Fact of the Week: Skilled Migrants to the U.S. Are Up To Six Times More Productive in Scientific Research Than Those Who Stay Home

Kevin Gawora March 22, 2021
March 22, 2021

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Source: Ruchir Agarwal, et al., “Why U.S. Immigration Barriers Matter for the Global Advancement of Science,” Institute of Labor Economics, January 2021.

Commentary: Immigration has long been an important source of American innovation, with prominent historical examples including Andrew Carnegie and Albert Einstein. But recent immigration restrictions are likely to adversely impact scientific activity, both domestically and globally. Four economists examined how U.S. immigration barriers impact global scientific output using data from 1981 to 2000 on the career histories and migration choices of more than 2,200 International Math Olympiad medalists from over 100 countries. The authors presented several main findings. The first was that these migrants to the U.S. represented 20 to 33 percent of breakthrough research. The second conclusion was that migrants to the U.S. were four to six times more productive than migrants who stayed home, while migrants to the U.K. were only twice as productive as stayers. This is because migrants to the U.S. are more likely to choose academic careers, and among those who choose academic careers, migrants to the U.S. are more productive than stayers. The current U.S. immigration process is cumbersome and expensive. Policies like reducing wait times and subsidizing moving and living expenses could be hugely beneficial in increasing American and global scientific output.