June 29, 2016

High-Skill Migration

People — their skills and ideas — are the ultimate renewable resource. Society’s ability to transfer information across large distances has grown exponentially, but face-to-face personal interactions remain crucial to the transmission of knowledge. (Knowledge and information are not the same!) The dropping cost of communication and transportation has contributed to an increase in the mobility of highly-skilled people, and new patterns of mobility have emerged, producing important social consequences and fascinating policy challenges.

The U.S. remains at the center of the global high-skill mobility system, although that system is changing rapidly.  To shed light on a key aspect of the knowledge diffusion and technological innovation processes, GMU colleage Zoltan Acs I conducted a major study of the role of foreign-born entrepreneurs in the U.S. high-technology industry. Our top-line finding is that about 16% of the country’s high-tech firms count at least one foreign-born entrepreneur in their founding team. These entrepreneurs come from all over the world (53 countries in our sample), and the vast majority are deeply rooted in the U.S.  We released the study a workshop that I organized at the Brookings Institution.

I am enthusiastic about the prospect for policies that produce win-win results for both sending and receiving countries, which I have explored in a paper with Ph.D. student Ted Davis that focuses on India. With Ph.D. student Fangmeng Tian, I prepared a study of high-skill migration and its relationship to innovation policy in Hong Kong. I have also worked to conceptualize the process of high-skill migration and its impacts at the national and global levels in papers published in Science and Public Policy, Technology in Society and Issues in Science and Technology.