The Supply Side of Innovation: H-1B Visa Reforms and US Ethnic Invention

Innovation and Economic Growth and Patents

Article Snapshot


William R. Kerr and William F. Lincoln


Journal of Labor Economics, Vol. 28:3, pp. 473-508, 2010


Paper uses immigration and patent data to examine the effect of skilled immigrants on innovation in the United States.

Policy Relevance

Increasing H-1B visa allowances could increase domestic innovation by foreign workers without crowding native researchers from the workforce.

Main Points

  • H-1B visas permit temporary immigration for workers in science and engineering (SE).
  • Immigrants are a major source of labor in SE; in 2000 immigrants comprise 24% of the US SE workforce with bachelor’s degrees. Their representation of SE workers with doctorates is 47%.
  • Between 1995 and 2008, immigration on H-1B visas varied widely from year to year.
    • When more visas were granted, SE employment in the US increased; native workers were not displaced. Rather, new jobs were created for immigrant workers.
    • Significantly more patents were granted to inventors with Indian and Chinese surnames.
    • These results hold when the authors consider possible statistical interference from broader trends in technology, labor market movements, and geography.
  • The employment and innovation gains from issuing more H-1B visas are stronger in cities already dependent on H-1B workers.
  • These effects might not hold in the long run, and immigration may affect non-SE industries differently.

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