The U.S. Semiconductor Industry Needs Skilled Workers for Thousands of Open Jobs.
Retaining International Graduates is a Solution

5,000 international students will graduate with advanced degrees in semiconductor-related computer science and engineering fields this academic year. Without smart immigration policies, they could be forced to leave, and take their skills and education with them.

New analysis shows that 5,000 international students will graduate with advanced degrees in semiconductor-related computer science and engineering fields this academic year. These skilled graduates could help solve persistent talent shortages that are actively hindering the United States’ semiconductor industry in the wake of historic investments to secure American leadership in semiconductor research, development, and production. Failing to retain these U.S.-educated STEM experts could imperil major investments in manufacturing, further weaken America’s hand in the global competition for talent, and close off opportunities for U.S.-born workers to work in the industry. By implementing policies to attract and retain these skilled individuals, the U.S. has an opportunity to boost innovation, solidify its leadership in cutting-edge fields, and strengthen national security.

67,000 jobs risk going unfilled by the end of 2030 in the semiconductor industry alone, including 27,300 engineering jobs, two-thirds of which will require advanced STEM degrees.
"Chipping Away: Assessing and Addressing the Labor Market Gap Facing the U.S. Semiconductor Industry"Semiconductor Association of America

Success of semiconductor investments will rely on a strong workforce powered by smart immigration policy

Congress and President Biden want to fuel a comeback for American manufacturing, and to establish early dominance in emerging fields like semiconductors and other advanced technologies that are critical to national security and America’s global competitiveness. Congress has provided $50 billion in federal funding, matched by hundreds of billions of dollars more pledged by companies, to build new plants, expand production of advanced semiconductors, and create thousands of jobs for U.S.-born workers at all skill levels. But these historic investments could be squandered if manufacturers cannot hire the qualified and skilled talent needed to launch these efforts.

A recent report from the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) warns that 67,000 jobs risk going unfilled by the end of 2030 in the semiconductor industry alone, including 27,300 engineering jobs, two-thirds of which will require advanced STEM degrees. That is in part because the education and workforce training pipelines for these newer industries are not yet fully developed in the U.S. Preparing our domestic workforce will require, in part, expanding access to STEM education for students and providing opportunities for re-skilling and training for current workers to transition into these industries.

However, creating those future opportunities depends on our success today, and the stark reality is that there are not enough engineers and computer scientists entering the semiconductor workforce in the U.S. to fill the most immediate workforce needs. This is where smart, competitive, skill-based immigration policy can and must play a critical complementary effort, by allowing the best educated and skilled STEM experts from around the world to help jumpstart these industries in America now.

Fortunately, thousands of qualified scientists and engineers are already studying at the U.S.’ world-class colleges and universities, and they could help close these daunting workforce gaps, if they are allowed to remain and work in the U.S. after graduation. Growing our skilled talent pool should start with policies designed to continue attracting and retaining the many such STEM experts who are already being educated here.

Global interest in the U.S. higher education system should be one of our greatest competitive advantages. For example, 5 of the top 10 globally ranked universities for engineering and technology are in the U.S., and we lead the world in the intensity of science and technology research activity, being the only country in the world with 6 metropolitan areas in the top 20 of the World Intellectual Property Organization’s ranking of S&T intensity per capita. International students earn roughly 13,000 STEM doctoral degrees from U.S. institutions each year (about 45% of all STEM PhDs awarded), and those institutions host more than 40,000 postdoctoral researchers in science and engineering fields, more than half of them from outside the U.S. According to estimates, 60% of current advanced degree graduates from U.S. universities in relevant engineering and computer science fields to the semiconductor-related industry are international graduates.

5,000 international students will graduate with semiconductor-related advanced degrees from U.S. schools this year

Retaining international graduates is a smart and promising solution to address urgent workforce needs. New analysis shows that 5,000 international students will graduate with semiconductor-related advanced degrees this year, and nearly 4,000 of those students would like to remain in the U.S. for some time after graduation (some 1,600 for three years or less; more than 1,000 for four to nine years; and about 1,000 for ten years or more).

Source: estimates based on data from the 2021 QS International Student Survey, and the National Center for Education Statistics. See Methodology for more information.
The failure to provide sufficient certainty and predictability in outcomes and timelines is itself a deterrent to retaining international STEM experts.

Their education will qualify them to be employed in the advanced design and manufacturing of semiconductors, as U.S. companies expand productivity and build new plants, tapping into funds provided by the CHIPS and Science Act. Even if only some of these graduates took jobs in the industry, it would be a significant step toward closing the some 18,000 open jobs gap for advanced degree engineers.

The challenge is keeping highly skilled graduates in the U.S. after they graduate. SIA reports, in alignment with other academic studies, that about a quarter of international PhD STEM graduates leave the U.S. after graduating—even if most would like to remain in the U.S., as research confirms—in large part because there are no viable immigration pathways available to them.

The failure to provide sufficient certainty and predictability in outcomes and timelines is itself a deterrent to retaining international STEM experts. Without reliable immigration pathways, the U.S. risks losing 5,000 international student graduates with advanced STEM degrees who could fill critical positions in the semiconductor industry and other emerging technology fields.

Many regions planning new or expanded semiconductor manufacturing have hundreds of advanced international students graduating from semiconductor design and manufacturing-related degrees.

