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Reason Foundation

Global economic growth penalizes US

Samuel Staley
March 8, 2009, 11:12pm

Duke University executive in residence Vivek Wadwah has an article in the Washington Post that makes two crucial points worth repeating about US immigration policy. First, US immigration policy creates significant barriers to retaining the best and the brightest. Second, global economic growth is making it harder and harder for the best and the brightest to justify living and working in the US.

This article is the best one I've read in a long time that examines the economic implications of our inept and dysfunctional immigration policy.

The United States has always been the country to which the world's best and brightest -- people like Sandeep -- have flocked in pursuit of education and to seek their fortunes. Over the past four decades, India and China suffered a major "brain drain" as tens of thousands of talented people made their way here, dreaming the American dream.

But burgeoning new economies abroad and flagging prospects in the United States have changed everything. And as opportunities pull immigrants home, the lumbering U.S. immigration bureaucracy helps push them away.

But that's not all. Even foreign graduate students, often seeing the US as a beacon of opportunity, are flocking back to their homeland.

When I [Wadwah] started teaching at Duke University in 2005, almost all the international students graduating from our Master of Engineering Management program said that they planned to stay in the United States for at least a few years. In the class of 2009, most of our 80 international students are buying one-way tickets home. It's the same at Harvard. Senior economics major Meijie Tang, from China, isn't even bothering to look for a job in the United States. After hearing from other students that it's "impossible" to get an H-1B visa -- the kind given to highly-skilled workers in fields such as engineering and science -- she teamed up with a classmate to start a technology company in Shanghai. Investors in China offered to put up millions even before 23-year-old Meijie and her 21-year-old colleague completed their business plan.

In a nation where 25% of all inernational patent applications list foreign nationals as inventors, and 25% of technology companies were founded by immigrants, our immigration policy is cutting the legs out from under our long-term growth and our ability to compete globally.


Samuel Staley is Research Fellow


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