opinion | Money Alone Won’t Buy US Tech Superiority
The reason for this skill gap is that people in the United States who already work in the semiconductor industry tend to have experience in chip design, not manufacturing. Over the years, many American companies ordered chips from overseas contract manufacturers, such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, instead of undertaking the extremely expensive process of producing, testing, and packaging the chips themselves. But as geopolitical tensions with China escalated, American leaders began to push for some capacity to build advanced chips into the United States as an insurance policy in the event of a trade breakdown.
To prepare for that day, the Trump administration pressured Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company to build a fab on American soil capable of mass-producing advanced chips. But finding people in Arizona, where the Fab will be manufactured, with the same skills and work ethic as those present at the company’s factory in Hsinchu, has been a challenge, company founder Morris Chang told a symposium last year. was.
Attracting highly skilled foreigners who can help train the U.S. workforce is essential to success, at least in the short term, according to a report from the Center for Security and Emerging Technology, which it estimates “at least 3,500 foreign-born workers will be needed” to staff the new American fab. Some may come from American universities, he said, but many will need to be recruited from Taiwan and South Korea.
The condition of higher education in the region is also worrying. The number of US graduate students studying semiconductor-related fields has remained roughly the same since 1990, while the number of foreigners enrolled in those fields at US universities has tripled. According to “Winning the Tech Talent Competition,” a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in 2025 only 23,000 Americans are expected to graduate with PhDs in science, math, engineering and technology-related fields, while 17,000 foreign students are those There will be graduates from US universities in the regions.
It is great that non-citizens are helping to bridge the yawning gap with China, which is estimated to graduate 77,000 Ph.D. that year. But we cannot take foreign talent lightly. Since 2016, overall foreign enrollment at US universities has fallen every year, leading some to worry that foreign enrollment in semiconductor-related fields may also be at risk in the future.
Philip Wong, a professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University, told me that the attractiveness of the United States is not what it was before. Although bright students from Asia keep flocking to Stanford, he said, some of them miss out on living in the US in favor of working in vibrant tech industries closer to home. “He doesn’t need to come to America to have a good career,” Mr. Wong told me. “If you look back several decades, the reasons for students coming to America are starting to fade away.”