consider this option more seriously when confronted with an interesting opportunity.

One should remember that those are usually individuals who are part of international networks of professions, colleges, and ethnic or nationality groups. Hence, they are often in a position that allows them to weigh the costs and benefits of staying or moving mainly by comparing their positions with their peers around the world. As Schaeffer (2001) indicates in an interesting paper, "to stay the return will have to be much higher. In the real world the rewards from working go beyond wages earned but include the value of the job experience, advancement opportunities, and not least, the challenge and enjoyment of the work itself." (Schaeffer, 2001).


Despite some calls for serious immigration reform (including a call for a temporary halt of all student visas), there is currently no pending legislation that would impact the allotment or processing of temporary work visas. Legislative proposals at this point have focused on student visas and ensuring that temporary immigrants leave the country once their legal status has expired. From a procedural standpoint, immigrants should expect some slowdown in INS processing, as greater scrutiny will be given to many applications. However, there have been various anecdotal reports of foreign students abroad doubting that they would get a student visa to the US after September 11th (Daily News, Nov. 3, 2001). This feeling will inevitably drive many of the students away from US universities to a growing number of alternative destinations. Furthermore, if the proposal to reduce the quota for H1-B visas (a major venue for skilled immigrants) from 115,000 to 65,000, 50,000 skilled immigrants will go somewhere else and will strengthen any suspicion of that the US is closing its doors.

Since immigrants' destination decisions have a great influence on the worldwide geographic distribution of talent, the US government, and all concerned, will have to consider the long term effect of the war on terrorism on the image of the country as a welcoming and safe haven for highly skilled immigrants and foreign students. Two major goals should be sought, firstly credible information campaign abroad about the continued openness of the US for foreign talent, and secondly a damage control campaign that seeks the inclusion and assurance of the local S&E immigrant community. In any case, there ought to be a change and a new thinking of how to safeguard US traditional advantage in catering for the best and brightest "Because of the changing make-up of immigration in many western countries, the past may not be a good guide to the future" (Schaeffer, 2001).

At a global level, competing countries in Europe and Asia will find an opportunity to improve their access to otherwise scarce talent across certain S&T disciplines. This might improve their S&T performance vis a vis the US and other competitors and provides the opportunity to attract more S&T talent in the years to come. The overall effect might be the emergence of a slightly different world map of science. The immigration flows of S&Es will start to go in some new directions, heading to new destinations, and with varying intensities.


Arab American Institute (2001), What the 1990 Census Tells Us about Arab Americans.

Baron, B., (2001), Whose Brain Drain? Immigrant Scholars and American Views of Germany. Harry & Helen GrayHumanities Program Series Volume 9. Edited by Peter Uwe Hohendahl. American Institute for Contemporary German Studies. The Johns Hopkins University.

Casey Tom, Sami Mahroum, Ken Ducatel & Rémi Barré (2001) The Mobility of Academic Researchers: Academic Careers & Recruitment in ICT & Biotechnology. A report for the IPTS/ESTO

D'Vera Cohn and Sarah Cohen, Washington Post, November 20, 2001.

Espenshade, T., (1999) High-end Immigrants and the Shortage of Skilled Labor. Office of Population Research Working Paper No. 99-5.

Finn, Michael G., 1997, "Stay Rates of Foreign Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities, 1995".

Fleming, D., (1996) Foreword. Forced Migration And Scientific Change: Émigré German-Speaking Scientists and Scholars after 1933. Mitchell G. Ash & Sollner, A. (Editors). Publications of the German Historical Institute Washington D.C. Cambridge Press.

Florida, F., (2001) The Economic Geography of Talent .

ISA's Council of Economic Advisors

IIE, 2002, Summary of the Post September 11 International Admissions Communications Survey.

Japan Society for the Promotion of Science

Khadria, B., (2001) "Shifting Paradigms of Globalisation: The 21st Century". International Migration, Vol 39 No. 5 Special Issue 1/2001.

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* Sami Mahroum

1.The biographies of European Nobel Prize Winners in science will quickly reflect that.

2. D'Vera Cohn and Sarah Cohen, Washington Post, November 20, 2001.

3. Perhaps Australia's reputation in this regard has been tarnished most recently due to its asylum policies and practices broadcasted all over the world.

4.See URL link to the Asian American Movement


Table 1:

Table 2:

Table 3: Stay rate of foreign students across disciplines

Table 4:

Table 5: Summary of steps taken to facilitate immigration procedures for highly skilled workers in selected countries

Source: ISA's Council of Economic Advisors (2001)

Chart 1:  

Chart 2:  

Figure 1:


Figure 2:


Figure 3:

Appendix A:

There is a number of much-appreciated individual return support systems already in place or developing in EU Member States

  • Austria's Erwin-Schrodinger Scholarship to return,,

  • The Belgian APART, ZAP Zelfstandig Academisch Personeel - Independent Academic Personnel.

  • The German Emmy Noether Programme providing for two years abroad and 3 years support back in Germany which gained very strong praise as an integrated programme

  • The Academy of Finland ( has for some time provided 3-year fellowships, which could be used either in Finland or abroad. This outward mobility was then developed to a position, which provided 6 months return finance but the researcher could not apply for research grants. Now such researchers can apply for research funding without having founded their own research group.

  • In the British Isles the Welcome Trust supports post-docs abroad with a final return year.

  • Telethon Foundation Career Project ( in Italy was praised for its recognition of research abroad as an important part of development and "the criteria used are based on scientific achievement only" Telethon offers "high salary, career progression based on merits and scientific excellence, independence in carrying out research on a theme / project decided upon in agreement with the management of the Foundation. Unfortunately, these conditions are rarely found in public research institutions in Italy."

  • Spanish Ministry of Education "Reintegration Contracts" are currently providing project-length contracts for up to 3 years. Currently, a "Ramon y Cajal" programme is being developed to permit universities to hire researchers who have spent at least 18 months away from the university. It will be open to post-docs who are abroad.

  • Human Frontier Science Programme ( provides a wide variety of research supports to European as well as Canadian, Japanese and US researchers including an additional one-year funding for repatriation of researchers back to their own country.

Source: Casey et al., 2001


Edited and posted on the web on 15th March 2002