The analysis of 20 European countries found that diversity in the workforce also led to more patents being registered.
Migration, Cultural Diversity and Innovation: A European Perspectivesays that foreigners boost natives’ productivity because “new ideas are likely to arise through the interaction of diverse cultures and diverse approaches in problem solving”.
The paper looked at the “cultural diversity” of the workforce and its effect on patenting and the production of scientific papers, weighed by citation, and found that it had a “positive impact”.
A 1 per cent increase in the share of skilled migrants increased the number of patents by between 0.1 and 0.3 per cent, it found.
Cristina Cattaneo, a senior researcher at the Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei in Italy, and one of the study authors, said that diverse research teams were better able to overcome complex technical problems.
She said that the findings reinforced the idea that it was not necessarily possible to substitute foreigners with natives without any negative effect on productivity, because the two groups were complementary as they possessed different cultures.
The paper was presented at a conference, Migration: Global Development, New Frontiers, on 11 April at University College London.
It comes a week after the UK government introduced new guidelines that lowered the amount international students must earn if they want to stay on in the UK in graduate jobs, including academic and research positions.
The study’s findings mirror a 2012 paper Skilled Immigration and Innovation: Evidence from Enrolment Fluctuations in US Doctoral Programmes, which looked at the papers produced by science and engineering departments in the United States.
Departments with more foreign doctoral students tended to produce more papers and win more citations, it found.