National Science Foundation

Working it. Big boom in research jobs overseas.

U.S. Companies Doing More of Their Research Hiring Overseas

Jeff tries to explain how government works to readers of Science.

U.S. companies are adding research jobs overseas at a record pace while their domestic research workforce is growing very slowly. The new data come from the 2012 edition of Science and Engineering Indicators, a massive, biennial compendium of global science trends from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

About 85% of the new research jobs at U.S.-based multinational companies are being filled abroad, according to data from a 2009 survey. Those hiring decisions pushed the share of research jobs outside the United States to 27% of the companies' overall technical workforce, from 16% in 2004 (see figure). The foreign jobs do not appear to be transfers from domestic operations, according to NSF's Rolf Lehming, who oversees Indicators.

At the same time U.S. companies are hiring more foreign workers, the United States has lost 28% of its high-technology manufacturing jobs in the last decade. That decline of 687,000 jobs came after the number of people working in that sector, which covers aerospace, pharmaceuticals, computing, and high-precision equipment, peaked at 2.5 million in 2000.

Indicators also documents how U.S. workers are increasingly likely to be in touch with colleagues in other countries. A 2006 NSF survey asking how often respondents collaborated "with individuals located in other countries" in the past week found that 28% of those in science and engineering jobs did so, compared with only 16% in non-scientific fields. Nearly one in three workers who held degrees from both domestic and international institutions reported having such regular contacts, twice the rate of those with only U.S. degrees.

"I would like to see these jobs created in this country," says Ray Bowen, chair of the National Science Board, NSF's oversight body, which is responsible for publishing Indicators. He called the shift in hiring patterns a "longtime national issue" that requires a coordinated response from government, academia, and industry. The board plans to issue a white paper this spring on the role of the scientific workforce in innovation and economic growth, he noted, followed by a second policy document on the importance of support for U.S. public colleges and universities.

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