Magazine article Chicago Policy Review (Online)

Innovation, Skilled Immigrants, and Why We Need More of Them

Magazine article Chicago Policy Review (Online)

Innovation, Skilled Immigrants, and Why We Need More of Them

Article excerpt

The immigration debate playing out in the United States is beleaguered by concerns over whether unskilled immigrant workers are undermining the economic position of low-skilled American citizens. But concern over low-skilled immigration may be overshadowing discussion of high-skilled immigration, a less controversial but arguably more impactful domain of immigration policy. Economists Jennifer Hunt and Marjolaine Gauthier-Loiselle, in a 2010 paper, shed new light on the significant value skilled immigrants bring by offering a key insight into their impact on patenting.

Hunt and Gauthier-Loiselle use patenting a new product or technology as a proxy for economic innovation in their paper because patents embody a newfound capacity to produce novel goods or similar goods at lower costs. During the 1990s, immigrants increased patenting by as much as 18 percent, which translated into approximately 1.4 to 2.4 percent increased growth in GDP.

The authors begin their study by defining skilled immigrants within three overlapping categories: those with college degrees, those with post-college degrees, and those working specifically in science and engineering. Using data from the 2003 National Survey of College Graduates, the researchers analyze this data using regression analysis that separates differences in patenting rates by characteristics such as college attainment, post-college attainment, STEM training, and whether an individual is foreign-born.

The study finds that skilled immigrants both apply for and receive patents at higher rates than native-born individuals. This is mainly because immigrants tend to work in science and engineering at higher rates. Digging deeper, the researchers show that foreign-born persons with a college degree patented twice as often per capita as natives with a college degree (1.9 percent of immigrants compared to 0.9 percent of natives). Immigrants with post-college degrees patented at a rate of 3.6 percent per capita, compared to 1.3 percent of natives with post-college degrees. When it came to people working in science and engineering, the differences are not as large, but they are still evident. Immigrant scientists and engineers patented at a 6.2 percent per capita, while native scientists patented only at a rate of 4.9 percent. In short, immigrants living in the United States hold more patents per capita than natives. …

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