Immigrants’ Contribution To Science

Photo courtesy of Galileo’s Science Café

Galileo’s Science Café Presents Research on New Americans in Science


Research has shown that foreign-born scientists have brought significant contributions to the U.S. scientific community. However, recent immigration policy changes may hinder future progress.

Every month Galileo’s Science Café opens their doors to the public to discuss specific topics. This month’s topic was immigrants and their contributions to science. Dr. James Witte and Dr. Michele Waslin from the Institute for Immigration Research presented recent data and policy trends related to the issue on Thursday, Sept. 20, at Hylton Performing Arts Center at Mason’s SciTech campus in Manassas.

“We do this as a way to get people’s attention,” said Witte. “People don’t think about the way that immigrants are contributing. [When it comes to] science, we think about high tech. But science and university-based science, that’s something people don’t normally think about, and we are trying to educate people about the importance of immigrants. We try to meet them where they’re at. And so at a university it’s a perfect thing to talk about.”

During Witte’s presentation, he discussed the U.S.’s world-class system of higher education, which attracts students from around the globe. Mason is the top-ranked institution in Virginia for campus diversity and tied for 25th nationally, according to the U.S. News & World Report’s 2019 rankings.

Witte cited that 22 percent of faculty members in the U.S. are foreign-born, and 29 percent of them are from China or India.

He went on to explain that the number of international students enrolling at U.S. institutions has recently declined. Witte contributed this partly to new immigration policies.

Dr. Michele Waslin discussed immigration policy and its effect on the scientific community. Waslin discussed President Trump’s ability to determine the cap of how many refugees can resettle in the U.S.

Waslin went on to look at trends in the past decade. Former President Obama had a refugee admission ceiling of 85,000 in 2016. He also set the ceiling for 110,000 for 2017. President Trump adjusted it to 50,000 in 2017. Waslin mentioned that though a cap is set on the admission ceiling, many times the actual number falls below it.

“How many future Einsteins are we denying?” asked Waslin during her presentation.

The presentation showcased the role of immigrants in the scientific community through research taken from outside sources and the Institute for Immigration Research. The night concluded with a Q&A session with the audience.

“It’s a great job,” Witte said when asked why students should enter careers in science. “It’s like getting paid to do crossword puzzles. You know, you just get to solve things, and you are doing good … It’s a fun job.”

Galileo’s Science Café will host another discussion and Q&A on Oct. 25 entitled “From Cyanobacteria Blooms to Clear Water: The Remarkable Story of Recovery” with Dr. Christian Jones, professor and director of Potomac Environmental Research.