NFAP Study: Immigrant STEM Workers Bolster U.S. Research

In case you missed it, earlier this summer, the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) released a briefing paper outlining The Increasing Importance of Immigrants to Science and Engineering in America, National Foundation for American Policy, Jun.2014.] The NFAP paper is a bracing reminder of the benefits that accrue to all of us – the major advances in science and technology, and the economic growth that flows from them – as a nation of immigrants, a nation that still attracts the sharpest, most creative people in the world.

It’s also an object lesson in the unintended consequences of tightfisted immigration policies, and in the flowering of scholarship, scientific discovery, and technical innovation that’s been made possible by a less restrictive approach to immigration. The NFAP paper provides compelling evidence to support their thesis that “the right laws can play an important part in whether a country benefits from increased globalization, particularly rising educational achievement in India, China, and elsewhere.”

Put another way, immigration policy matters. NFAP cites two legislative changes that – quite literally – opened a whole new world of possibilities to U.S. companies, universities, and research institutions:

“The passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which eliminated the discriminatory national origin quotas and opened the door to Asian immigrants, and the Immigration Act of 1990, which increased the employment-based green card numbers, were key factors in enhancing the ability of America to assimilate talented individuals from around the world into our culture and economy.”

What difference did it make to have immigration laws that welcomed more of the world’s top talent? To answer this question, NFAP looks at the rate at which immigrants to the United States won Nobel Prizes in key STEM fields – for example:

  • “Between 1901 and 1959, only one immigrant to the United States (William Francis Giauque) won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, while between 1960 and 2013, 23 immigrants won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.”
  • “Between 1960 and 2013, immigrants won 72 Nobel Prizes in Chemistry, Medicine, and Physics, compared to 25 between 1901 and 1959.”

Likewise, it points to important changes in the demographics of STEM-related professions, and the ascendancy of well-educated immigrant scientists and engineers into the top echelons of the American research establishment:

  • “The percentage of individuals with Ph.D.s working in science and engineering occupations in the United States who are foreign-born rose from 23 percent in 1993 to 42 percent in 2010, a near doubling of the proportion of foreign-born in less than 20 years.”
  • “Many of today’s immigrant cancer researchers come from countries that would have been barred from immigrating under U.S. law prior to 1965, including China, India, and South Korea. At the top seven cancer research centers, 42 percent of the researchers are foreign-born, including 62 percent at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and 56 percent at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.”

The article also points to the ever-increasing role of immigrant entrepreneurs, as drivers of innovation in the digital economy. The obvious questions for Washington’s policy mandarins: “What’s not to like?” – and its corollary – “What’s taking you so long?”

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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.