Globalization and Selectivity of
the Best and the Brightest
B. Lindsay Lowell, PhD
Director of Policy Studies
Institute for the Study of International Migration (ISIM)
Washington, DC USA
Presentation to "Immigration and American Competitiveness," part of
the roundtable series on "Technology, Innovation, and American
Primacy,” Council on Foreign Relations, New York City.
The evidence is that past skilled migration numbers have
been generous, and the likely future is that the absolute
and relative number of skilled immigrants will be great.
Immigrants make solid contributions, but are not
uniquely more productive than natives and globalization
and simply admitting more leavens the skill distribution.
In terms of numbers & regulations, policy should be
neither “fewer & harder” or “more & easier,” but rather
“generous & targeted.”
The challenge is to recreate entire systems and to
creatively design competitive, targeted policies that
select the truly best and brightest.
Long run immigration & globalization
Since 1990s boom in skilled immigration,
USA dominates globally and, despite
competition, that’s likely to continue.
Even given current policies, future skilled
migration will remain numerically generous
both absolutely and relatively.
• population growth in source countries and increasing
college enrolments broadens (not lessens) the pool of
skilled international migrants.
• slowing growth of US domestic population
Immigration in the short run
Short run swings are predominantly driven by
the US & global economy –
there has been no widespread increase of “restrictive
policies” affecting skilled workers.
For example, and despite popular
misperceptions, the foreign student downturn
was primarily about the economy, not policy.
“Restrictive” policy should have hit “risky” physicists,
but it was the economy that hit students planning to
follow the H-1B visa into IT employment.
Nobel Prize Winners
Recent research by Hunter et al. 2009
Nobel laureates are the cream of the crop.
However, decline in immigrant share of Nobel
prizes over time (globalization);
and immigrants are less likely to be Nobel
winners than natives.
Hunter et. al’s findings
Globalization reduces incentives for the best to migrate:
If mobility is extremely costly, only absolutely outstanding scientists move
If mobility costs less, less productive scientists are more likely to move
Globalization makes cross-country productivity distributions more similar
Today’s immigrants not more productive than natives:
Over time, decline in foreign-born share of US Nobel Laureates
Over time, decline in foreign-born with US-PhDs who win Laureates
Elite movers are not more productive than elite stayers
Migrant physicists are not more productive than US physicists
Source: Hunter et al., 2009
Patent applications over time
Most individuals file only 1-2 patents.
Individuals with many patents tend to be more
productive, gain approvals and move to
Secular decline in number of US patents.
Like Nobel prizes, some recent decline among
immigrants who make multiple patent
ICT Industries & Silicon Valley
The Information, Communications and
Technology (ICT) Industry is a leading edge of
innovation and productivity growth.
Immigrants play a large role in clusters,
particularly Silicon Valley,
however, the national role is not pronounced; and
immigrants are less likely to be ICT entrepreneurs or
managers than natives.
Foreign-born share of owners and top management in
ICT industries, Nationally USA 2005-2007
Foreign-born percent of each
Self-employed, CEO or Business Manager
Source: ACS microdata.