Career Advice

10 Years of Growth: Immigrant Engineers in the US Workforce
Meghan Brown posted on January 18, 2016 |
(Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

(Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee/

 FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

A recent report from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) National Centre for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) examines the role of immigrant engineers and scientists in the past decade’s workforce growth. 

The report includes data on the birthplace, educational attainment, employment status and salary of this immigrant engineer and scientist workforce.

From 2003 to 2013, the most recent year for which data is available, the overall number of engineers and scientists residing in the US increased from 21.6 million to 29 million. This 10-year increase included a significant amount of growth in the number of immigrant scientists and engineers from 3.4 million to 5.2 million.


Birthplace or Country of Origin

Immigrants in the science and engineering workforce grew from making up 16 percent of the workforce to 18 percent, according to the NCSES data. In 2013, 63 percent of these US immigrant engineers and scientists were naturalized citizens while 22 percent were permanent residents and 15 percent held temporary visas.

The country-of-origin breakdown for the total numbers of immigrant engineers and scientists in the US in 2013 is as follows:

  • 57 percent were born in Asia.
  • 20 percent were born in North America (excluding the United States), Central America, the Caribbean or South America.
  • 16 percent were born in Europe.
  • 6 percent were born in Africa.
  • And less than 1 percent were born in Oceania.
Birthplace of immigrant and US citizen engineers and scientists for 2003 and 2013. (Image courtesy of the National Science Foundation.)
Birthplace of immigrant and US citizen engineers and scientists for 2003 and 2013. (Image courtesy of the National Science Foundation.)


Among the Asian countries, India continued its trend of being the top country of birth for immigrant engineers and scientists, accounting for 950,000 out of the total 2.96 million Asian immigrants. This represents an 85 percent increase for India since 2003.


Highest Level of Education Attained

The NCSES report also indicated that immigrant engineers and scientists were more likely to have earned post-baccalaureate degrees than their US-born counterparts. According to the 2013 data:

  • 32 percent of immigrant scientists reported their highest degree was a master’s (compared to 29 percent of US-born counterparts).
  • 9 percent reported their highest degree was a doctorate (compared to 4 percent of US-born counterparts).

The most common fields of study for this group were engineering, computer sciences, mathematical sciences and other related sciences.

Over the course of the decade, there were also variations in growth by field. Computer sciences and mathematical sciences achieved a growth rate increase of 82 percent, growing from 421,000 up to 767,000. This was also a high-growth field for US-born engineers and scientists, with an increase of 46 percent.

The engineering field, however, showed a noticeably different growth rate for immigrants versus US workers. 2003 to 2013 saw a 45 percent increase in the number of immigrants with engineering degrees, compared to 12 percent for their US counterparts.

Growth in highest degree field for engineers and scientists by immigration status between 2003 and 2013. (Image courtesy of the National Science Foundation.)

Growth in highest degree field for engineers and scientists by immigration status between 2003 and 2013. (Image courtesy of the National Science Foundation.)

Employment Status and Median Salary

Overall, over 80 percent of immigrant engineers and scientists were employed in 2013, which is the same percentage as their US-born counterparts. Within this workforce, the largest share of engineer and scientist immigrants worked in computer and mathematical sciences (18 percent) while the second-largest share (8 percent) worked in engineering fields. 

Median salary for immigrant engineers and scientists was on average overall higher than that of their US-born counterparts, $72,000 compared to $64,000.  This may be due in part to the greater likelihood of immigrant engineers and scientists having earned a higher-level post-baccalaureate degree.

Median salary of scientists and engineers in 2013 by citizenship status. (Image courtesy of the National Science Foundation.)
Median salary of scientists and engineers in 2013 by citizenship status. (Image courtesy of the National Science Foundation.)


Immigrant engineers and scientists earned higher median salaries across both the master’s and doctoral education levels than their US-born counterparts. At the bachelor’s level both immigrant and US-born engineers and scientists earned similar median salaries.

Median salary of immigrant and US-born engineers and scientists in the United States for 2013, by degree level. (Image courtesy of the National Science Foundation.)

Median salary of immigrant and US-born engineers and scientists in the United States for 2013, by degree level. (Image courtesy of the National Science Foundation.)

Trends in Immigrant Engineer and Scientist Workforce Growth

The performance of these workforce measurements over the last decade indicate that immigrant engineers and scientists have a definitive influence on the overall workforce. Barring any sudden and widespread changes to immigration levels, they will likely continue to impact the US engineering workforce and job market moving forward.

For more details, the full NCSES report can be read here or visit the National Science Foundation’s website.

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