The foreign-born play an increasingly important role in the US Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) workforce, accounting for a large share of the doctoral degrees granted by US universities. Given the potential for STEM workers to contribute to the economic growth and continued prosperity of the United States, it is important that policies affecting the supply of these workers be based on careful analysis. We organized and held a workshop, hosted by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) in Cambridge, MA in April 2018. This workshop highlighted current research on the role of immigrants and foreign students in science, innovation and entrepreneurship, with the goal of providing evidence and consensus-building on the economic impacts of immigration and immigration policies on the STEM workforce and innovation. This workshop provided feedback to researchers on work in progress, stimulated debate among researchers, and fostered connections between researchers, policy makers and industry.
The papers presented at the workshop were published in The Roles of Immigrants and Foreign Students in US Science, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship, published by University of Chicago Press in 2020. The articles in this volume showcases exciting new research on three main themes related to the overarching question of how immigrants affect innovation in the US. The first theme focuses on the location choices of innovative workers, specifically inventors and foreign-born STEM doctoral recipients. Return migration of innovative workers is a subject on which there has been relatively little research to date, but which is increasingly important as the countries that have historically sent large numbers of STEM students and workers to the US become more attractive destinations for STEM careers. The papers on this theme help us understand the implications of increases in return migration for innovation in the US. The second theme is the relationship between immigration and innovation with regard to initial inflows of migrants rather than their return decisions. These chapters focus on how differences in the number of immigrants – driven by immigration policy – affect the rate of innovation among immigrants as well as natives, and how this depends on the skill composition of immigrant flows. Innovation often requires the inventors or their agents to become entrepreneurs in order to commercialize the innovation. Thus, the third theme in this volume is the relationship between high-skilled immigration and entrepreneurship, with contributions related to immigrant entrepreneur networks and contrasting immigrant and native PhDs’ entrepreneurship. The articles on all three of these themes not only share a single focus – immigration and innovation—but also share a methodological commonality: the use of novel datasets and creative approaches to answering important questions.