Essential Workers: Immigrant Scientific Research and Development Workers in the Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD Metro Areas

Essential Workers: Immigrant Scientific Research and Development Workers in the Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD Metro Areas

Immigrant workers in the Scientific Research and Development industry represent large shares of the workers who play an integral, longstanding role in the development of vaccines and medicines that prevent infections and cure diseases. The development of the new mRNA vaccines used for COVID-19 was the outcome of years of international collaborative research. Dr. Katalin Karikó is a Hungarian immigrant to the United States and one of the key scientific figures who contributed to the development of the Pfizer-BioNtech and the Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. Furthermore, all three pharmaceutical companies that currently distribute vaccines in the United States – BioNTech, Pfizer, and Moderna- were all founded by immigrants. BioNTech was founded by Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci both second generation Turkish immigrants in Germany. Pfizer was founded by Charles Pfizer – an immigrant from Germany, and its current CEO is Albert Bourla – an immigrant from Greece. Finally, the founders of Moderna include immigrants from Canada and Lebanon, while its CEO - Stéphane Bancel- is an immigrant from France. Noubar Afeyan, Moderna’s Lebanese cofounder, received his PhD in biochemical engineering from MIT and was able to stay and work in the United States with an H-1B visa.[1]

In the Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD metro areas, there are approximately 80,600 workers in the essential Scientific Research and Development industry.[2] Immigrants constitute 28 percent of the region’s workforce in this industry (approximately 22,400).  It is important to note that industries are the types of businesses a firm is involved in and occupations are the tasks or functions performed by individual workers within a business. Workers within an industry can work in any occupation. Within the essential Scientific Research and Development industry, the top five occupations with the highest total counts of immigrant workers are: physical scientists (approximately 4,100), life scientists (3,600), managers (1,200), biological scientists (900), and other engineers (700).

This analysis will focus on key socio-demographic information about immigrant workers in the Scientific Research and Development industry, as well as on immigrant life scientists and physical scientists who make up 34 percent of all foreign-born workers in the Scientific Research and Development industry.

Country of Origin, Race and Ethnicity, and Gender Distribution

India is the top country of origin for immigrants in the Scientific Research and Development industry. Fifteen percent of foreign-born workers are from India, 14 percent from China, 6 percent from Korea, 4 percent from the Philippines and 3 percent from Vietnam. When looking at the top two occupations, China is the top country of origin for both immigrant physical scientists (18 percent) and immigrant life scientists (29 percent). Furthermore, immigrant physical scientists are more likely to come from the Philippines (4 percent) and Russia/Other former USSR (4 percent) compared to foreign-born life scientists who are more likely to come from India (15 percent), Korea (9 percent), Taiwan (5 percent), and Japan (3 percent).

In terms of race, more than half of immigrant workers in the Scientific Research and Development industry are Asian and 33 percent are White. When looking at the top two occupations, the vast majority of physical and life scientists identify as Asians. Fifty-four percent of immigrant physical scientists are Asian and 67 percent of foreign-born life scientists are Asian.

With respect to ethnicity, only 10 percent of immigrant workers in the Scientific Research and Development industry identify as Hispanic (who can be of any race). Only nine percent of immigrant physical scientists and seven percent of immigrant life scientists identify as Hispanic, which is consistent with their countries of origin.

There is no difference in the gender distribution of foreign- and native-born workers in the Scientific Research and Development industry as a whole. Fifty-one percent of both native-born and foreign-born workers are male and 49 percent female. When looking at the top two occupations within the industry, however, native-born life scientists are slightly more likely to be females (51 percent) compared to foreign born (49 percent), while the majority of physical scientists are male.

Year of Immigration, Citizenship Status, and English Proficiency

Large shares of foreign-born workers in the Scientific Research and Development industry have lived in the United States for a long time. Eight out of ten (81 percent) immigrant workers in the Scientific Research and Development industry arrived in the United States prior to 2010, while only approximately 19 percent of them arrived since 2010. Immigrant physical scientists have been in the United States longer than immigrant life scientists; specifically, 39 percent of immigrant physical scientists arrived in the United States before 2000 compared to 31 percent immigrant life scientists. Immigrant life scientists are more likely to have arrived in the U.S. after 2010 (33 percent) compared to physical scientists (25 percent).

Fifty-eight percent of immigrant workers in the Scientific Research and Development industry are naturalized U.S. citizens, which is consistent with how long they have been in the United States, their education, and their English proficiency. With respect to the top two occupations, immigrant physical scientists are more likely to be naturalized citizens (48 percent) compared to immigrant life scientists (38 percent). One of the reasons for this difference might be the fact that immigrant physical scientists tend to have arrived in the United States more recently than life scientists.

The vast majority of immigrants in the Scientific Research and Development industry are proficient in English (speak English well or very well). Eighty-three percent of immigrant workers in the Scientific Research and Development industry are proficient in English. Immigrant physical scientists are more likely to be proficient in English (88 percent) compared to immigrant life scientists (70 percent).

Personal Income

The majority of native-born and foreign-born workers in the Scientific Research and Development industry earn more than $75,000 per year (54 percent). However, immigrants in the Scientific Research and Development industry are more likely to earn between $40,000 to $74,999 per year (31 percent) compared to 25 percent of their native-born counterparts. Foreign-born physical scientists are more likely to earn $40,000 to $74,999 per year compared to native born. Fifty-six percent of native-born physical scientists earn $40,000 to $74,999 per year compared to 40 percent of their foreign-born counterparts. Similarly, the majority of native-born and foreign-born physical scientists earn above $75,000 per year. At the same time, foreign born are more likely to earn $40,000 to $74,999 (33 percent) compared to their native-born counterparts (20 percent).     

[1] Ewing, Walter. 2020. “Your COVID-19 Vaccine Was Likely Made by an Immigrant.” American Immigration Council, May 9, 2021 (https://immigrationimpact.com/2020/12/14/who-made-covid19-vaccine/#.YJf2k7VKg2w).

[2]The IIR defines the following the essential scientific research and development as: professional, scientific, and technical services industry.