This was particularly true for Germany, he added. “On the other side of the Atlantic, the United States has at least a legendary tradition in immigration policies that attract the best of the world. But there is the question of what Germany can provide in this debate. I don’t think we should be pessimistic, but we have things to discuss. We have to understand that the future depends on a common effort to face the challenges, especially from the rise of Asia.”

Migration and Innovation

Dr. Zimmermann said that the IZA, based in Bonn, has the largest corps of scientists in economics in the world—about 1,100—who cooperate with researchers in United States and China. He summarized his work at IZA and the University of Bonn from the position that innovation, migration, networks, and mobility go together. More specifically, he said, people with diverse socio-cultural backgrounds may boost the creation of new ideas, knowledge spillovers, entrepreneurship, and economic growth. In other words, innovations are based on knowledge and human capital. Migration may cause innovations, for many reasons, such as destroying and restructuring old ideas and replacing them with new ideas. Also, he said, labor mobility carries knowledge. “Innovation is a product of knowledge and ideas being transmitted between people with different information sets through personal contact.”

He cited several recent IZA Discussion Papers that elaborated on these points. In the first of them “the authors have convincingly found that it’s not the quantity of migration but the diversity of the immigrant population which has stronger effect on patent applications. Also, the average skill of immigrants matters very much. Given that Europe attracts not the skilled migrants of the world, this is very important finding.”16

The second paper Dr. Zimmermann emphasized examined labor mobility and concluded that its effects do not depend on whether people move from outside or inside the country.17 “It’s true that the exchange of people between companies is very important,” he said. “If new people come in, it increases the likelihood of innovation—especially if they come from innovative companies.” This may seem obvious, he suggested, “but it’s also true that if someone leaves a company and goes to another innovative firm, this also has positive effects on the innovative activity of his old company. This means that


16Ceren Ozgen, et al, “Immigration and Innovation in European Regions,” IZA Discussion Paper No. 5676, 2011. Prof. Zimmermann commented: “Distinct composition of immigrants from different backgrounds are a more important driving force for innovation than the sheer size of the immigrant population in a certain locality.”

17Ulrich Kaiser, et al, “Labor Mobility, Social Network Effects, and Innovative Activity,” IZA Discussion Paper No. 5654, 2011. Prof. Zimmermann commented: “Labor mobility between firms is associated with an increase in total innovative activity of both the old and new employer”; “Social network effects are the channel for this mechanism.”

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