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Children of Immigrants Are America's Science Superstars


First Posted: 05/24/11 03:48 PM ET Updated: 07/24/11 06:12 AM ET

Adding fuel to the fiery debate over immigration policy, a study released Tuesday shows that top science achievers in the U.S. are overwhelmingly the children of immigrants.

The study, conducted by the National Foundation for American Policy, found that 70 percent of the finalists in the 2011 Intel Science Talent Search competition -- also known as the "Junior Nobel Prize" -- were the children of immigrants even though only 12 percent of the U.S. population is foreign-born.

According to the report, children of immigrant parents have been increasingly dominant in the fields of math and science. In 2004, for example, researchers found that 60 percent of the top science students in the U.S. and 65 percent of the top math students were born to immigrant families. Findings were based upon data from the Intel Science Talent Search and the 2004 U.S. Math Olympiad.

Based on these findings, the study concluded that "Liberalizing our nation's immigration laws will likely yield even greater rewards for America in the future."

Yet providing a path to residency for immigrants -- both legal and illegal -- has proven politically difficult, and some advocates are pessimistic about any significant reform in the near future. Tamar Jacoby, President of ImmigrationWorks USA, a business-focused immigration advocacy group, told HuffPost, "We're in a totally different climate than we were in 2006 and 2007. Immigration has become such an impacted, partisan issue. Never say never -- I hope something can happen -- but it's hard for me to see [reform] happening any time before the 2012 election."

In particular, debate continues over reforming H1-B visa -- a temporary 3- to 6-year visa for skilled foreign workers. According to the NFAP study, 24 of the 28 immigrant parents of 2011 Intel Science Talent Search winners started working in the United States on H-1B visas and later received an employer-sponsored green card.

Proponents of H1B visa reform, including both the White House and technology companies, say skilled workers should be incentivized to stay in the U.S. and not forced to leave after a certain time period, thereby encouraged to set up rival operations overseas.

While there is some interest on both sides of the immigration debate in keeping skilled workers in the country, Jacoby posits that advocates pushing for comprehensive immigration reform are unlikely to take up the H1-B visa issue independent of their broader reform goals. Said Jacoby: "They want to keep that steam bottled up. It's an 'All or nothing' regime."

"In my view," Jacoby added, "if it was ever a useful strategy, I think it's outlived its usefulness. There haven't been any fixes. We're just not gonna get the whole package anymore."

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