Engineers and scientists are desperately needed by many high-tech firms. However, positions are going unfilled because there are not enough trained Americans to fill them and immigration policy doesn’t allow enough visas to be granted to qualified immigrants who would be happy to take these jobs. And it’s not only in established businesses where immigrants bolster the economy. One study showed that foreign-born entrepreneurs started more than 25% of the technology and engineering firms in the U.S. between 1995 and 2005. Businesses created by immigrants generated $52 billion in sales and had 450,000 employees in 2005.
Foreign nationals now comprise the majority of scientists and engineers being trained in the U.S. for advanced degrees. For example, they account for 50% of master’s degrees and 70% of Ph.d degrees in electrical engineering. On an undergraduate level, foreign born residents earn 33% of all degrees in engineering, 27% of those in computer science, math and statistics, and 24% of those in the physical sciences. Each year vast numbers of students from abroad come to study in our universities, because the education they receive is superior to what they can get at home. Last year, 160,000 Chinese men and women were enrolled in American universities, about 60% of them pursuing engineering or science degrees. Yet our poorly conceived laws limit thousands of these scientists and engineers from obtaining jobs in our country after they graduate, even though they would prefer to stay and our high-tech firms would love to have them. We should be trying to lure these foreign graduates to work in America, rather than making it difficult for them to gain employment.
A Harvard Business School study found that almost half of the scientists and engineers with doctorates currently working in the U.S. were immigrants, and they accounted for 67% of the increase in American scientists and engineers between 1995 and 2006. The need for these educated foreign born workers will only grow as the Baby Boomers age and retire in the years ahead.
At the same time that immigration laws block many foreign-born scientists and engineers from working in America, China and India are actively recruiting those that are here, providing outsized bonuses and other inducements. As a case in point, according to the New York Times, China has been offering experienced professors and researchers bonuses of approximately $158, 000 to come back home.
The flow of these university graduates to their native countries from the U.S. can be considered a reverse brain drain, inverting the expected pattern of immigration. Federal funds subsidize the education of these scientists and engineers with grants to the universities they attend, aiding the economies of other nations and helping them to compete against us. America also loses the tens of thousands of patents and new technology these foreign scientists and engineers would have developed in our country, which would have created more jobs. These go instead to the nations to which they’ve returned.
Opposition to allowing more foreign scientists and engineers to work in America has come from some unions who claim that they drive down wages for American workers. Since there are jobs going unfilled in the high-tech fields because there are not enough scientists and engineers, the charge appears ludicrous. And foreign workers in these firms receive salaries that for the most part are comparable to American workers. In addition, immigration agency bureaucrats have complicated the processes that foreign-born scientists and engineers must go through to work in the United States, making it more difficult for them to obtain jobs. But the real problem lies with the politicians hostile to immigration who have been against increasing the visas for educated workers.
Given the paucity of American students seeking advanced degrees in science and engineering, we should be handing out green cards and welcoming any potential workers or entrepreneurs in the high tech sector. We should also provide them with easier paths to citizenship so they will be more likely to remain. It will only benefit our economy in the long run.
em>A VietNam vet and a Columbia history major who became a medical doctor, Bob Levine has watched the evolution of American politics over the past 40 years with increasing alarm. He knows he’s not alone. Partisan grid-lock, massive cash contributions and even more massive expenditures on lobbyists have undermined real democracy, and there is more than just a whiff of corruption emanating from Washington. If the nation is to overcome lockstep partisanship, restore growth to the economy and bring its debt under control, Levine argues that it will require a strong centrist third party to bring about the necessary reforms. Levine’s previous book, Shock Therapy For the American Health Care System took a realist approach to health care from a physician’s informed point of view; Resurrecting Democracy takes a similar pragmatic approach, putting aside ideology and taking a hard look at facts on the ground. In his latest book, Levine shines a light that cuts through the miasma of party propaganda and reactionary thinking, and reveals a new path for American politics. This post is cross posted from his blog.
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