Foreign Inventors:  Their Contributions to Society and Struggle for Residency  

On June 26, 2012, The Partnership for a New American Economy released a report titled “Patent Pending:  How Immigrants are Reinventing the American Economy.”  It observes that while foreign scientists, researchers, and other engineers play a crucial role “in inventing the products and dreaming up the ideas that will power the American economy in the future,” they face an enormous hurdle to attain U.S. permanent residency.[1]  America’s immigration policies force the world’s brightest minds to leave the country to compete against us abroad.

America’s economic strength is associated with its ability to attract top minds.  From tenured professors to graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, foreign inventors played an important part in cutting-edge research.  They contributed to “semiconductor device manufacturing (87%), information technology (84%), pulse or digital communications (83%), pharmaceutical drugs or drug compounds (79%), and optics (77%).”[2]  Representing 88 countries,these foreign-born inventors proved invaluable in their university communities as 76 percent of the 1,466 patents from the top 10 patent-producing universities[3] listed at least one foreign-born inventor.  These top research universities reported hundreds of millions of dollars in patent revenues, which they will use to promote more research and development.  Whether they turn their research into successful startup ventures or license out their patents to established companies, they create jobs for Americans. 

A number of foreign inventors were of Asian origin.  Some emigrated from larger nations like South Korea while others came from smaller nations like Turkmenistan.  Of the 1,466 patents reviewed, more than 20 percent had an inventor from China, and roughly 14 percent had an inventor from India.

However, foreign inventors find it difficult to remain in the U.S.  Foreign-born STEM graduates who want to stay in the U.S. only have one option:  apply for the H-1B temporary high-skilled visa.  But the arbitrary caps the U.S. government sets on H-1B visas “are exhausted every year, often within days.”[4]  Immigrants on H-1B temporary high-skilled visas face job restrictions.  For example, the bearer’s spouse cannot work, limiting the couple’s annual income.  Moreover, these foreign inventors cannot work for university departments that deal with national security.  Many employers who would like to hire foreign nationals often find themselves unable to do so, because their companies lack the ability to sponsor these temporary visas.  The average employer who does so pays $6000 or more on legal fees.  Similarly, not all employers have the financial capability to sponsor green cards. 

With only 140,000 green cards granted every year in employment-based categories, many foreign inventors must wait for years before getting their applications approved.  Indian nationals seeking U.S. permanent residency in one of the more popular categories must endure a 70-year wait for approval.  Likewise, the Chinese who apply face a 20-year backlog. 

The Partnership for a New American Economy proposes the U.S. ease its immigration policy towards STEM graduates.  To learn more about “Patent Pending:  How Immigrants are Reinventing the American Economy,” go to 

[1] “Patent Pending:  How Immigrants are Reinventing the American Economy,” The Partnership for a New American Economy,  

[2] Ibid.

[3] They are as follows in order of rank:  University of California Systems, Stanford University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Wisconsin – Madison, University of Texas System, California Institute of Technology, University of Illinois System, University of Michigan System, Cornell University, and Georgia Institute of Technology.

[4] Ibid. 








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