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July 27, 2018

Jade Feng: Importance of international scholars

Huijie (Jade) Feng is a doctoral student in the College of Pharmacology and Toxicology.

I was born in China. Now, I live here in the United States as an international student. The decision and the process of becoming an international student in this country did not come without challenges.

One significant obstacle was obtaining my U.S. visa. Due to the White House’s restrictions on immigration and the Technology Alert List, my visa status remained on “administrative processing” status for two months, which delayed my arrival for my classes and all my legal registration at school.

Those were two worrisome months where I experienced much anxiety and stress and, despite the fact that this is a common situation for foreign-born students in science and engineering, I overcame the challenge and made it to the U.S.

This year, I had the great opportunity to visit the Michigan legislators’ offices in Washington D.C., with the help of the American Society of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, or ASPET, to voice my concerns on science-related issues. ASPET strongly supports international scientists working or studying in the U.S. As a representative, it’s important to understand why foreign-born scientists are essential to scientific advancement and the U.S. economy.

Scientific progress starts with the free flow of ideas and thrives with the openness and transparency of collaboration. In the past, these principles have helped the U.S. stand as a powerhouse for scientific progress, benefiting from highly trained international scientific skills.

These skills are more easily transferrable across borders than many other skills.

According to the 2018 Science and Engineering Indicators provided by the National Science Board, foreign-born workers employed in science and engineering occupations tend to have higher levels of education than their U.S. native-born counterparts. Foreign-born individuals accounted for 29 to 30 percent of college-educated workers employed in science and engineering occupations in the U.S. Among them, 17 percent of foreign-born workers have a doctorate, compared to 10 percent of U.S. native-born individuals in these occupations.

At the doctoral level, over 45 percent were foreign born in each science and engineering occupation, including mathematical and computational, physical, biomedical sciences and engineering. Foreign-born scientists and engineers help the U.S. lead the way in scientific progress.

In addition to pushing scientific advancements, foreign-born residents also contribute a significant portion to the economy. First, with an advanced degree, we play a key role in generating sustained economic growth because technological advancements that allow workers to become more productive are at the basis of long-run wage and income growth.

Second, foreign-born residents also create job opportunities for native workers. A study found that every time a state gains 100 foreign-born STEM workers with graduate-level STEM training from a U.S. school, 262 more jobs are created for U.S.-born workers in the seven years to follow.

Third, foreign-born residents contribute to each state, both as taxpayers and consumers. In 2014, immigrants in Michigan earned $19.6 billion, of which $1.5 billion went to state and local taxes and $3.8 billion went to federal taxes. This left $14.2 billion remaining in spending power.

To remain the world leader in advanced scientific knowledge and innovation, the U.S. science and technology enterprise must continue to support and capitalize on the multicultural environment within which it operates.