IMMIGRATION & INNOVATIONTo Out-Innovate Global Competitors, the United States Should Embrace Immigrant Talent

By Laura Taylor-Kale

Published 28 September 2022

Immigration barriers for entrepreneurs and U.S.-educated STEM graduates hurt American innovation.

With the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) and Science Act, and the Infrastructure and Jobs Act, the United States is poised to invest over $133 billion more in innovation—as well as critical and green technologies—that will revamp U.S. economic competitiveness. That recent debates on innovation and economic competitiveness elevate science, technology, and engineering prowess as national security imperatives bodes well for ensuring American prosperity and stability. Innovation—creating and developing ideas, building scientific knowledge, developing new products and processes that then scale into new ventures—is vital for economic security in a technology-driven age. Out-innovating will allow the United States to compete effectively against China and other strategic competitors in the battle for technological primacy and economic security. 

To that end, the CHIPS Acts seeks to bolster domestic talent by funding science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education programs. We desperately need this. The United States currently does not produce enough people with the STEM degrees and training to work in the U.S.-based semiconductor sector. Increasing homegrown STEM talent will do much to help our aging manufacturing and industrial workforces, and continue to support the development of future innovators. But the race for STEM talent is a global game, not a regional or local one. What is missing is action to attract, grow, and retain the many talented foreign students and immigrants who come to the United States and become startup entrepreneurs. If the United States is to remain competitive and out-innovate strategic competitors, it needs to attract and retain foreign talent, too.

Innovation is a cornerstone of social and economic progress, but an innovation strategy that overlooks the importance of immigration threatens strategic objectives and economic competitiveness. Manufacturing and technology industry advocates have warned for years that underinvestment in STEM education, a laissez-faire policy toward basic science research and development, and immigration laws that inhibit U.S.-trained STEM graduates from remaining in the United States all undermine U.S. innovation.