Council on Foreign Relations
October 10, 2012
I had the pleasure of hosting an event last week for Vivek Wadhwa to discuss his important and troubling new book, The Immigrant Exodus. Wadhwa, an entrepreneur turned scholar, has done more than anyone else to call attention to the critical role that immigrants played in the rise of Silicon Valley and the vibrant tech economy that is rightly such a source of pride for many Americans. And his warning that we are now in danger of killing the goose that laid the golden egg needs to be widely read and addressed with urgency in Washington.
The importance of immigrant scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs to the U.S. economy is now generally accepted, but much of what we know today is the result of pioneering survey work done first by AnnaLee Saxenian of the University of California, and later by larger teams assembled by Wadhwa, Saxenian, and other scholars. In a seminal 1999 study, Saxenian found that immigrants, particularly Indians and Chinese, comprised roughly one-third of the total scientific and engineering workforce of Silicon Valley. A 2007 survey by Wadhwa and others discovered that from 1995 to 2005, more than half of all Silicon Valley startups had at least one foreign-born founder; across the country the figure was just over one-quarter. These were astonishing findings given that just 13 percent of the U.S. population is foreign-born.