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Passing Up the Startup Job

While non-US citizen PhDs are as likely to be offered a job at a startup, they are less likely than their US citizen peers to accept the position, often because of visa concerns, according to a new study.

Cornell University's Michael Roach and John Skrentny from the University of California, San Diego, conducted a longitudinal survey of more than 2,300 science and engineering PhD students from 39 research universities in the US. About 65 percent of those surveyed were US citizens, 30 percent were foreign temporary residents, and 4 percent were permanent US residents.

As they report this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Roach and Skrentny found that about 40 percent of foreign and 47 percent of US PhDs in the cohort applied for at least one job at a startup and, of those, 62 percent of foreign and 58 percent of US PhD received a job offer from a startup. But the researchers found the foreign PhDs were 56 percent less likely than US PhDs to work at a startup. When they delved into why, they found that visa requirements could be deterring foreign PhDs from taking those startup positions — foreign STEM PhDs can work in the US for up to three years on an F-1 student visa, but need an employment-based temporary work visa like the H-1B to stay longer, the researchers note. They add that startups might not have the time or funds to sponsor such visas.

"The findings of this study suggest the need to consider immigration policies that make it easier for technology startups to hire highly skilled foreign workers with PhDs from US research universities," Roach says in a statement. "We may want to consider ways to make it easier for high-growth startups to hire the workers they need."