Refugees and Immigrants’ Contributions to Tech


Steve Jobs was the son of a Syrian migrant. You may know him as the founder of Apple. Jobs was raised in California by his adoptive family. His mother, Clara Hagopian, was the daughter of Armenian immigrants. His biological father, Abdulfattah Jandali, was raised in Syria, educated in Lebanon, and fled to the U.S. in the 1950s when political unrest forced him to fled Beirut. If he had been turned away by the U.S. then, you may not have an iPhone or MacBook to read this on. 

According to the Bureau of Labor statistics and National Science Foundation, as of 2013, migrants made up 25% of the U.S. science and technology workforce, not to mention 34 percent of master’s-degree holders and 42 percent of doctoral engineering and science workers.  A study by Duke University found that immigrants founded 52% of Silicon Valley’s new companies between 1995 and 2005, produced produced $52 billion in sales and employed 450,000 workers as of 2005, contributing greatly to the country’s economic growth over time.

While some politicians may get off on pushing the tired “stolen jobs” narrative, it is an undeniable fact (as opposed to an alternative fact): immigrants in the STEM field create new jobs. A 2012 report from the Information Technology Industry Council, the Partnership for a New American Economy, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that “every foreign-born student who graduates from a U.S. university with an advanced degree and stays to work in STEM has been shown to create on average 2.62 jobs for American workers—often because they help lead in innovation, research, and development.”

The Partnership for a New American Economy also published an earlier report in 2011 which concluded that immigrants were founders of 18% of all Fortune 500 companies which, as of 2010, generated $1.7 trillion in annual revenue and employed 3.6 million workers worldwide. and included AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Intel, Merck, DuPont, Google, Cigna, Sun Microsystems, Qualcomm, eBay, and Yahoo.

Many of the scientists, engineers, and tech frontiers that make the United States the global innovation hub it is migrated here from elsewhere. Considering the sky-high cost of higher education and insurmountable amount of student loan debt in the U.S., this may not be totally shocking. Immigrants are more likely than U.S. born Americans to start a business and hold an advanced degree, and almost twice as likely to hold a Ph.D.

Had Emma Lazarus been around today, maybe she would have written differently: give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to produce innovative technology…here are just a few of the brilliant migrants who became tech industry leaders.

  • Steve Jobs, as it was mentioned, was the founder of Apple and the son of a Syrian refugee.
  • Jerry Yang moved to the United States from Taiwan at the age of 12 and went on to found Yahoo, which many of us seem to have forgotten since Google. Speaking of…
  • Sergey Brin is the co-founder of Google and came here as a refugee from the former USSR. Googled this? You can thank him.
  • Pierre Omidyar is the founder of Ebay and an Iranian who immigrated from France with his family at the age of 6.
  • Bob Miner, who co-founded Oracle, is the son of Iranian immigrants.
  • Elon Musk is a South African national who co-founded Tesla Motors and Space X and wants to revolutionize space travel.
  • Jeff Bezos, whose father was Cuban, is the creator of Amazon.
  • Arash Ferdowsi is the founder of Dropbox and an Iranian-American.
  • Alex Ohanian created Reddit and is the son of a refugee who fled Armenia.
  • Sean Rad is a co-founder of Tinder and the son of political migrants fleeing Iran in the 70s. Maybe the hopeless place in Rihanna’s “We Found Love In a Hopeless Place” was the U.S. in 2017.
  • Ping Fu is the co-founder and CEO of 3D software company Geomagic who was once forced to be a child soldier in China under Mao Zedong until she fled to the United States.
  • Eren Bali is the founder and CEO of Udemy and a Turkish immigrant.
  • Jordi Munoz is the president of 3D Robotics and a Mexican native raised in Tijuana.

Immigrants have and always will be a central part of American society. Sometimes we tend to forget that even American-born Americans whose roots may go back generations are still visitors on this land, which once belonged to Natives. Moreover, in a language that politicians may better understand, immigrants are essential contributors to our economy.  They build businesses, create products, and innovate new technologies that create jobs for all Americans. This land is their land as much as it is our land.