Immigration Plays Key Role in U.S. Sciences


Immigration has been a central concern of President Donald Trump. Since taking office, his administration has put forth a number of policies to restrict the number of immigrants allowed each year, as well as from what nations those immigrants can come.

A recent report though showed that a majority of Americans believe that highly skilled foreign workers should be allowed entry into the United States to fill needed roles. According to a report in Chemical & Engineering News (c&en), 78% of U.S. adults believe that these highly-skilled immigrants should be allowed in the country to fill roles, which includes positions in the sciences. According to the report, immigrants make up approximately 25% of all U.S. science and technology workers. Additionally, about 50% of the doctoral-level science workforce across the nation is made up of immigrants. With those numbers, it’s clear to see the impact that immigrants have on the nation’s pharma and biotech industries.

However, the political maneuverings in Washington, D.C. have raised concerns about how the restrictions put in place by the administration could impact future recruitment of foreign-born scientists and researchers at U.S.-based pharma and biotech companies, as well as at leading universities where research is a key focus. In 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration put in place some new hiring protocols for immigrant scientists seeking employment at the agency. As BioSpace reported at the time, the FDA directed hiring managers not to make job offers, including fellowship and contractor jobs, to any person who hasn’t lived in the U.S. for at least three out of the last five years. So far though, those concerns of a halt of immigrant brain power have not panned out like critics believed, according to the c&en report. According to the report, “most scientists are still able to come to the U.S. as they could before Trump became president.” While most scientists can still come to the United States, c&en noted that there is a potential for longer waits for approval for the scientists to enter the U.S.

The c&en article goes on to note the significant importance immigrants play in the nation’s scientific areas by citing the success stories of people who came to the U.S. and are making a difference in the sciences. That’s also something that the Vilcek Foundation made a point of earlier this year.

In February, the foundation announced its 2019 Vilcek Foundation Prizes for Biomedical Science. The prizes were awarded to immigrants who have made significant contributions to the field. The foundation awarded four prizes, one at $100,000 and three at $50,000. Austrian-born molecular and cell biologist Angelika Amon, the Kathleen and Curtis Marble Professor of cancer research and a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was the recipient of the $100,000 Vilcek Prize. Amon studies cell growth and division, and how errors in these processes contribute to birth defects and cancer. Her research has identified molecular, protein, and spatial signals crucial to triggering progression in cell division, as well as how certain errors in cell division, a state called aneuploidy, lead to disorders like Down syndrome, the foundation said earlier this year.

“Immigrant scientists are behind some of the most transformative discoveries made on American soil, as epitomized by the winners of the Vilcek Foundation Prizes,” Jan Vilcek, chairman and chief executive officer of the Vilcek Foundation said at the time the award was given. “Their work has extraordinary implications for our understanding of human biology and our prospects for treating human disease.”

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