Immigrants Influential in Innovation



Tane Jeffs, Staff Reporter

Innovators create a better way of living for all and tools we use everyday. Some of the most famous being Nikola Tesla, who was the brains behind the radio and electricity, and Alexander Graham Bell, who invented the telephone. 

What many people don’t know about these innovators is that they were American immigrants. Innovators bring economic growth by creating jobs and new businesses with ideas to benefit the lives of all.

In December 2022, Economists from the National Bureau of Economic Research published a study that suggests immigrant innovators are more productive than people born in the US. The authors were Shai Bernstein, Rebecca Diamond, Abhisit Jiranaphawiboon, Timothy McQuade, and Beatriz Pousada. They believe immigrants play a key role in technological progress and economic growth in America.

In order to identify immigrants, the economists linked patent records with combinations of the first 5-digits of more than 230 million Social Security Numbers and the years of birth of people. They were able to tell if they were immigrants based on the year the SSN was assigned.

With this information, the research concluded that immigrants represented 16% of inventors in the United States, while producing 23% of innovation. The economists found that the “average immigrant is substantially more productive than the average US-born inventor.”Since 1990, 36% of the US innovative output was credited to be from immigrants.

Research also found inventors in the US that were born in a foreign country are more willing to work with others, as well as rely more upon foreign technologies. Because of this, new ideas spread faster throughout the world. This leads to “global knowledge and the integration of foreign ideas with US-based ideas.”

It is suggested a reason for immigrants to have increased productivity is the motivation to succeed in the United States. The paper notes that “immigrants are disproportionately choosing to live in highly productive counties” compared to inventors born in the US.

After restrictions from COVID-19 decreased immigration, there is a need for more immigration in the US in order to fill up jobs and improve the economy. It is important to open the doors to diversity in America for a melting pot of brand new ideas and knowledge. The economists wrote immigration is key for the “importance of diversity, of combining inventors with different knowledge and backgrounds to push the innovation frontier.”