That is, as long as the foreign-born inventors aren’t forced to leave the country.
Anurag Bajpayee and Prakash Narayan Govindan, both from India, have started a company to sell the system to oil businesses that are desperate for a cheaper, cleaner way to dispose of the billions of gallons of contaminated water produced by fracking.
Oil companies have flown them to Texas and North Dakota. They say they are about to close on millions of dollars in financing, and they expect to hire 100 employees in the next couple of years. Scientific American magazine called water-decontamination technology developed by Bajpayee one of the top 10
But their student visas expire soon, both before summer, and because of the restrictive U.S. visa system, they may have to move their company to India or another country. “We love it here,” said Bajpayee, a cheerful 27-year-old in an argyle sweater and jeans. “But there are so many hoops you have to jump through. And you risk getting deported while you are creating jobs.”
Much of the immigration debate in Washington has centered on the 11 million undocumented migrants in the country. But, from the halls of MIT to the boardrooms of Silicon Valley, business and academic leaders are more focused on what they call an even greater threat to the U.S. economy: immigration laws that chase away highly skilled foreigners educated in U.S. universities, often with degrees funded by U.S. taxpayers.
While other countries are actively recruiting foreign-born U.S. graduates, the United States has strict limits on visas for highly skilled workers that often put them on waiting lists of many years. And unlike Canada and other countries, the United States offers no specific visa for young entrepreneurs like Bajpayee and Narayan who want to start a business in America.
“We train these people and then we push them away, while Chile and the U.K. and Canada are coming in to recruit them,” said Bill Aulet, managing director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship. “These are people who are creating jobs. It is so outrageous to me.”
Solution is gridlocked
The situation exemplifies the worst in Washington gridlock: Even when both sides agree on something, they can’t agree on how to make it happen.
President Obama supports making it easier for foreigners who earn master’s degrees or PhDs at U.S. universities to get green cards, as does a bipartisan group of U.S. senators working on reform. A solution is stuck in partisan infighting, however, over how to craft comprehensive reforms that address both skilled and unskilled immigrants.