Study reveals positive impact of immigrant inventors on US innovation

© 2023 EPFL

© 2023 EPFL

A new study by Gaétan de Rassenfosse (EPFL) and Gabriele Pellegrino (Catholic University of Milan) has shed light on the profound impact of skilled immigrant inventors on the U.S. innovation landscape. Focusing on the significant influx of inventors from the former Soviet Union post-1991, this research provides compelling evidence of these immigrants’ positive role in enhancing the country’s innovative capacity.

The research team compiled and analyzed a vast dataset spanning 1983–2000, tracking the migration of Soviet Union inventors and the patenting activity in the United States. “This study adds to the growing literature that uses historical events to quantify the effect of skilled worker mobility on knowledge diffusion and innovation,” said Prof. Pellegrino.

The study documents a substantial increase in U.S. patent numbers by U.S. inventors post-1992, particularly in cities and technological fields with a higher presence of these immigrant inventors. “This surge in patenting activity suggests that the arrival of foreign-born skilled workers led to significant knowledge spillovers and boosts in local innovation,” added Prof. Pellegrino.

These results have important implications for policy-making and the public discourse on skilled immigration. While the topic has often been contentious, this study provides evidence that skilled immigration, especially of inventors, fosters innovation and technological advancement in the host country.

The study is published in Economics Letters and is available on the publisher’s website as well as on RePEc.