Semiconductor companies have announced more than $215 billion of investment for new and expanded facilities and operations, projected to create more than 47,000 jobs across 22 states, of which some 11,000 or more would require employees with advanced degrees. Many of these projects will be in regions that stand to benefit significantly from the economic boost, including the Rust Belt, the coastal South, the Southwest, and the Mountain West. analysis shows that the regions receiving new semiconductor investments also host a significant number of international students in advanced STEM programs related to semiconductor design, engineering and manufacturing. If they stayed in these areas after graduating, these future graduates could help fill the critical roles needed to get these projects off the ground and operational.

A map of the United States, broken out into regions, identifying how many semiconductor jobs will need to be filled in each region, and how many international students are expected to graduate with advanced semiconductor-related degrees in those regions this year

Immigration policy shifts won’t guarantee that these students will stay in the area after graduation—but it would certainly help. Companies recruit heavily on college campuses, and many international graduates go on to work in the same region as their college or university, especially when that region supports a specialized labor market related to their education. And research shows that most international students, including graduate students and those with STEM degrees, want to stay in the U.S. for some time after graduation; the fact that so many leave anyway is largely due to their lack of immigration options.

Streamlining the immigration process and removing barriers for semiconductor companies to hire graduates in these regions, some of whom may already have experience with the company through an internship or optional practical training (OPT), would reduce the potential “offramp” moments—like failing to secure an H-1B visa in the annual lottery, or facing a decades-long employment-based green card backlog—that force qualified graduates to look elsewhere, even potentially to other countries, for opportunities.

The Biden administration should also take immediate steps to better leverage existing immigration processes so that companies can hire the workers needed to deliver on the President’s agenda.

The Biden administration and Congress need to act to save major investments from being wasted.

Elected officials representing regions that host international students in advanced STEM programs need to step up and lead the call for policy actions and legislation to improve and expand immigration pathways for international graduates, particularly those with advanced STEM degrees.

Congress should start immediately by building on the “section 80303” legislative language that was included in early drafts of the CHIPS and Science Act, which would have exempted qualified individuals with advanced STEM degrees from immigration caps, allowing U.S. employers to hire certain international advanced STEM degree holders without regard to per-country limits, otherwise applicable worldwide limits on immigration, or the extensive backlogs. Congress can use this framework as a pilot to focus narrowly on key industries, like semiconductors, climate technology, and artificial intelligence, and then broaden eligibility and adjust based on results.

Ultimately, Congress must update and expand the existing immigration pathways for international graduates to remain and work in the U.S. after graduation, particularly those whose work is in the national interest and important to national security, so that they are not delayed or denied because of outdated numerical limits or employment-based categories.

The Biden administration should also take immediate steps to better leverage existing immigration processes so that companies can hire the workers needed to deliver on the President’s agenda. For example, federal agencies involved in CHIPS investments, like the Department of Commerce, should set up public-facing programs to provide guidance and help highly skilled workers seeking visas through existing employment-based pathways, like EB-1 and O-1 “extraordinary ability” visas, or EB-2 “exceptional ability” visas. This should include helping aspiring immigrants evaluate if they qualify for national interest waivers based on their education and ability; these waivers exempt qualified workers from certain labor certification processes, expediting their application process. Similarly, the administration could resume regular updates to Schedule A, a list of occupations for which the Department of Labor (DOL) has determined there is a shortage of available workers in the U.S., also expediting the labor certification process.

It is important to note that the workers who could qualify for these waivers are highly educated, highly skilled, and highly paid. To qualify for EB-1 or O-1 visas, individuals must demonstrate “sustained national or international acclaim” in their field of expertise, as evidenced by major prizes (like a Nobel Prize), high salaries, publications, or professional recognition. The EB-2 visa pathway is available for occupations that require an advanced degree, or for individuals who can demonstrate their experience and exceptional ability in the field. While they would be exempt from certain steps in the labor certification process, evidence shows that these highly skilled workers are paid a premium for their expertise; DOL data from fiscal 2021 show that advanced degree holders on nonimmigrant visas, often a precursor for these employment-based pathways, make on average $96,000 per year, very comparable to the U.S.-born advanced STEM degree holder at an estimated $99,000, according to American Community Survey data.

The future of American competitiveness, including this historic effort to onshore advanced manufacturing and to build new industries and new job opportunities for U.S.-born workers, will be determined by how seriously elected officials take the pressing need to address these skilled labor shortfalls. The U.S. stands to lose thousands of highly educated and skilled experts because of its outdated immigration policies. It’s time to end the self-inflicted pain and fix the system.

The estimated number of international graduates with STEM advanced degrees in semiconductor-related fields in the 2023-2024 academic year is based on the average annual number of international student graduates from semiconductor-related advanced degree programs from 2017 to 2021, as drawn from the National Center for Education Statistics’ (NCES) Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Semiconductor subject areas are closely aligned with computer science and engineering fields designated by the National Science and Technology Council as Critical and Emerging Technologies, including artificial intelligence, data processing/modeling/warehousing, computer engineering, telecommunications engineering, material engineering, manufacturing engineering, mechatronics, robotics, computer systems technology, and nanotechnology.

The estimated number of graduates who want to work in the U.S. after graduation is based on the share of U.S. prospective international students in 2021 in advanced STEM degrees who stated they would like to stay in the U.S. to work after graduation, as drawn from the commissioned question in Quacquarelli Symonds’s (QS) annual international student survey.

Anticipated worker estimates assume that preferences to stay and work in the U.S. after graduation have not significantly changed since the start of these prospective student’s degree programs as well as assume no significant change in the number of advanced degree STEM international students.

The estimated number of new advanced degree workers needed for new semiconductor plants draw on the total number of new workers listed by the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) in each region, assuming 25% would require advanced degrees, as per SIA estimates.

Tell the world; share this article via...