May 30, 2014

Chart of the Week: What top tech execs have in common besides money

immigrant tech founders
Click to view larger version. Credit: Mary Meeker

The U.S. tech landscape would look very different without immigrants, according to a new internet trends presentation by Mary Meeker, an influential tech analyst and venture capitalist. Of the top 25 tech companies (by market capitalization), 60% have founders who are immigrants or have at least one immigrant parent.

The chart uses a broad definition of first- or second-generation immigrants, but it brings a fresh perspective and analysis to how we typically think about the impact of immigrants to the United States. Meeker’s list includes some of the biggest names in tech: Apple co-founder Steve Jobs (son of a Syrian immigrant, but raised by U.S.-born adoptive parents),  Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin (Brazilian immigrant) and Google co-founder Sergey Brin (Russian immigrant).

For years, the nation’s biggest technology companies have lobbied to increase the number of skilled immigrants allowed to legally work in the United States. The Obama administration earlier this month announced plans to let spouses of some highly skilled immigrants work. But an immigration reform bill that would affect both low- and high-skilled immigrants has stalled in the House since its passage in the Senate last year.

There is some support for the move among the public. Roughly half of Asian Americans (47%) and Hispanics (52%) said giving more temporary work visas to high-skilled workers would help the U.S. economy “a great deal,” according to an October 2013 Pew Research Center survey. Less than one-in-five Hispanics (19%) and Asian Americans (17%) said doing so would not help the economy.

In 2012, the top countries of birth for recipients of H1-B visas issued to high-skilled workers are, in descending order: India, China, Canada, Philippines and South Korea.

The United States is by far the world’s top destination for immigrants. The U.S. has more than 40 million immigrants, accounting for 13% of the population – about the same percentage as a century ago. Today, one-in-four of the U.S. population are either immigrants or have at least one immigrant parent.

It’s worth noting, however, that none of the tech executives listed in Meeker’s chart have roots in today’s top countries sending immigrants to the United States. Of all immigrants, 29% (or 11.7 million) were born in Mexico. Other top countries, in descending order are: China, India, Philippines and Vietnam.

Category: Chart of the Week

Topics: Immigration

  1. Photo of Jens Manuel Krogstad

    is a writer/editor focusing on Hispanics, immigration and demographics at Pew Research Center.


  1. no name3 years ago

    Jeff Bezos was born of american parents, but adopted by a Cuban immigrant. He was raised by him, but it seems like there should be an asterisk in there like with Steve Jobs

  2. john802243 years ago

    “There are lies.  There are damn lies.  And then there are statistics.”  And worse still is Partnership for a New American Economy.  This same “study” shows that 17% of the founders were foreign-born—half of whom immigrated before the age of 12.  Even more misleadingly powerful is that it proves 92% of the top 25 tech companies were native-founded.  What this really proves is that a relatively low percentage of founders who come to the US on their own succeed in building something special.  A disproportionately high percentage of founders had long established familiarity in the US by the time they were adults.  It boils down to being a terrible argument that immigration is the source of innovation but hopes readers will infer it to be.

    1. Anon3 years ago

      Yet it shows that a good number of immigrants raise kids who can do something great or grow up to do something great. Arriving before the age of 12 doesn’t erase the fact that they had non-American origins and most likely had a somewhat different upbringing from that of the typical American family. It does show that being in America helped them realize their potential, but let’s not try to deny their origins.

      1. john802243 years ago

        It shows much more about how PNAE can twist statistics. Any number without context can be badly misconstrued. A true study of half the US population found only 1000 cases of breast cancer in a year. PNAE would say stop funding research. Truth would say, the half studied were men.

        At first glance, I fear a good many readers would take the statements as overwhelming proof of immigrants being wildly more capable than native-born. The facts it actually finds are that people create things and there’s no proof of correlation–good or bad–about being an immigrant or child thereof being the magic recipe.

        I am particularly harsh with PNAE due to a long history of such tactics. I do not mean to insinuate there’s no value in other cultures or ideas nor that there’s anything inherently inferior or wrong with immigrants nor that there should not be immigration. Only that PNAE’s studies are not to be taken seriously. They don’t exist to find answers. They exist to push an agenda.

        The sample space is very small here, but child immigrants account for 7% of founders in this study and performed modestly better than their share of the overall population. I THINK 3/4 were grew up in relative privilege. We have little way of know if it was the richness of upbringing, having wealthy parents, mostly due to being raised primarily American or any other reason.

        Again, no intention existed to lambast immigrants. But the study is all but meaningless.