Immigrants and Nobel Prizes 1901-2017

Date of Publication: 
October, 2017
Source Organization: 
National Foundation for American Policy

Immigrants have been awarded 39 percent, or 33 of 85, of the Nobel Prizes won by Americans in Chemistry, Medicine and Physics since 2000. In 2017, the sole American winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was an immigrant, Joachim Frank, a Columbia University professor born in Germany. Immigrant Rainer Weiss, who was born in Germany and came to the United States as a teenager, was awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics, sharing it with two other Americans, Kip S. Thorne and Barry C. Barish. In 2016, all 6 American winners of the Nobel Prize in economics and scientific fields were immigrants.

Nobel Prize winners represent great individual achievement but also reflect the state of research, openness and scientific advancement within a society. American students, research colleagues and the U.S. economy gain fromthe work performed by outstanding scientists and researchers, including Nobel Prize winners.

The right immigration laws matter, particularly in determining whether the United States gains from increased globalization and rising educational achievement in India, China and elsewhere. The Immigration and NationalityAct of 1965 eliminated the discriminatory national origin quotas and opened the door to Asian immigrants, while the Immigration Act of 1990 increased employment-based green card numbers. Those two pieces of legislation havebeen important factors in drawing international students to the country and enhancing the ability of America to assimilate talented individuals into our culture and economy. While the rise in immigrant Nobel Prize winners reflects an overall increase in the reputation and capability of American institutions and researchers post-1960, a greater openness to immigration has helped make the United States the leading global destination for research in many different science and technology fields, including computers, cancer research and others.

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National Foundation for American Policy. (2017). Immigrants and Nobel Prizes 1901-2017. Retrieved from