The Importance Of Immigrants For The Future Of Tech

The importance of migrants was underlined during the Covid-19 crisis when it was revealed that the founders of both BioNTech and Moderna, two of the companies at the forefront of the development of a vaccine against the virus, are immigrants to the United States and Germany respectively.

This should perhaps come as no surprise. After all, I wrote recently about the importance of immigrants for jobs, after new research from Kellogg School of Management showed that immigrants actually create a huge number of jobs by virtue of their entrepreneurial abilities.

Wharton research further elaborates on this point by pointing out that immigrant founders not only create jobs, but also bring considerable finance with them. The authors state that cross-border VC investment is now at record levels, with this in large part due to the increasingly international nature of entrepreneurship.

Driving AI

It’s perhaps no surprise, therefore, that recent research from MIT’ CSAIL lab has shown that while American continues to lead the way in the development of artificial intelligence, much of the actual breakthroughs are driven by foreign-born scientists.

The researchers assessed improvements made to the key sections of AI over the past 70 years, and found that around two-thirds of the gains in that time were delivered by researchers at North American universities. What is important, however, is that in the last 30 years, over 75% of these breakthroughs have come from foreign-born scientists.

“If we want the United States to continue to be ground zero for computer science, we need to make sure that our policies make it easy to continue to bring host international researchers to join our institutions,” the researchers say.

A broken pipeline

Research from Cornell suggests, however, that this is a pipeline that is increasingly dysfunctional. The paper highlights how despite many foreign-born Ph.D. graduates applying for jobs at tech startups, and indeed receiving offers to work for them, a large number of them fail to actually take up those jobs due to visa issues.

Instead, those people were much more likely to work at larger tech companies who have the resources and expertise to help them navigate the Kafka like H-1B and permanent residency process.

It’s a situation that has also been chronicled by researchers from Georgetown University, who found that restrictive immigration policies are hampering the ability of American firms to recruit and retain the kind of AI talent they need.

“Historically, immigrants have helped America lead the world in technological innovation,” the authors say. “Artificial intelligence is no exception. Foreign-born talent fuels the U.S. AI sector at every level, from student researchers in academic labs to foreign and naturalized workers in leading companies.”

The study reveals that foreign-born talent plugs a crucial hole in the AI talent marketplace, with the hole likely to persist and even grow in the coming years. A laborious and out-of-date immigration policy is thus hindering the competitiveness of American AI firms because they cannot recruit

Read more