June 9, 2021
A 2016 article in Forbes shared some of the lesser-known facts about high-skilled immigrants in the United States. The article shed light on an important finding of a 2013 study: that 42% of America’s top cancer researchers are immigrants. The study arrived at this conclusion by examining the biographies of researchers at seven of the top facilities in the United States, including Johns Hopkins, Memorial Sloan-Kettering, MD Anderson Cancer Center. (The study defined the “top” facilities as those receiving the most funding from the National Cancer Institute.) For example, at MD Anderson in Texas, the study found that 62% of cancer specialists were immigrants. The top three countries of origin for cancer researchers at these centers were, in order, China, India, and Germany. Yet, due to the vast number of highly skilled visa applicants from India, for example, Indian applicants may have to wait almost 70 years before they receive an E-3 visa to come to the United States. Forbes argues that the current limits on numbers of visas attached to green cards are extremely antiquated and out of touch with modern medical needs, since those numbers were developed in the early 1990s, long before the advent of the internet and smartphones—which have speeded up demand for immigrants’ skills exponentially. Due to these limitations on immigration, Forbes argues, the United States is losing out on highly skilled workers—including cancer specialists. The article argues that “[i]mmigrant scientists have played an important role in improving the cancer survival rates experienced by Americans.” A look at the data shows that they might be onto something:
Based on the data, the number of legal permanent residents in the US and the five-year cancer survival rate has a moderately strong positive correlation. In other words, as the number of legal immigrants in the US increases, the percentage of people in the US living at least five years after being diagnosed with cancer also increases. Correlation does not equal causation, but it does show the strength of this relationship. It is possible that this relationship might be even stronger if researchers were to compare the relationship between cancer survival rates and immigrants coming to the US specifically on H1-B visas, which for many years was the common employer-sponsored visa that brought skilled immigrant workers, including cancer specialists, to the United States. (That said, the opportunity to study this relationship may be beyond reach, due to a lack of available historical data.) What’s more, the dampening effect on the immigration of cancer specialists due to President Trump’s 2020 clampdown on the H-1B visa program is still undetermined.
Although there are 10,000 visas available each year through the EB-5 program, about 65% of those visas go to investors’ family members, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center. Many EB-5 investors come to the United States in order to provide better opportunities for not just themselves, but their children as well. As the baby boom generation ages, overall life expectancies are increasing, and as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides medical care to more people, there is a growing need for young people to pursue medical careers.
This need not only presents opportunities for EB-5 immigrants or their children looking to pursue a career in medicine, but also works favorably to demonstrate the benefits immigrants provide to the United States. At a time when immigrants still face uncertainty, despite the change in presidential administrations to a more immigrant-friendly one, it is reassuring to know that there is a huge demand for people to pursue medical careers, and data that shows immigrants’ contributions to the United States can have positive impacts on future legislation.
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Data is from the Department of Homeland Security and National Cancer Institute.