Study: Nearly 30% of Washington state’s STEM workers are immigrants

STEM
The U.S. is estimated to need one million more STEM professionals than it will produce at the current rate over the next decade. (Wittayayut via Bigstock)

In a meeting with top tech execs Monday, President Donald Trump promised to help them “get the people you want.” Immigration has been a flash-point between the Trump administration and the tech industry, which relies heavily on foreign-born talent. On the heels of that meeting, the American Immigration Council released a new report that gives weight to the industry’s stance.

According to the report, immigrants accounted for about 20-25 percent of the country’s science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workers in 2015, depending on how that category is defined. The American Immigration Council crunched the numbers for two different definitions of STEM — one that defines the category more narrowly and one that includes the health and social science fields.

As of 2015, 27.2 percent of Washington state’s STEM workers were foreign-born, according to the report. In California, the share of immigrant STEM workers was 42.4 percent. Both states have booming technology industries with big appetites for engineers and scientists. When Silicon Valley and Seattle-area companies can’t fill their openings with American workers, they often recruit tech talent abroad.

Demand for STEM workers has been steadily increasing over the past 15 years and the trend isn’t expected to slow down any time soon.

It’s important to note that the American Immigration Council is a non-profit that provides legal services and advocates for immigrants living in the U.S. The report is designed to show how important immigrants are to the country’s information economy. The data it relies on, however, comes from the impartial American Community Survey, a supplement to the U.S. Census.

According to the report, immigrants comprised 39.2 percent of all software engineers in 2015. Foreign-born STEM workers also tend to have the more years of college education. Since the mid-2000s, immigrants have accounted for the majority of workers in STEM with PhDs, the study says.

“According to a 2012 report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, the United States will need approximately one million more STEM professionals than it will produce at the current rate over the next decade,” the American Immigration Council study says.

“To meet that growing demand, the United States will need to increase the number of students who receive undergraduate STEM degrees by about 34 percent annually over current rates … and while increasing the number of native-born Americans in STEM fields is critical, foreign-born STEM students and workers may still be needed if the United States is to be prepared for future labor needs and continue to excel globally.”

On the campaign trail, Trump stressed the importance of prioritizing American workers over immigrants and sometimes his rhetoric targeted the H-1B visa, which companies use to recruit skilled international talent. But so far, the president has spared the H-1B, choosing instead to review the program in the hopes of curbing abuse from so-called “outsourcing firms.” The review was welcomed by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

During Monday’s meeting, Apple CEO Tim Cook urged Trump to take a measured approach to immigration reform in the wake of his travel ban which was largely opposed by the tech industry.

The full American Immigration Council report is available here.