A new study finds that immigrant labor is a major force powering the U.S. pharmaceutical industry. 

The study, conducted by the Institute for Immigration Research at George Mason University, found that the pharmaceutical industry is very dependent on immigrant labor across many job titles. 

The study, entitled "Immigrants Working for US: Pharmaceuticals," is the first study in a series produced by the institute that examines economic contributions by immigrants in key industries in the United States. The institute has a mission of refocusing the issue of immigration by producing and releasing unbiased, interdisciplinary research related to immigrants and U.S. immigration. 

While only 13 percent of the United States' population is foreign-born, research shows that 17 percent of the employed labor force in the U.S. pharmaceutical industry were not born in the U.S. Also, the percentage of those working in the industry who are foreign-born is much higher in many high-skilled occupations in the industry. Thirty-three percent of the total research and development workforce and more than 40 percent of scientists in the industry are immigrants. 

Dr. James Witte, the director of the Institute and head of the project, noted the significance of the high numbers of immigrants working in the pharmaceutical industry. 

"Given that success in the pharmaceutical industry is so dependent on research, it is truly striking how much R&D labor is provided by immigrants," Witte said. "It is particularly interesting to note that the top countries of origin for workers in this industry are the same countries where the local pharmaceutical industry is growing the fastest. One wonders how long it will be before some of these emerging markets present serious competition for the talent that is currently coming to the U.S."

The study also revealed that 20 percent of retail pharmacists are foreign-born, in addition to 37 percent of chemical/material scientists. In addition, 43 percent of medical/life scientists, 43 percent of other physical scientists, 25 percent of chemical technicians and 23 percent of chemical engineers are foreign-born. 

In pharmaceutical retail sales and service positions, at least one in 10 workers are immigrants, with immigrants comprising 13 percent of the cashier workforce, 11 percent of diagnostic and treatment roles, 13 percent of retail supervisors, 11 percent of practitioner support technicians and 9 percent of retail salespeople.

Foreign-born residents also provide 26 percent of the required workforce needed for production and distribution in the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry. 

Most immigrants in the pharmaceutical industry hail from China, India, Mexico, the Philippines and South America.

Also, foreign nations are doing increasingly well in the pharmaceutical industry. The study shows that from 2006 to 2011, the U.S. share of the global pharmaceutical market declined from 41 to 34 percent, while the share of emerging markets in the industry has increased from 14 to 20 percent. 

The 17 emerging pharmaceutical economies in the study that have a minimum of $250 million in annual growth, and mostly represent the countries of origins of the immigration population in the industry. Ten emerging markets compose 74 percent of the immigration population in the pharmaceutical industry in the United States. 

The report states that, given the findings, the "the U.S. may benefit from the continued  encouragement of immigration from those regions. Failing to do so carries the risk that those individuals will use their skills and talents to build the pharmaceutical industries in the very countries that are emerging as the leading competitors to the U.S. pharmaceutical industry."