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Forecasting the Election’s Effect on “Extraordinary” Chinese Talent in the United States

Published
Oct 27, 2020 10:11PM UTC
Author
Michael Page
Foretell is CSET's crowd forecasting pilot project focused on technology and security policy. It connects historical and forecast data on near-term events with the big-picture questions that are most relevant to policymakers. This post is part of our Forecasts Analysis series, where we analyze recent crowd forecasting trends on Foretell.


According to the crowd, the percentage of O visas awarded to Chinese nationals next year will be lower if President Trump is re-elected than if Vice President Biden is elected. At 2019 levels, the difference amounts to more than 300 people at the top of their respective fields.


Source: Foretell. Data pulled October 26, 2020.

The United States awards O-1 visas to individuals “with extraordinary ability or achievement in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics.” To qualify for an O-1 visa, one must establish that they are among a “small percentage who have arisen to the very top of [their] field.” O visas can also be awarded to O-1 visa recipients’ supporters (O-2) or families (O-3).

We suspect two distinct forces are driving changes in O visas levels: the pandemic and increasing U.S.-China tensions. The pandemic is likely a significant cause of the 50 percent decrease in total O visas awarded in Fiscal Year 2020 (16,034), relative to FY 2019 (31,831). Increasing U.S.-China tensions are likely contributing to the even greater 60 percent decrease in O visas to Chinese nationals, from 1,758 in FY 2019 to 688 in FY 2020. 


To focus on the effect of U.S.-China tensions, we asked the crowd to forecast the percentage of O visas awarded to Chinese nationals. More specifically, we asked the crowd to forecast this metric based on two eventualities: (i) if President Trump is re-elected; and (ii) if Vice President Biden is elected. 

Early results show the crowd expects the election to significantly affect U.S. O visa policy regarding Chinese nationals in 2021. As shown in Figure 1, if President Trump is re-elected, the crowd expects the percentage of O visas awarded to Chinese nationals to decline to about 3.5 percent, from a 2019 high of 5.5 percent. By contrast, if Vice President Biden is elected, the crowd expects the figure to be 4.5 percent, moderately above the 2020 level of 4.3 percent.

Figure 2 shows probability distributions for both eventualities. In the event Vice President Biden is elected, the crowd forecasts a 68 percent chance—one standard deviation from the mean—that the percentage of O visas awarded to Chinese nationals will be between 2.9 percent and 6.0 percent. In the event President Trump is re-elected, the crowd forecasts a 68 percent chance the value will be between 2.1 percent and 5.0 percent.


Source: Foretell. Data pulled October 26, 2020.

These forecast questions offer an example of how conditional crowd forecasting can inform policymakers' choices by providing information about the effects of a given decision. In this example, the decision is that of the U.S. electorate. In other cases, however, the decision could be a specific policy, such as the effect of a statute or regulation under consideration. We are excited to explore the potential value of conditional forecasting questions on Foretell.

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This blog post uses forecast data from the following questions. Submit/update your forecasts, and tell us what you think:

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Michael Page, CSET Research Fellow

Author: Michael Page

CSET Research Fellow
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