Tag Archives: Immigration statistics

Can Immigration Policies Become More Open?

While immigrants and employers deal with the daily reality of overcoming immigration policies aimed at restricting, rather than promoting, migration, there are those who have called for liberalizing the world’s policies on the movement of people. In their book Exceptional People: How Migration Shaped Our World and Will Define our Future, authors Ian Goldin (Oxford), Geoffrey Cameron (Oxford) and Meera Balarajan (University of Cambridge) call for a fundamental change in immigration policies.

The authors argue that freeing up migration around the world would reap benefits. The authors note that according to the World Bank, “Increasing migration equal to 3 percent of the workforce in developed countries between 2005 and 2025 would generate global gains of $365 billion.” More radically: “Completely opening borders, some economists predict, would produce gains as high as $39 trillion for the world economy over 25 years.”

The authors are realistic enough to note that nothing like complete open borders is going to happen anytime soon. Their detailed history of migration around the world explains that until about 100 years ago, “open borders” was mostly the policy around the globe. The advent of World War I, nationalism, and the increase in modern transportation made such policies politically untenable.

Yet Goldin, Cameron and Balarajan explain that even if borders were not completely open, more migration, particularly if it was done in an orderly, legal way, can achieve positive results: “A small increase in migration would produce a much greater boon to the global economy and developing countries than free trade and development assistance combined.”

The authors call for an international body to help facilitate more open migration policies. Such calls are likely to fall on deaf ears. “So long as nationalism can legitimately trump more universal claims of international cooperation, world development, poverty alleviation, and human freedom, the project to advance an agenda for the liberalization of migration will be stalled,” the authors note.

Goldin, Cameron and Balarajan do not discuss the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), which has provided a degree of openness on skilled migration through a multilateral body. The United States, for example, committed, in essence, to maintain its policies on H-1B and L-1 temporary visas in exchange for greater market access in other sectors. To date, no cases have been filed against the United States for failing to honor those commitments, although it’s possible that could change.

The immigration issue is not going away. Factors beyond the control of elected officials propel both the issue and individual migration decisions. “A growing supply of migrants will result from greater pressure and propensity for people to move,” the authors note. “The pressure to migrate arises from the push and pull factors (whether economic, social, or political) that make migration attractive, whereas the propensity to migrate is related to individuals’ ability and willingness to bear the costs of moving.”

Goldin, Cameron and Balarajan conclude by placing their call for more open immigration policies in historical perspective: “Genetic and other evidence has placed the old arguments for ethnic purity in the dustbin of history. The ethical justification for discriminating on the basis of nation-states is also becoming moribund. While the world may still hold tightly to its national categories, as an excuse for restricting human liberties, they are being eroded by the tides of history. We contend that the idea of freer movement . . . will end up like the other big ideas that emerged from the margins of impossibility into the realm of the self-evident.”

Immigrant-Founded Companies on the Fortune 500

A new study from the Partnership for a New American Economy shows immigrants and their children have played a significant role in starting key companies in the United States. The study found more than 40 percent of current companies listed on the Fortune 500 were founded by either immigrants or their children. (The study can be found here )

The Partnership for a New American Economy was started by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, along with the mayors of Philadelphia, Los Angeles, San Antonio and Phoenix, and the CEOs of Microsoft, Walt Disney, Marriott, Boeing and News Corporation. The study’s conclusion advocates changes to America’s immigration laws: “To compete, we must modernize our own immigration system so that it welcomes, rather than discourages, the Fortune 500 entrepreneurs of the 21st century global economy. We must create a visa designed to draw aspiring entrepreneurs to build new businesses and create jobs here. We must give existing American companies access to hire and keep the highly skilled workers from around the world whom they need to compete. And we must stem the loss of highly skilled foreign students trained in our universities, allowing them to stay and contribute to our economy the talent in which we’ve invested.”

Table 1 and Table 2 give a sample of the more than 200 companies in the Fortune 500 started by immigrants or their children. Some on the list may make you smile, such as Alexander Graham Bell, an immigrant from Scotland, the inventor of the telephone credited with founding AT&T, or Thomas Edison, a son of immigrants, who invented the light bulb and started General Electric.

There was only one Indian immigrant or child of immigrants on the list (Vinod Khosla, Sun Microsystems) for a simple reason: The Fortune 500 are the largest companies in America and it normally takes many years for a business to grow that large. The exceptions are some recent technology juggernauts, such as Google and eBay. Indian immigration to the United States remains relatively new, essentially post-1965. In another decade or two it would not be surprising to see a number of companies on the Fortune 500 that were started by Indian immigrants or their children.

