Monday, September 21, 2009

Brain drain

This isn't good:
More skilled immigrants are giving up their American dreams to pursue careers back home, raising concerns that the U.S. may lose its competitive edge in science, technology and other fields.

"What was a trickle has become a flood," says Duke University's Vivek Wadhwa, who studies reverse immigration.

Wadhwa projects that in the next five years, 100,000 immigrants will go back to India and 100,000 to China, countries that have had rapid economic growth.

"For the first time in American history, we are experiencing the brain drain that other countries experienced," he says.
More here:
Nil Dutta, 37, came to the USA in 1999 on a student visa and after getting two master's degrees at the University of Michigan, he took a job at a European software company with offices here. He now has an H-1B visa for skilled workers.

Dutta, who lives in Hampton Roads, Va., applied for legal permanent residency, also called green-card status, in 2004 and most likely still faces years of waiting. The government is just now processing applications made in his category on or before April 15, 2001.

A maximum of 140,000 green cards are awarded on employment-based visas each year, and that quota is divided into categories for classes of workers and a set percentage for each country.
Coincidentally I was talking to an Indian national over the weekend who has been in the U.S. for a number of years and attended graduate school here. He discussed the saga of obtaining an employer-based green card, which requires finding a company willing to sponsor you during the application process. Owing to the limited number of green cards granted in this manner every year and the paperwork involved, it's a process that can last years, during which time you can't leave the company without ruining your green card prospects.

The guy I was talking to blamed the process on corporate greed, as it keeps green card applicants beholden to their employer sponsors. This strikes me as a bit far-fetched, as corporations would more likely favor a system without green card quotas which would raise the supply of talented labor and enable them to lower wages.

Regardless, it's a rather nonsensical system. We accept foreign students here in the U.S., educate them and then throw up obstacles to joining the working world and becoming productive members of society. While some may justify such a policy as protecting American workers from foreign labor competition, one must also keep in mind that foreigners also help found a disproportionate number of new technology companies:
Immigrants started 52 percent of Silicon Valley technology companies and contributed to more than a quarter of America's global patents, Wadhwa wrote in a recent Business Week article. They have contributed disproportionately in the most dynamic part of the US economy - the technology sector.

In 2006, US companies founded by immigrants employed 450,000 people and reported $52 billion in revenues.
Indeed, simply look at the role played by Andy Grove at Intel or the founders of Google. We should focus more on expanding the pie than how to divide it.

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