Sequester Fallout: Emigrating Scientists

August 30th, 2013
in econ_news, syndication

Econintersect: While many political figures support making it easier for foreign scientists to immigrate to the U.S., the 2013 sequestration budget cuts are reducing research funding. As a result some scientists already in the U.S. are considering emigrating to find support for their work in other countries.


Follow up:

Sixteen professional research societies polled more than 3,700 researchers in June and July (2013) and found that:

  • 91% of respondents were from academia
  • 63% had received federal grants within the past three years
  • 81% of respondents were principal investigators and 9% were postdoctoral scholars
  • Nine states had more than 100 respondents: New York, California, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Maryland, Texas, Ohio, Illinois and Tennessee
  • 18% are considering moving outside the U.S. to pursue their careers
  • 85% believe the U.S. has allowed the rest of the world to catch with or surpass the U.S. in scientific research
  • 65% of respondents have had difficulty in obtaining research funding
  • 46% have laid off scientist associates or expect to soon
  • 55% of respondents know someone who has lost a job or expects to soon

The poll covered scientists working in nondefense discretionary science.  According to Andrew Austin of the Congressional Research Service, the total nondefense discretionary spending (including other categories in addition to science) has amounted to 3-4% of GDP

The current difficulties actually are not new. Sequestration has merely accelerated a trend that has been underway for a decade.


The U.S. is alone among major economic nations in cutting research.


The decline in federal research funding may have serious affects. Benjamin Corb, public affairs director for ASBMB (The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology) said:

The data shows that deep cuts to federal investments in research are tearing at the fabric of the nation’s scientific enterprise and have a minimal impact on overcoming our national debt and deficit problems."

The U.S. has supported the training of thousands of scientists over recent decades and that investment may be wasted. A postdoctoral scholar from the University of Minnesota said:

"I am amongst a growing list of scientists that the federal government has spent $200,000 to $400,000 to educate and train since the early 1990s. The expectation was that we would have the opportunity to show U.S. taxpayers a return on their investment by becoming (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) leaders and innovators far into the middle of the 21st century. Unfortunately, the current funding climate presents the real possibility that the taxpayers may witness a significant loss in their investment."

Under current law nondefense discretionary expenditures are on track to reach historic lows over the next decade.


A Financial Times article provided some additional perspective on the cuts:

Over the next three years alone, sequestration-induced R&D cuts would result in the projected loss of 600,000 jobs. What that figure does not capture is the number of brilliant young scientists and engineers who, stymied by lack of funding, would walk away from research. We would lose a generation of transformational ideas.

Were the US to commit to investing the same share of its GDP in R&D as it did in the 1980s, we would not be talking about cuts, but instead about increasing the annual R&D budget by $110bn. The US now ranks eighth among OECD countries in R&D as a share of GDP.


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