Expert Commentary

Skilled immigration and economic growth

2008 Harvard, Duke and University of California study on the contributions of highly skilled and educated immigrants to the United States economy.

The United States is a country founded by immigrants, yet immigration has never failed to stir controversy. Much of the discussion centers on illegal immigration, but the number of people who arrive legally and their contributions to the U.S. economy — or their cost — has also elicited debate.

A 2008 study by Harvard University, Duke University and the University of California at Berkley, “Skilled Immigration and Economic Growth,” seeks to understand the contributions of foreign-born entrepreneurs.

The study looked at nearly 30,000 companies founded between 1995 and 2005 that met certain criteria, including sales, number of employees and type of business. The results indicate that:

  • More than 25% of the companies examined had at least one immigrant as a key founder.
  • Less than 2% of the entrepreneurs entered the United States with the intent of starting a business. Instead, more than 52% came to study and almost 40% because of a job opportunity.
  • On average, U.S.-born founders started companies 16 years after completing their studies; immigrant founders did so 13 years after entering the United States.
  • Immigrant entrepreneurs are highly mobile, with less than a quarter starting businesses in the same state in which they completed their education.

The authors conclude that firms founded by skilled immigrants during the survey period contributed significantly to wealth and job creation in the United States.

Keywords: California, economy, employment, Hispanic, Latino, race

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