It’s a widely acknowledged fact that many of America’s best inventors weren’t born in the Untied States. But few realize exactly how many scientists and mathematicians from other corners of the globe actually affect American inventions and thus America’s position as a world leader in innovation.
Slightly more than 10% of the working population in the United States is foreign born. But 25% of those working in the science and engineering workforce are from other countries. Nearly 50% of those with science and engineering doctorates are born outside of the United States. So what does that actually mean for the country?
In 1975, two percent of patents in the United States were given to inventors born in China. Today, Chinese contributions have risen to eight percent. Statistics from Indian inventors show the same trend peaking at five percent in 2000, but Indian innovations have dropped a bit since that year. Chinese inventions haven’t increased recently either. That combined with the dropping of Indian contributions, along with the drop of Europeans and American born inventions, signals that the innovative nature of the county might be in trouble.
There is much speculation as to why these numbers might be what they are. A major contribution might be the fewer numbers of visas available to foreigners following 9/11. Increased security and less overall enthusiasm for immigrants means that many who might bring new ideas and research to the country are being turned away or at the very least welcomed with less enthusiastic arms.
There is also speculation that the home countries of many of these individuals are becoming more attractive. China and India along with many other Asian countries have made dramatic strides in industry and are becoming more competitive in the global marketplace. The increasingly worldwide market means that working in your home country, so long as your contributions are rewarded sufficiently, is appealing. You don’t have to leave home to work with many of the most powerful companies in the world – in many cases the companies have an office just down the street.
Finally, it might also be a simple explanation. It could be that the most recent innovations in the United States were not in the traditional engineering or science fields. It’s possible that the contributions from these nationalities are the same or growing, but the number of patents in other areas is simply outstripping them.
America has always been known for innovation and leading the global race in many of the fastest and more futuristic technologies. Americans born in other lands have contributed to these innovations and therefore the reputation of America a great deal.
American has long been a “melting pot” of ethnicities, cultures and nationalities. This special blend has keep America moving forward and seeking new technologies and skills. It seems only time will tell if the increased restrictions on new immigrants or the development in other nations around the world will impact the position of America as a global leader – at least as far as technology is concerned.