Our Real Immigration Problem: Talent Leaving U.S.
This country's floundering economy has never needed the world's best and brightest immigrants more—but, unfortunately, these immigrants have never been interested in this country less. So this would be a good time to roll out the red carpet and stand garland in hand on America's shores to usher in new talent. Far from taking away American jobs (as restrictionists argue), this talent creates more jobs by growing the economic pie.
Yet Congress last month decided to thumb its nose at immigrants who can fill top jobs in the high-tech sector. It added to the "stimulus" bill a provision that will effectively put foreign workers off limits to financial companies that receive bailout money through the Toxic Asset Recovery Program (TARP). The provision was sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). Grassley in particular has been acting like he has a new mission from god to chase away foreign high-tech workers who enter the country on temporary visas. These work permits are called H1-B visas and are specifically designed for "workers in short supply."
Vivek Wadhwa, a researcher at Duke University, notes that even before the current downturn, a steady stream of highly skilled immigrants from India and China—the major donor countries—had been returning home. In fact, Indian and Chinese companies have been reporting a seven to tenfold increase in job applications from their émigrés in the last five years or so. Even a decade or so ago, giving that up to return back to India or China would have seemed pure lunacy. No more. What's changed?
Thanks to economic liberalization, professional opportunities have improved dramatically for these immigrants in their home countries. Over half of the Indian and Chinese polled by Wadhwa said that, relative to cost of living, they were making more money upon returning home compared to what they were earning in the United States. This means it is no longer necessary for high-tech workers to tear up their roots and make an alien land their home for the sake of economic advancement. They can live the American dream in their own country close to family and friends.
Instead of posting "No Entry" signs, Congress should be rolling out the welcome mat. It can begin by scrapping the annual H1-B visa cap. Set at 85,000, this cap is so low that for the last few years it has been getting filled within days after immigration authorities begin accepting applications on April 1, leaving tens of thousands of potential high-tech immigrants in the lurch for the rest of the year.
Beyond that, it should put in place a fast track process that makes these visas available within weeks—not the months and years as is currently the case—of the application. That is what nearly every other industrialized country which is experiencing declining interest by high-tech immigrants is doing. Otherwise, America, the proud nation of immigrants, might well be the big loser in the global race for talent—hardly something to celebrate.
~Excerpts from "Goodbye Chang, So Long Singh," in Reason Magazine, by Shikha Dalmia