Study: Immigrant Innovation Helps Drive Our Economy11 Jul 2012
Foreign-born inventors play a key part in maintaining America’s technological edge, according to a recent study by the Partnership for a New American Economy (PNAE). (See Patent Pending: How Immigrants are Reinventing the American Economy, Partnership for a New American Economy, June 2012.) Looking at statistics from the ten U.S. universities and university systems that generated the most patents in 2011, the study found that more than three-quarters – 76% – of these patents had “at least one foreign-born inventor.” Other noteworthy findings:
- “Foreign-born inventors played especially large roles in cutting-edge fields like semiconductor device manufacturing (87%), information technology (84%), pulse or digital communications (83%), pharmaceutical drugs or drug compounds (79%), and optics (77%).”
- “During that same period, more than half of all patents (54%) were awarded to the group of foreign inventors most likely to face visa hurdles: students, postdoctoral fellows, or staff researchers.”
Taken together, the latter two findings should prompt some soul-searching among the immigration-policy mandarins in Washington. Do we really want to send some of our brightest, most productive innovators back to their homelands simply because of immigration technicalities? It’s precisely this concern that prompted the study, and PNAE is not shy about prescribing remedies. It proposes three fixes that would help “keep more of these inventors in the United States,” viz.:
- Providing automatic green cards to foreign-born students who earn STEM degrees (science, technology, engineering, or math) from U.S. universities.
- Giving startup visas to allow foreign-born inventors to start companies here to bring their advanced research to market.
- Raising or removing the H1B caps to bring more of the best and brightest foreign STEM grads to the United States.
It’s long past time for Congress to get down to business on immigration reforms that will preserve our technological edge in the world marketplace. One hopes the PNAE study will help renew Congressional interest in these critical issues. What, after all, are we waiting for?
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