One-Third of Innovators in US Are Immigrants

17 March, 2016

More than one-third of U.S. innovators are born outside the U.S.

Only 13.5 percent of all U.S. residents are immigrants. But a new report says 35 percent of residents with a doctorate degree, or Ph.D, in science and mathematics are immigrants.

This shows that highly-educated immigrants could be one of the country's most valuable resources.

Co-founder and CEO of Whatsapp Jan Koum speaks during a conference at the Mobile World Congress, the world's largest mobile phone trade show in Barcelona, Spain.
Co-founder and CEO of Whatsapp Jan Koum speaks during a conference at the Mobile World Congress, the world's largest mobile phone trade show in Barcelona, Spain.

The report came from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (or ITIF) in February. The ITIF is an organization that studies how technology affects the world.

Adam Nager is an economic policy analyst at the ITIF. He said, "U.S. innovation really depends on individuals born outside of the U.S."

"These are scientists, engineers, people with really, really high education, who've made the choice to immigrate to the United States," Nager added.

"[They] often [seek] the kind of research opportunities, the kind of entrepreneurial opportunities that are offered in the United States that might not have been available in their home country...they bring new ideas and new ways of thinking about things that we... need."

Immigration has been a major issue for the campaigns of the 2016 presidential candidates. But the candidates have rarely talked about how high-skilled and low-skilled or illegal immigrants are different.

The ITIF report does not examine the effects of low-skilled or illegal immigrants on the U.S. But Nager said the report does show "the value of bringing in the best and brightest engineers from around the world and the benefits that they bring to the U.S. economy."

"The more of them we can get, the better," he said.

The other two-thirds of American innovators are mostly white men, the reports shows. But that does not mean they are highly intelligent, young men who never finished college, like Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg.

The ITIF found the average age of these innovators is 47. Also, most of them have at least one advanced degree.

To collect information for the report, the ITIF spoke with almost 1,000 people. All of those people have won national awards for inventions or are working towards international patents on their ideas.

These inventions and ideas are all in the fields of information technology, life or material sciences and advanced technology.

The results of the report are a topic of interest for the White House. The White House has honored 11 immigrant innovators so far.

Additionally, President Barack Obama spoke about the importance of innovation in his final "State of the Union" speech in January.

President Obama also spoke at a conference at SXSW, or South by Southwest, in Austin, Texas earlier in March. The conference was part of an event that mixes live music and displays by several technology companies.

Researchers working on the report expected to find few female and U.S.-born minority innovators. But researchers were surprised at how low those numbers were.

Only 12 percent of U.S. innovators are women. Just 8 percent of innovators are Asians, African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and other minorities born in the U.S.

In the U.S., 32 percent of the whole population are minorities.

"We have this [large] untapped labor pool in African-Americans, in Hispanics and in women... who really aren't tapped at all for creating these types of innovative, marketable products," Nager said.

"There's nothing about white males... that would make them [naturally] any better at innovating than any other group, so if we're looking to grow the pool of innovators in the future, definitely, greater inclusion among women and minorities is the way to get there."

I'm Pete Musto.

Dora Mekouar wrote this story for VOANews. Christopher Jones-Cruise and Pete Musto adapted it for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.


Words in This Story

innovator(s) – n. someone who does something in a new way

resident(s) – n. someone who lives in a particular place

doctorate degree n. the highest degree that is given by a university

analystn. a person who studies or analyzes something

opportunities n. amounts of time or a situation in which something can be done

entrepreneurialadj. part of starting a business and in a way that means you are willing to risk loss in order to make money

benefit(s) – n. a good or helpful result or effect

advanced degree n. a degree that is given to a student by a college or university usually after one or two years of additional study following a bachelor's degree

invention(s) – n. a useful new device or process

patent(s) – n. an official document that gives a person or company the right to be the only one that makes or sells a product for a certain period of time

untapped adj. available but not used

pooln. a supply of things or people that are available for use