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Skilled Immigration and Innovation: Evidence from Enrollment Fluctuations in U.S. Doctoral Programs

  • Maskus, Keith
  • Mobarak, Ahmed Mushfiq
  • Stuen, Eric T.

We study the contribution of foreign science and engineering talent to the creation of new knowledge in the U.S. economy using panel data on 2300 science and engineering (S&E) departments at 100 large American universities from 1973 to 1998. We use macroeconomic shocks and policy changes in source countries that differentially affect enrollments across fields and universities to isolate exogenous variation in the supply of students at specific departments. Both foreign and domestic graduate students are central inputs into knowledge creation, and the marginal foreign student contributes more to the production of scientific publications and citations. A 10% decrease in the foreign share of doctoral students lowers S&E research output at U.S. universities by 5-6%. A theoretical model of university admissions and scholarships helps us infer the productivity effects of student quality, and econometric results indicate that any visa restrictions limiting entry of high-quality foreign students is most costly for U.S. innovation. Increased diversity appears to be the primary mechanism by which foreign students improve research outcomes. The impact of more restrictive immigration policies depends on how they affect the quality margin and diversity of incoming foreigners.

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 7709.

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Date of creation: Feb 2010
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:7709
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  1. Pierre Azoulay & Waverly Ding & Toby Stuart, 2005. "The Determinants of Faculty Patenting Behavior: Demographics or Opportunities?," NBER Working Papers 11348, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Jerry G. Thursby & Marie C. Thursby, 2007. "University licensing," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 23(4), pages 620-639, Winter.
  3. Fabian Waldinger, 2009. "Peer effects in science: evidence from the dismissal of scientists in Nazi Germany," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 28518, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  4. Niebuhr, Annekatrin, 2006. "Migration and innovation: Does cultural diversity matter for regional R&D activity?," IAB Discussion Paper 200614, Institut für Arbeitsmarkt- und Berufsforschung (IAB), Nürnberg [Institute for Employment Research, Nuremberg, Germany].
  5. Richard B. Freeman, 2005. "Does Globalization of the Scientific/Engineering Workforce Threaten U.S. Economic Leadership?," NBER Working Papers 11457, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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