Table 1

Immigrant-Founded Companies on the Fortune 500

Company Immigrant Founder Country of Origin
AT&T Alexander Graham Bell Scotland
Pfizer Charles Pfizer, Charles, Erhart Germany
Kraft Foods James L. Kraft Canada
Fluor John Simon Fluor, Sr. Switzerland
Kohl’s Maxwell Kohl Poland
Colgate-Palmolive William Colgate England
Sun Microsystems Vinod Khosla, Andy Bechtolsheim India, Germany
BJ’S Wholesale Club Max and Morris Feldberg Russia
EBay Pierre Omidyar France
Google Sergey Brin Russia

Source: Partnership for a New American Economy; companies had at least one immigrant founder.

Table 2

Fortune 500 Companies Started by the Children of Immigrants

Company Founder with Immigrant Parent(s) Country of Origin
General Electric Thomas Edison Canada
Ford Motor Henry Ford Ireland
IBM Herman Hollerith Germany
Boeing William E. Boeing Germany
Home Depot Bernie Marcus Russia
United Parcel Service James Casey Ireland
Apple Steve Jobs Syria
CBS William S. Paley Ukraine
Office Depot Jack Kopkin Russia
Harley-Davidson William S. Harley England

Source: Partnership for a New American Economy; companies had at least one founder who was a child of an immigrant parent or parents.

Will Improved Tech Job Market Help Change Immigration Policy?

Even when making policy that might last years, elected officials tend to look to the moment. That’s particularly true in the case of immigration, where the unemployment rate at a particular time influences whether or not to relax or restrict immigration quotas. It’s happened before on skilled immigration.

In 1998 and 2000, unemployment rates were around 4 percent nationally. That made it possible, though still not easy, to increase the quotas for high skilled foreign nationals on H-1B visas. Many of those individuals come from India.

Today, H-1B applications are down when compared to earlier years, but it is still likely the quota of 65,000 (plus a 20,000 exemption for recipients of a master’s degree from a U.S. university) will be reached before the end of the 2012 fiscal year.

There are several changes that could be made to improve U.S. immigration policy, particularly for high skilled professionals: increase the H-1B quota or exemptions from the annual cap, increase the quota or exemptions from the annually 140,000 limit for employment-based green cards, eliminate the per country limit, and exempt more individuals from the burdensome requirements of labor certification when applying for a green card. Yet the fate of such reforms rests as much on perceptions of the current job market as to whether they represent good long-term policy.

New Report on the Tech Job Market

Contrary to popular perceptions, a new report from the tech job website Dice.com finds that the job market is good for people with talent in technology fields. (The report can be found here.)

The report cites Dr. Tim Lindquist, a professor of computer science and engineering, Arizona State University’s Polytechnic College. “I can’t tell you the last time I had a student, even some of our poorer students, tell me they had trouble finding a job,” says Lindquist. “None of our graduates have trouble getting jobs, and we have weekly requests, very consistent, looking for people.”

The report states that “Incredible . . . describes well the challenge facing American businesses in need of tech skilled new hires in 2011. From coast to coast and metro to metro, companies in need of tech help say they’re struggling mightily to match open positions with qualified people and state-of-the-marketplace skill sets.”

Anne Hunter, with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, estimates, “There are easily two or three jobs for every computer science grad.”

Dice.com found a 60 percent increase in the number of tech jobs posted on its site from a low of two years ago. In other words, the job market for high skilled workers in tech-related fields has picked up substantially.

What’s Most in Demand?

In analyzing the job postings, Dice.com has determined that the most frequently requested skills today are Oracle, followed by J3EE/Java, C,C++, C#, and Project Management and SQL. (See Table 1)

Table 1

Most Frequently Requested Skills on Dice.com

Skills Number of Job Postings Requesting Skill on Dice.com Percentage Growth from 2010
Oracle 16,895 25%
J2EE/Java 16,683 21%
C, C++,C# 16,033 16%
Project Management 14,795 14%
SQL 13,554 21%

                                      Source: America’s Tech Talent Crunch, Dice.com, May 2011.

