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Why Has America Been Such a Magnet for Immigrant Scientists?


woman scientist at futuristic interface

Credit: Getty Images

Science has been one of the most important contributors to American national strength over the past century, particularly since the Second World War. During that extraordinary crisis, national leaders recognized the untapped power of discoveries in a broad range of disciplines, from chemistry and physics to biology and engineering. In 1944, President Roosevelt commissioned a report from the director of the White House Office of Scientific Research and Development. 

That remarkable document, entitled "Science, The Endless Frontier," by Vannevar Bush, saw clearly that the country's intellectual capital could contribute powerfully to the success of the war effort and beyond, providing the rationale for robust postwar federal support for basic scientific research. This vision is universally acknowledged as a key foundation of modern American economic strength and competitiveness. 

Today, United States agencies like the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation are the envy of similar agencies throughout the world. The last decade and a half has witnessed challenges to the nation's leadership position in the sciences and the ability of these agencies to plan effectively. A downward spiral in funding and congressional failure to agree upon annual budgets in a timely manner led to appropriation of funds far too late in the budget year for sensible planning. 

But now a new threat has emerged that is potentially more consequential. Changes in immigration policies are raising concerns about the impact on the ability to attract the best and brightest young people in the world to America's scientific enterprise, irrespective of nationality.

From Scientific American
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