APS News


Foreign Students Do Impact Job Market

I would like to comment on the letter in the March 1996 issue entitled "Don't Blame Foreigners for Job Problems," by Munawar Karim. Karim asserts that xenophobia fuels the concern with the effect of foreign-born scientists and engineers. It is insulting to U.S. citizen physicists when Karim says that "the standards of Ph.D. qualifying exams are occasionally lowered to allow U.S. students to pass in order to preserve balance." This suggests that the credentials of U.S. citizen Ph.D.s (mine, for example) may be suspect, and seems to imply that foreign graduates may actually be preferable.

I do recognize that fewer able Americans are choosing physics, both at the undergraduate and graduate level. I believe there are good reasons for this that have little to do with the adequacy of basic schooling. In many cases, undergraduate programs are neglected by faculties which emphasize research and graduate programs. I was fortunate to major in physics at a university where the faculty was committed to undergraduate teaching, and labs were handled by professors or full-time instructors.

On considering graduate school, potential students must weigh the considerable investment in time against the likelihood of finding appropriate employment. Karim says that physics students should expect long hours, low pay and job insecurity, and this is a description of an immigrant's work. Yes, all of these items must be accepted, to a degree. There are at least two factors concerning pay and security which, in my opinion, may favor some foreign students.

First, U.S. tax treaties with some foreign governments exempt assistantships from U.S. taxes. Citizens of these countries in effect receive more income than U.S. citizens or foreigners who must pay tax. Karim suggests that low pay is part of the bargain, but now it seems that income is even lower for U.S. citizens than for some foreign students. The second factor I see as favoring some foreign students is the "fall-back" position. In general, U.S. citizens are restricted to the U.S. job market. Foreign nationals can make an attempt to crack the U.S. market, and then return home if they do not succeed here.

I believe that the physics graduate education establishment will eventually be unable to justify expending considerable resources to educate a preponderantly foreign student base, many of whom are not able to pursue careers for which they were trained. We must address this issue.

Arnold R. Moodenbaugh
Westhampton, New York


Given that the APS is spending a substantial amount of effort to re-orient physicists in other technical careers, I would be curious to know why the Society does not take a stand on the importation of more foreign-born scientists and engineers.

Stephen M. Hohs
San Jose, California

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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin