How new immigrants are helping to carve the future of America’s innovation

A look at the role of immigrants in driving forward American innovation in the past and present, so that we can influence the future.

There is a persuasive and compelling narrative in contemporary society that immigrants “steal jobs” and are a negative influence not just on the economy, but society as a whole. And it is this myth that is used to bolster the argument that immigrants are to be blocked and prevented by any means necessary from entering a country, a sentiment that is sadly all too prevalent in the United States.

However, what is astounding is the total and absolute misunderstanding about what being an immigrant means. Picture an immigrant in your mind and what do you think about? Perhaps, your connotations are negative; filled with ideas of the poor, the destitute, or of criminals. In fact, this is an outdated stereotype that is utterly erroneous with the reality of the immigrant population. A sentiment highlighted in an article by Richard Fry of the Pew Research Center where he points out that immigrants arriving in the US over the last five years were some of the most educated ever in history and most countries recognize this.

In fact, as the New York Times so poignantly comments, “most countries pursue immigration policies to help spur innovation.”

Supporting this line of thought is a recent report by the The New York Times where it was noted that most engineering PHDs at American Universities go to people born abroad. And not only do they contribute to innovation during their studies, but even once they have graduated. As many then remain in the country and continue to contribute to innovations made by American companies. This point is particularly troubling as finding visas for students can be particularly challenging as they are not technically coming to work.

Not only is this innovation present at the elite levels at academia, but pervasive across the broad. In a 2003 survey carried out by the National Survey of College Graduates, it was shown that immigrants patent at double the rate of their native counterparts. In fact, just a one percentage point rise in the number of immigrant college graduates in the populations increases patents per capita by a whopping 6%.

And whilst the deficiencies in the American education system go somewhat beyond the remits of this article, in a recent thought-provoking piece published by Yale University and written by Professor Ahmed Musfiq Mobarak who, himself, is an immigrant from Bangladesh and a coincidental complement to the overall theme of this blog, points out that American secondary schools consistently rank towards the bottom of worldwide league tables both in math and science. Suggesting that America has maintained its position at the cornerstone of innovation thanks to immigrants, rather than despite them.

This thought, is again, supported by more statistics from BRI who point out that close to 40% of all Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants.

However, there is some movement forward and signs that individuals are beginning to take note of this problem. Take SF based innovative start-up PassRight,for instance, who have created a platform that works to solve this fundamental problem. Offering hopeful individuals access to a transparent and more affordable platform that works to help more immigrants become American citizens. Founded by Israeli immigrant Liran Rosenfeld, PassRight exists to ease and expedite the immigration process by making it far more transparent. According to Rosenfeld, “the visa application process is broken. When you hire an attorney, you don’t necessarily know the attorney’s success rate and you don’t know your likelihood for success. Most people don’t know what visa is right for them and what route to take. There’s a lot of money involved and your livelihood is on the line, and you don’t have control of what’s happening.”

Driven by his personal experiences Rosenfeld was driven to create the company after he struggled to obtain a working visa despite previously having numerous successful startups and despite the backing he had from influential individuals within both Hollywood and Silicon Valley. And it was only after spending tens of thousands of dollars on attorneys and having to endure a not only financially, but emotionally, draining process, that he was finally able to legally work in the United States. And there is no question that this platform has a clear target audience, since launching in 2017 PassRight have already helped over +1000, mostly tech, immigrants gain access into the US through the help of their software.

However, for real change to happen there needs to be a push from the government itself in welcoming more immigrants. Most importantly, they need to work with the private sector in identifying the most talented immigrants and paving the way for them to begin a future in America. It is only with this sort of forward thinking policy that American can continue to remain at the forefront of innovation and ensure a prosperous and robust future. Because there really is no doubt that, “”These foreign-born inventors are fueling patent awards at the top patent-producing universities, and their new innovations and new companies are advancing American industries and creating American jobs.”


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