We need to stop America’s brain drain


The sun sets on the U.S. Capitol. (Cliff Owen/AP)
Vivek Wadhwa
Contributor, Innovations October 4, 2011

In 1980, when I came to the United States to study, this was the only land of opportunity for skilled immigrants like me. It took less than 18 months for me to get a permanent resident visa, and I became a citizen as soon as I became eligible five years later. I came here to study, but ended up founding two technology companies, which employed hundreds of Americans. Later in life, I decided to give back to America by becoming an academic.

If I was arriving today, I would not have taken the same path.

Vivek Wadhwa is a fellow at Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University, director of research at Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke, and distinguished fellow at Singularity University. His past appointments include Harvard Law School, University of California Berkeley, and Emory University. View Archive

Like the students from India and China that I teach, I would have looked at the bigger opportunities back home after I graduated. And even if I wanted to make America my home, I wouldn’t have had the choice: The waiting time for permanent resident visas for educated workers from India is now 70 years, according to National Foundation for American Policy.

This is a big problem for the U.S. because immigrants have founded 52 percent of Silicon Valley’s companies and created millions of American jobs. This won’t be the case in the future.

For the past six years, I have been researching the contribution of skilled immigrants to U.S. competitiveness. After realizing how fast the tide was turning, I have been raising the alarm that America is experiencing its first ever brain drain. I know that many of our policy makers are concerned but have been unable to enact legislation to fix the problems. They have been mired in battles about the plight of the unskilled and undocumented immigrants. But, given the dire state of our economy, it seems there may be an opportunity for change.

I have been invited to testify before Congress. On Wednesday, at the invitation of Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.). I will present my findings before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement. In my remarks, I will present to committee members three main points: First, the world’s best and brightest are not begging to be let into the United States anymore. Second, the U.S. no longer possesses the advantage in entrepreneurship that some believe it does. And, finally, the U.S. is providing an unintentional gift to China and India by causing frustrated, skilled immigrants to return home thanks to a burdensome visa application process.

My proposed solutions for reversing the tide are not new, but they are desperately in need of implementation. We need to increase the number of skilled worker visas, particularly the EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3 visa categories. To do this, we could make a visa contingent on the purchase of a home for $250,000 or more, thereby providing a boost to the struggling housing market. We should provide permanent resident visas to skilled immigrants who graduate from the nation’s top research universities and top universities’ science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs. We should also make green-card acquisition dependent on skilled immigrants’ founding companies that create jobs for Americans.

The opportunity to present my findings on the challenges we face, as more immigrants choose to return home rather than stay in the U.S., is one I deeply appreciate. However, it will all be a waste if Congress does not take the necessary steps and begin drafting legislation that significantly stands to preserve America’s global competitiveness and provide an opportunity for the world’s best and brightest to play for our team, rather than pack up and go home.

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