Study: Immigrant Children Boost U.S. Science Achievement

As we often observe on this blog, immigration is one of the major ingredients in America’s success. Immigration has made America a hub of innovation and creativity, bringing bright, ambitious people here from around the world – people who contribute their talents, new ideas, and entrepreneurial drive to our economy and society. A further benefit of immigration – one often overlooked – is the energy, drive, and raw talent that the children of these immigrants bring to the American educational system, and to our economy, when these children enter the workforce.

A new study by the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP), a non-partisan Washington-area think tank, finds that a substantial majority of the top science and math students in American high schools are children of immigrants.  (See The Impact of the Children of Immigrants on Scientific Achievement in America, by Stuart Anderson, National Foundation for American Policy, May 2011.) The author of the NFAP study, Stuart Anderson, interviewed student finalists in the 2011 Intel Science Talent Search competition, a highly prestigious contest for gifted high school students. Anderson spoke with the parents of these finalists as well, and noted the remarkable fact that 28 of the 40 finalists had immigrant parents – fully 70 percent – of whom “24 of the 28 immigrant parents started working in the United States on H1B visas and later received an employer-sponsored green card. Fourteen of those 24 were first international students.”

Anderson is quick to note that this percentage of parents who came here on H1B visas is abnormally high:

“To appreciate how remarkable it is that twice as many of the students had parents who received H1B visas as were native born, consider that native-born Americans comprise approximately 88 percent of the population and H1B recipients (past and present) make up less than 1 percent of the U.S. population. In other words, even if twice as many of the 40 finalists had native-born parents as parents who had received an H1B visa, rather than the other way around, it would still represent a significant finding of the added benefit provided to America by skilled foreign nationals.”

Why should we care about these students, much less their parents? Because these children are among the best and brightest American high school students in science and math, a skill set upon which our high-tech economy depends. According to the NFAP study, 95 percent of Intel Science Talent Search winners go on to careers in science, “with 70 percent earning Ph.D.s or M.D.s,” and several alumni making “extraordinary contributions to science,” earning “more than 100 of the world’s most distinguished science and math honors, including seven Nobel Prizes and four National Medals of Science.”

What about the parents? Anderson points out that the immigrant parents instilled in their children a love of learning and a desire to succeed. For many of these parents, exceptional science and math skills were their ticket to an H1B job in the United States, so they insisted their children follow suit, studying hard in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. The lesson we should draw from this study, Anderson concludes, is that we should encourage, rather than discourage, skilled immigrants to come to this country through the H1B program: the U.S. economy gains from the technical skills of the foreign-born workers, but also from the emphasis these foreign-born parents place on education, particularly in math and science. The NFAP study makes fascinating reading, and provides further validation of the H1B program for its many supporters on Capitol Hill. One hopes this study will be read by the skeptics, as well!

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.