Enrico Fermi, Albert Einstein, John von Neumann, Niels Bohr: The
legacy of foreign-born scientists and mathematicians in America is
They helped create the computer and the atom bomb, and have
contributed a good portion of America's Nobel Prizes. Today, more
than half of all engineers with PhDs working here were born abroad,
as were 45 percent of computer scientists and physicists with
But according to a recent study, there's another, less documented
benefit that many immigrants bring to math and science in this
country: their children. While doing some research on the Intel
Science Talent Search (the "Junior Nobel Prize"), Stuart Anderson
noticed a high number of finalists who seemed to have recent
When the director of the National Foundation for American Policy
delved deeper, the results were even more striking. Seven of the Top
10 award winners in this year's contest were immigrants or their
children. Of the top 40 finalists, 60 percent were the children of
immigrants. And a striking number had parents who had arrived on
skilled employment, or H-1B, visas.
"The study indicates there are significant gains to immigration
that haven't really been realized," says Mr. Anderson.
"There's been controversy over employment-based immigration, but
if we had blocked these people from coming in, two-thirds of the top
future of math and science wouldn't be here, because we wouldn't
have allowed their parents in."
It's no surprise to most people who follow such high-level
competitions, of course, that children of immigrants are well
represented there, but even participants say they are surprised at
just how significant the trend is.
"It seems like a lot of the parents who are immigrants, they've
just had to work a lot harder to get where they are right now," says
Divya Nettimi, a finalist in Intel whose research on the molecular
compound myosin furthered the understanding of muscle contractions.
"In India, such a huge focus is placed on education, because jobs
are so scarce that it's a question of survival."
Her parents, both software engineers, came to the US from India
when Divya was 9 months old, in large part because they wanted more
opportunities for their children.
Anderson says immigrant parents view the science and math fields
as good for their children because they're objective. "You don't
have to worry about the subjectivity that can creep into fields like
politics, or law, that are based on family connections or what you
look like," he says.
There's also the fact that many of the parents themselves are
working in those fields. …