The US has more immigrant inventors than every other country combined

Inventors flock to the US like nowhere else.
Inventors flock to the US like nowhere else.
Image: Unsplash/Gianluca Primon
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The United States has an economic advantage that is the envy of the world. Inventors flock to the United States, like nowhere else.

Recent research on the immigration patterns of high-skilled workers (pdf), shows that, from 2000 to 2010, the US received over 190,000 inventors migrate to the US, while only a little over 10,000 left the country. The US received more inventors combined than every other country, and was one of only two countries in the study with a positive net migration.

The researchers define inventors as anyone who has filed for a patent, and use data from the World Intellectual Property Organization. Only countries that have large numbers of inventors that either left or entered the country are included in the chart below.

US president Donald Trump has promised substantial changes to US immigration policy, some of which may threaten the country’s preeminence in attracting innovative immigrants.

Most foreign inventors come to the United States either to work at or attend the country’s universities or through employer sponsored programs like the H-1B temporary work visa for highly skilled workers. Trump has been inconsistent when speaking about his policy toward allowing high-skilled foreigners into the US. He has both attacked the H-1B system as being “unfair” to American workers, but also spoken of the importance of retaining the US’s ability to draw in top talent.

If the US government decides it no longer wants these people, many other countries would gladly take them. The Canadian government ran an ad campaign to tempt high-skilled immigrant workers in the US to come north. The Malaysian government actively targets skilled foreigners by allowing them to easily change employers and bring their family. The Chilean government even started a program that pays highly educated foreign entrepreneurs to work in the country for six months.

The US benefits tremendously (pdf) from the innovations of top foreign talent. That’s part of what’s at stake as the new administration considers changes to existing US immigration policy.