Two of the most important questions now being debated in the U.S. are the effects of
globalization and immigration on the nation's economy. Globalization is accelerating and
it is still not clear whether trends like outsourcing will erode U.S. competitiveness or
provide long-term benefits. The focus of the immigration debate is on the plight of
millions of unskilled immigrants who have entered the U.S. illegally. Overlooked in the
debate are the hundreds of thousands of skilled immigrants who annually enter the
In 1999 AnnaLee Saxenian published a groundbreaking report on the economic
contributions of skilled immigrants to California's economy. This study, entitled
"Silicon Valley's New Immigrant Entrepreneurs", focused on the development of Silicon
Valley's regional economy and the roles of immigrant capital and labor in this process.
Saxenian's study also went beyond a quantitative analysis to focus on the social, ethnic
and economic networks of new U.S. immigrants. One of her most interesting findings
was that Chinese and Indian engineers ran a growing share of Silicon Valley companies
started during the 1980s and 1990s and they were at the helm of 24% of the technology
businesses started from 1980 to 1998. Saxenian concluded that foreign-born scientists
and engineers were generating new jobs and wealth for the California economy. Even
those who returned to their home countries to take advantage of opportunities there were
building links to the U.S. and spurring technological innovation and economic expansion
A team of student researchers in the Master of Engineering Management program of the
Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University has been researching the impact of
globalization on the U.S. economy and the engineering profession. The team is led by
Executive in Residence Vivek Wadhwa, Research Scholar Ben Rissing, and Sociology
Professor Gary Gereffi. Earlier research focused on the education and graduation rates of
engineers in the U.S., China and India, and an analysis of the experiences of U.S. firms
engaged in outsourcing their engineering operations.
The Duke researchers were concerned about the growing momentum in outsourcing and
its impact on U.S. competitiveness—and sought to understand the sources of the U.S.
global advantage as well as what the U.S. can do to keep its edge. To better understand
the contributions of skilled immigrants to the competitiveness of the U.S. economy, they
decided to expand and update Saxenian's study.
The goal of this research was to document the economic and intellectual contributions of
immigrant technologists and engineers at the national level. To understand the economic
impact, the study looked at a large sample of all engineering and technology companies
founded in the last ten years, to determine whether a key founder was an immigrant. To
understand the intellectual contribution, they analyzed the World Intellectual Property
Organization Patent Cooperation Treaty database for international patent applications
filed in the United States.
Kansas School District Efficiency Study
Gender Differences in Patenting in the Academic Life Sciences
This report is part of the series Immigration and the American Economy.