High Skilled Immigrants Driving U.S. Innovation


Immigration reforms similar to those proposed in Startup Act 2.0 would help the United States retain foreign students that are driving innovative patents in the domestic economy, according to a report released June 26. The report, conducted by the Partnership for a New American Economy, found that 76 percent of patents issued in 2011 to the top 10 patent-producing universities had at least one foreign-born inventor.

The partnership’s reviewed 1,466 patents awarded to the top 10 schools and highlighted the endowment of foreign-born inventors on patents in “cutting-edge fields.” These inventors were observed to contribute to as many as 87 percent of patents issued in fields which include semiconductor device manufacturing, information technology, pulse or digital communications, pharmaceutical drugs or drug compounds, and optics.

Patents are one measure of new and innovative products developed in the U.S. economy. The report doesn’t just present the statistics, it also shares some of the stories behind the people and projects these patents protect. Innovators from Cyprus, Malaysia, and India involved in patents for technologies behind seawater purification, enhanced digital photography, and strong-as-steel metal that can be molded like plastic.

Foreign-born innovators like these may blossom as domestic-entrepreneurs after emerging from academia. Engine recently featured one such immigrant entrepreneur Rutul Davè, co-founder of Bright Funds -- one of 18 startups that attended Startup Day on the Hill. Rutul earned a master’s degree in computer science before founding his growing startup.

Research and development spending at U.S. universities has increased five-fold over the past 25 years, growing from about $10 billion in 1985 to nearly $50 billion in 2007. Harnessing spillover benefits of this research is critical to the growth of high tech industries. With STEM job growth anticipated to continue through 2017 and less than half of U.S. college students completing the STEM degrees they start, more highly-skilled workers are needed for the U.S. to remain competitive.

Startup Act

2.0 tackles the issue of highly-educated immigration head-on, creating new visas for MA and PhD recipients in STEM fields and extending their ability to find and accept work with companies in the United States. You can learn more about the measure and contact your representative about immigration at www.engine.is/startupact.