updated 5/5/2004 8:21:06 PM ET 2004-05-06T00:21:06

The United States could lose its prominence in the fields of science and technology because of rising competition for foreign talent, a National Science Foundation report says.

“For many years we have benefited from minimal competition in the global science and engineering labor market, but attractive and competitive alternatives are now expanding around the world,” said National Science Board Chairman Warren Washington.

The report, released Tuesday, said more and more foreign-born scientists and engineers joined American scientific work force in the 1990s. Immigrants made up 38 percent of science and engineering employees with doctorate degrees in 2000, while immigrants made up 29 percent of those with master’s degrees.

Immigration policy poses risk
The science board said America risks losing the foreign scientists it relies on to fill technology jobs because of unclear immigration demands since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and because more countries are developing programs to keep their highly-educated citizens.

America also lags other nations in the number of students majoring in science and engineering at colleges and universities, according to the board.

Twenty-four nations in 2000 awarded a higher percentage of science and engineering degrees to students than the United States. The United States awarded 5.7 science degrees per 100 24-year-olds, compared with a ratio of 13.2 to 100 in Finland, which awarded the highest proportion, the report said.

Long-term damage to tech sector
The board warned that a loss in the number of foreign-born scientists who want to work in the United States would hurt the technology sector at a time when many of its most-educated employees are nearing retirement.

“Many of those who entered the expanding science and engineering work force in the 1960s and 1970s (the baby boom generation) are expected to retire in the next 20 years, and their children are not choosing careers in science and engineering in the same numbers as their parents,” the board said in comments accompanying the report.

It noted that the number of jobs requiring scientific skills increases steadily by 5 percent each year.

“Preparation of the science and engineering work force is a vital arena for national competitiveness,” it said.

The National Science Foundation is a federal agency based in Arlington, Va. It releases the report every two years. The National Science Board, a 24-member panel, oversees the foundation.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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