CHINA-US: PhD students stay on

More than nine in every 10 students from China who gained a doctorate in the United States in 2002 were still in the country in 2007, the highest percentage from any foreign nation. This compares with 62% of all foreign-born PhD recipients for that year, says a new report.

The figures come from a study by Michael Finn at the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education in Tennessee, published in the National Science Foundation's Science and Engineering Indicators 2010.

Five-year stay rates for students from other countries include 81% for India and 77% for Russia. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of PhDs in either physical or life sciences remained for five years after earning their degrees compared with 51% of those with PhDs in agricultural sciences.

The study found that while most foreign PhD students planned to stay in the US after graduation, among the 2004-07 graduates, about half had accepted firm offers of employment.

Between 2000-03 and 2004-07, however, the percentage reporting definite plans to stay on decreased among those with science and engineering doctorates from all top five countries - China, India, South Korea, Taiwan and Canada. For all but Taiwan, the increases in the number awarded doctorates more than offset the declines in the percentage staying.

Organised in two-year increments, the data also present a snapshot of rates before and after the terrorist attacks in September 2001.

In this regard, it is notable the 92% five-year stay rate for Chinese students in 2007 is lower than its high of 96% in 2001 - and despite a general rate increase for all countries from 56% to 62% over the same period.

Similarly, Indian and Canadian doctorate holder stay rates declined from their pre-9/11 levels, slipping from 86% and 62% respectively. By contrast, stay rates for British, German, Taiwanese and Japanese doctorate holders increased over the same period.

These figures generally concur with statistics of the intended plans of foreign students to stay on after completing their doctorates. Thus, while this rate increased 5% to 76.6% from 1996 to 2007, there were notable declines among specific nationalities.

In the period from 2004 to 2007, 90.8% of all Chinese doctoral students in science and engineering at American universities planned to stay, slightly fewer than in the period from 1996 to 2003 (92.5%).

Similarly, fewer Indian students had plans to stay (from 90.1% to 88.9%). By contrast, more doctoral students from Iran planned to remain: from 88% in 2000-03 to 92% in 2004-07.

Doctorate holders who stay on in the US have traditionally been granted either H-1B (worker of distinguished merit or ability) or J-1 (exchange visitor) temporary visas. Data indicate that while both categories experienced drops in applications after 9/11, it was most pronounced in the issuance of H-1B temporary visas.