These lines, etched in bronze, embellish the Statue of Liberty and also articulate the sentiment of this great American emblem:
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Emma Lazarus's sonnet might need to be rewritten. Today, she might write:
"Give me your ambitious, brainy young.
I will shine the lamp of my colleges, universities and libraries on them.
Your masses yearning to learn shall learn,
And shall walk back through this golden door straight into your arms."
There are many reasons why graduates of American universities are leaving, especially if they came from overseas. One obvious one is that these graduates find better economic opportunities overseas today than they used to a decade ago. But the fact remains that they also find the American policies on highly skilled immigration irksome. Highly irksome.
Never before has a country invited the best brains from around the world, given them an education using her own money and then, pandering to the irrational sentiments of the angry and easily misguided, asked these brains to depart and invest their blossoming talents for the progress and betterment of interests and nations alien to herself.
The story of reverse brain drain in the top bracket of human talent plays out something like this:
International students come to America to study. They pay tuition, but also benefit greatly from American taxpayer money, grants and endowments.
Many colleges will tell you that tuition doesn't even fully cover the cost of the education they are providing to their students. International students who pay tuition variously benefit from vast amounts of research grants, corporate-sponsored programs and endowment-financed facilities and buildings. Many international students also get large amounts of financial aid and scholarships. Many, if not most, international students who come to the U.S. to obtain advanced degrees, such as PhDs, usually do so on scholarships or tuition waivers in lieu of teaching or research.
But after paying for them, American immigration laws make it tough for them to stay.
Limits on H1B visas, the tedium & delays of processing green cards and labor certifications for citizens of India and China, and other restrictions on timing and requirements of practical training clauses in student visas greatly restrict economic presence of these graduates in the United States on completion of their degrees.
Because it is tough for them to stay, the economic benefits of this labor pool accrue to other countries. Offices are opened abroad. Companies are started and funded abroad.
American companies want to hire these international students who turn into managers, scientists and engineers. These companies would have opened offices here, but since they can't hire them here, they go overseas.
From Microsoft on an announcement of opening a new center in 2007:
"The Microsoft Canada Development Centre... [in] Vancouver, Canada... will be home to software developers from around the world... [and] allows the company to recruit and retain highly skilled people affected by immigration issues in the U.S. ... [It] would create a tremendous opportunity for Canada.... while providing strong economic benefits to British Columbia and Canada."
Many entrepreneurs from among these managers, scientists and engineers educated at American universities are starting companies outside America. Visas aren't available for them to start companies here with local capital. Venture capitalists (with American pension money, American endowment money and the money of wealthy Americans) wanting to fund these entrepreneurs educated at American universities are funding companies outside America. Further, taxes and employment from all this economic activity related to these new companies are benefiting nations outside America.
Examples of upcoming companies that have benefited from this reverse migration of people and capital include SnapDeal, PubMatic, Makemytrip.com, A Thinking Ape, Praetorian Group, Campfire Labs and the like. This is in addition to the right-sourcing of jobs and talent by behemoths like Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Intel and the like.
You get the picture. America's universities educate the world's best minds, many times at a subsidized price. Then America sends these minds abroad to raise money from American VC funds to start companies abroad and employ foreigners.
This is not about comprehensive immigration reform. This is about a common sense and easy economic survival technique.
The issues here are not related to comprehensive immigration reform, which deals with highly-sensitive issues pertaining to 10-12 million people. Highly-skilled immigration reform only has to do with a few thousand graduates of reputed American schools every year -- it is something so removed from the issues of illegal immigration that conflating these two distinctive issues is like masking legitimate legislation in reams and reams of pork barrel measures.
Comprehensive immigration reform is impractical given the politics in Washington, DC. Highly-skilled immigration reform is basic common sense. These two have nothing to do with each other with the exception of political posturing needs. Academics, business leaders and politicians on both sides of the aisle generally agree with this but can't act:
"...engineering and technology companies started in the U.S. from 1995 to 2005....25.3% of these [have] at least one key foreign-born founder. Nationwide, these immigrant-founded companies produced $52 billion in sales and employed 450,000 workers in 2005." - Vivek Wadhwa's "America's New Immigrant Entrepreneurs" (Duke University, UC Berkeley 2007)
"Microsoft has found that for every H-1B hire we make, we add on average four additional employees to support them in various capacities." - Bill Gates (Congressional testimony, 2008)
"It makes no sense to educate the world's future inventors and entrepreneurs and then force them to leave when they are able to contribute to our economy." - Charles E. Schumer (D) & Lindsey Graham (R) (Washington Post, 2010)
Until America gets anywhere on this issue, the world will keep taking back its educated, upgraded and highly-skilled people educated and trained in America. Perhaps, like American universities do from alumni, America could also ask these countries and their American-educated citizens for endowment contributions? The solicitation letter will go something like this: "To India & China, with Love: America needs your help now, more than ever before, as we shooed away our job creating graduates."
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