Products demanded by consumers are helping to drive the tech job market. The fastest growing skills requested in job postings in the first quarter of 2011 compared to the first quarter of 2010 are Android, Cloud, iPhone, JavaScript and Peoplesoft. (See Table 2)

Table 2

Fastest Growing Skills Requested on Dice.com

Skills Percentage Growth from 2010 to 2011
Android 302%
Cloud 221%
iPhone 220%
JavaScript 88%
Peoplesoft 83%

                                               Source: America’s Tech Talent Crunch, Dice.com, May 2011.


Even though there is no evidence immigration affects the unemployment rate over time, perceptions about the job market figure into the calculations made by elected officeholders. The reality of an improved job market in high tech jobs could help tip the balance favorably if smaller scale reforms on employment-based immigration are proposed in Congress. That would improve the situation faced by employers and high skilled foreign nationals.

Children of Indian and Chinese Parents Among Nation’s Top Science Students

A new study shows that most of America’s top high school science students are the children of immigrants. More specifically, the research shows that 70 percent of the finalists (28 of 40) at the 2011 Intel Science Talent Search competition had immigrant parents.

For the research, I interviewed the finalists at this year’s competition, as well as a number of the parents, to determine immigration background. The study has received some interest, including an article in the San Jose Mercury News. A copy of the study can be found here.

It follows earlier research conducted in 2004 that showed the children of immigrants were the majority of finalists at the Intel Science Talent Search, as well as the majority of members of the U.S. math and physics teams.


Indian and Chinese Parents

As Table 1 shows, most of the 40 student finalists at the 2011 Intel Science Talent Search were from India and China. There were 16 children with parents born in China, 10 had parents born in India, as well as one parent from Iran and one from South Korea. Twelve of the parents were native-born.

To place these numbers in perspective, in 2009, Indians comprised only 0.8 percent of the U.S. population and Chinese made up only 1 percent, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. In proportion to their presence in the U.S. population, one would expect only one child of an Indian (or Chinese) immigrant parent every two and a half years to be an Intel Science Talent Search finalist, not 10 in a year.

Table 1

Country of Birth for Parents of 40 Finalists of 2011 Intel Science Talent Search Competition

China 16
United States 12
India 10
Iran 1
South Korea 1

Source: National Foundation for American Policy. Based on interviews conducted with finalists and parents.

Immigration Category Breakdown

Only 12 percent of the U.S. population is foreign-born and less than 1 percent is made up of current or former H-1B visa holders. Yet the 24 individuals hired on H-1B visas (and then sponsored for green cards) represented the single greatest source of parents with children at this year’s Intel Science Talent Search finals. Fourteen of those 24 were first international students.

Table 2

Immigration Category for Immigrant Parents of 2011 Intel Science Talent Search Finalists

Employment (H-1B and Later Employer-Sponsorship) 24
International Student* 14
Family-Sponsored 3
Refugee 1

Source: National Foundation for American Policy. Based on interviews conducted with finalists and parents. *Note: International students who stayed in the United States after graduation did so on H-1 or H-1B visas.

One should also note that three of the parents were sponsored through a family preference category; one received refugee status after applying for asylum. Eight of the children were themselves born outside the United States.

Table 3

2011 Intel Science Talent Search Finalists With Indian-American Immigrant Parents

Name Parents Birthplace Hometown, State
Aggarwal, Amol India Saratoga, California
Arora, Shubhangi* India Novi, Michigan
Atolia, Eta* India Tallahassee, Florida
Joardar, Rounok India Plano, Texas
Mahajan, Rohan India Cupertino, California
Mukhopadhyay, Prithwis Kumar* India Woodbury, Minnesota
Pai, Sunil Kochikar India Houston, Texas
Parthasarathy, Nikhil India Mountain View, California
Rangwala, Alydaar India Loudonville, New York
Saha, Shubhro India Avon, Connecticut

Source: National Foundation for American Policy, Society for Science & the Public. *Born abroad.

Beyond the Numbers

While the numbers are interesting, they represent stories filled with both hope and promise. Samar Saha, father of Shubhro Saha, came to America on an H-1B visa to work in information technology.  His son Shubhro, 18, from Avon, Connecticut, worked with a super computer to identify a possible mechanism for the interaction of the catalyst in hydrogen production. The goal is to make hydrogen easier to use as an alternative energy source. He has presented his research at General Electric. Born in Calcutta, Mr. Saha said, “We came to America for the opportunity and quality of life. I am grateful that my son has been able to take advantage of the opportunities this country offers.”

