As globalization increases, the U.S. economy finds itself constantly pressured to innovate and compete in a world market. Manjari Raman, senior researcher and program director at the U.S. Competitiveness Project at Harvard Business School, stated that immigration and innovation are strongly correlated. Raman also mentioned that “tech companies in Silicon Valley rely on innovation as a competitive advantage, and they want access to large pools of talent.”

A 2015 report from the Office of Foreign Labor Certification demonstrated the needs for jobs for different companies in the U.S. Most of the jobs needed are in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). There is a huge demand for workers in this sector because these fields help U.S economy compete in a global market.



The National Bureau of Economic Research published a paper looking at how the STEM sector is fueled by high skilled immigrants who possess the skills necessary to grow the STEM sector in the U.S. Moreover, the paper found that workers born abroad account for a large and “disproportionate” share of those working in the STEM sector. Figure 1 shows the foreign born share of employment in STEM jobs for those workers with a BA, a MA or a PhD degree. Even though there are obvious fluctuations, it is clear that the share of employment in the STEM sector by workers born abroad continues to increase.

(Figure 1)

It is also important to know that in a competitive and growing world economy, U.S. companies are increasingly seeking workers who are more educated, trained and eager to innovate. A study by Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce estimates that 65 percent of U.S jobs will demand postsecondary education and training in 2020, highlighting an increase from 28 percent in 1973.  Moreover, Fiona E. Murray, associate dean for innovation at MIT, believes that it is important to recognize that  master’s and PhD degrees are more globally demanded. “This is not about excluding American students, but actually recognizing the demand for advanced education — especially PhDs and beyond — is often more global and less local in nature. And so we have an opportunity to educate a very global community of young innovators,” Murray stated.

The Migration Public Institute published a paper by Michael Fix and Neeraj Kaushal that looks at the contributions of high-skilled immigrants in the U.S. They find that,”among the highly skilled professionals, the foreign born are more likely to have an advanced degree than the US-born” (Figure 2). For example, US Census Bureau found that in 2000, approximately 10 percent of those foreign-born who have a BA degree have a professional degree as well. That figure for the US-born is 7 percent.

(Figure 2)

Since innovation is an important component for economic growth, the U.S. should encourage the students who come here to pursue a professional degree to stay in the U.S and contribute to the economy with their education and training.  Ramen believes that encouraging foreign-born students to work in the U.S after getting their degrees could help the U.S become more competitive in the global market. “Competitiveness is not a win-lose game. When the U.S. becomes more competitive, everyone benefits,” Ramen states.  Interestingly enough, since 2008, the number of patents registered by non US-citizens have exceeded those registered by U.S citizens (Figure 3). In a MIT alumni survey, 34 percent of foreign-born students registered for patents compared to 30 percent of U.S.-born students.

(Figure 3)

In a recent report, economists from the Harvard Business School stated that an effective way to help the U.S. economy stay competitive is to provide more high-skilled foreign-born workers the opportunity to work in the US. It is clear why those with a higher education and training are able to innovate more. Since innovation helps the U.S become more competitive and since foreign born workers are the ones innovating and seeking more professional degrees, it is ultimately in our best interest to encourage them to stay.

High skilled foreign-born workers: why we need them