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Immigrants Drive More Innovation than U.S.-born Counterparts

Jan 18, 2023

Immigrants working in the office.

A new economic study estimates that immigrants are responsible for around 36% of innovation in the United States, outshining their U.S.-born counterparts when it comes to economic and technological advancements.

In the groundbreaking new study for the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), a group of economists was able to quantify the contribution of immigrant workers to innovation in the U.S. by linking patent records to more than 230 million Social Security numbers. To determine which patents belonged to immigrants, researchers looked at birth dates to distinguish U.S.-born and foreign-born innovators. During the period between 1990 and 2016, immigrants accounted for more than a quarter of all patents issued. These patents were also more likely to be cited in their respective fields and held more financial value than those by native-born innovators.

Evidence found in the study suggests that high-skilled immigrants help their American colleagues further develop innovations and increase productivity with the knowledge and fresh perspectives they bring from their home countries.

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The study also cited that immigrants are vital to the dissemination of new ideas across borders, as “immigrant inventors are more likely to rely on foreign technologies, to collaborate with foreign inventors, and to be cited in foreign markets.” High-skilled immigrant workers spark advancements in essential U.S. industries — today, immigrants account for a quarter of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) industry in the U.S., and more than 16% of the U.S. healthcare industry.

Boundless’ research report on immigration and entrepreneurship also found that immigrants not only innovate more, but are more likely to start new businesses and create jobs. According to data from the New American Economy organization, immigrants are more likely to start a new business than the native-born population, with one in four entrepreneurs in the U.S. now being an immigrant. As new business formation slows in the U.S., immigrant business owners are vital to driving a healthy economy and advancing the labor force across key sectors.

These recent studies serve as a reminder that immigrants have long played a key role in the country’s social and economic makeup, particularly when it comes to innovation and advancements in the workforce.

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