Fact of the Week: European Countries Gain Additional Patents When Skilled Workers Emigrate

Caleb Foote February 4, 2019
February 4, 2019

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European countries gain an additional patent for every 16 skilled workers who emigrate.

Source: Thomas Fackler, Yvonne Giesing, and Nadzeya Laurentsyeva, “Knowledge Remittances: Does Emigration Foster Innovation?” CESifo Working Paper No. 7420, CESifo Group Munich, December 2018.

Commentary: When skilled workers migrate, it seems obvious that the destination country is gaining at the expense of the origin country, which is losing talent and potential sources of innovation. However, a new study has challenged the idea that migration is zero sum, finding that origin countries actually benefit from skilled workers moving abroad. Data from 32 European countries indicates that for every 100 skilled workers in a given industry who migrate, their home country creates an average of six additional patents two years later.

This effect may be caused by reverse knowledge flows, whereby the origin country becomes more exposed to knowledge of the destination country due to connections emigrants have with colleagues who have stayed behind. In fact, the study found that a 1 percent increase in emigrants causes a 0.59 percent increase in cross-border patent citations, indicating that origin countries are more likely to utilize foreign patents following emigration.