The father of Rohan Mahajan came to America from India as a graduate student and today works for Cisco in Silicon Valley. Rohan said, “I got interested in energy production because whenever we went to India the power always went out.” For the 2011 Intel Science Talent Search competition he researched methods of improving the efficiency of photoelectrochemical cells and found a way that increased light absorption of the photoelectrodes, which could have applicability to photovoltaic (solar) cells.

Alydaar Rangwala, whose parents were born in India, found that long wave UV light might work as a treatment for the treatment of lupus, as well as LCH and scleroderma. Prithwis Kumar Mukhopadhyay, who was born in India, has researched whether carrageenan, a food additive, may be linked to malignant cancers.


The research shows that Americans gain much from being open to immigrants who come here seeking a better future for their children. It’s a positive story about how a country gains from being open to people from other cultures and how children possess an enormous capacity to assimilate and excel.

Why (and What) Are Indians Studying In The United States?

Indian students are a key source of future immigrants to the United States. Many of these students are recruited off U.S. campuses to work in America and are sponsored for permanent residence (a green card). But why do Indian students come here? And what are they studying?

A primary reason anyone desires to study abroad is the belief that education in another country will offer a unique benefit or perspective, or be important for a future career. When U.S. students go abroad it’s more likely to be for a semester or a year, rather than for a full degree program. However, a chance to earn a degree from a prestigious university, such as the London School of Economics, is valued. But in many cases, Americans are seeking unique cultural opportunities when studying abroad, particularly the chance to master another language.

In the case of Indians, there is great interest in gaining a degree abroad that will advance career goals. The majority of Indians come here to earn a masters or Ph.D. In the 2009/2010 academic year, 65 percent of Indian students in the United States were enrolled in a graduate program, compared to 14.5 percent in undergraduate programs (and 18.7 percent in Optional Practical Training), according to the Institute of International Education. That is much different than for countries as a whole, where the number of students seeking a bachelor’s degree and graduate degree is about even for international students coming to the United States.

There appears to be a strong sense among Indians coming here that an American university education is most valuable in engineering, computer science or business. As Table 1 shows, in the 2009/2010 academic year nearly 40 percent of Indian students in America were enrolled in engineering programs at U.S. colleges, according to the Institute of International Education; approximately 20 percent were in math/computer science and 15 percent in business/management. While 10 percent were in physical/life science, only 5 percent were enrolled in health professions, 3 percent in social sciences and 0.6 percent in humanities. Indians are not coming to America in great numbers to earn a degree in history or sociology.

Table 1

                                                    Indian Students By Field of Study in U.S.: 2009/2010

Business/Management Engineering Physical/Life Sciences Math/Computer Science Social Science Health Professions
Percentage of Indian Students in Field 15.3% 38.8 % 10.2% 19.8% 3% 4.9%

           Source: Institute of International Education

How does this study pattern compare to other countries?

India possesses the highest proportion of students enrolled in engineering, followed by Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Turkey, Pakistan and China. (See Table 2)  India also possesses the highest proportion of students enrolled in math/computer science, followed by Nepal, China, Pakistan and Turkey. It is important to remember that India and China send many more students to the United States than those other countries, which means there is a high concentration of Indians, as well as Chinese, in U.S. graduate programs in both engineering and math/computer science.

For students from many other countries studying in America to earn a degree in business/management is a higher relative priority. While 15 percent of Indian students in 2009/10 enrolled in business/management, 24 percent of students from China did so, as did approximately 25 percent of students from Taiwan, Germany and Pakistan. Nearly 40 percent of students from Vietnam are here to study business/management.

Table 2

                              Percentage of International Students By Country in U.S. Engineering Programs: 2009/2010

Country Percentage Enrolled in Engineering
India 38.8%
Malaysia 28.4%
Saudi Arabia 24.0%
Nigeria 23.6%
Turkey 23.3%
Pakistan 23.2%
China 20.2%

                                                     Source: Institute of International Education

Table 3

                      Percentage of International Students By Country in U.S. Math/Comp. Sci. Programs: 2009/2010

Country Percentage Enrolled in Math/Computer Science
India 19.8%
Nepal 11.7%
China 10.7%
Pakistan 10.7%
Turkey 10.0%

                                                     Source: Institute of International Education


The number of Indian students enrolled at U.S. universities nearly doubled in the last decade and has tripled since 1995. The data show Indians are taking advantage of American universities’ comparative advantage in the fields of engineering, math/computer science and business/management. Examining the fields of study shows Indians have increasingly seen an American degree in these fields as the ticket to success.