Highly Skilled Temporary Immigrants Contribute

August 4 2010 - Research from Harvard Business School and the University of Michigan published in the Journal of Labor Economics found that highly skilled temporary immigrants to the U.S. contribute to technological innovation without detriment to native-born workers.

The study compared immigration to the U.S. from 1995 to 2008 under the H-1B visa program (applicable to highly skilled workers) with the number of U.S. patent applications filed over the same period. Reflecting government restrictions on immigration levels, the number of visas varied from 65,000 to 195,000 a year.

The researchers explain that as patent applicants' nationalities are not recorded, they used their names as an indication of birthplace. The study found that in periods when more H-1B visas are granted, the number of patent applications filed by people with Chinese and Indian names increased significantly in locations where organizations depended on the program. The number of applications filed by people with names they categorized as 'Anglo-Saxon' did not fluctuate in the same way.

The study concludes that much of the increase can be attributed to highly skilled temporary immigrants.

Authors William R. Kerr and William F. Lincoln explained:

"We conclude that total invention increased with higher [H-1B] admissions primarily through the direct contributions of immigrant inventors. We are also able to rule out displacement [of native workers]."

They continued:

"This study quantifies the impact of changes in H-1B admission levels on the pace and character of U.S. invention. We hope that this assessment aids policy makers in their current decisions about appropriate admission rates in the future."