[ExI] skilled immigrants leaving the U.S. in record numbers

John Grigg possiblepaths2050 at gmail.com
Tue Mar 3 20:03:53 UTC 2009

I can't get over how the U.S. government only allows relatively small
numbers of foreigners to pursue advanced education and profitable careers
here.  And then to top it off we make it difficult for them to stay and
settle down here.  It seems to me we are undercutting ourselves by educating
such gifted people and then having them leave to enrich their native
country.  This is not good for our economic "national security" and global

I knew several IT guys from India who were very frustrated by these policies
and did not want to return home.  But at least India is a friend and someone
we need to build up our connections with.

At a major biotech research center I noticed many grad students and post
docs from mainland China, and considering our economic and military rivalry
with them, I really wonder about the wisdom of strengthening their research
and development base by letting their best and brightest into the country
for such work.



By Vivek Wadhwa Vivek Wadhwa – Tue Mar 3, 8:08 am ET

As the debate over H-1B workers and skilled immigrants intensifies, we are
losing sight of one important fact: The U.S. is no longer the only land of
opportunity. If we don't want the immigrants who have fueled our innovation
and economic growth, they now have options elsewhere. Immigrants are
returning home in greater numbers. And new research shows they are returning
to enjoy a better quality of life, better career prospects, and the comfort
of being close to family and friends.

Earlier research by my team suggested that a crisis was brewing because of a
burgeoning immigration backlog. At the end of 2006, more than 1 million
skilled professionals (engineers, scientists, doctors, researchers) and
their families were in line for a yearly allotment of only 120,000 permanent
resident visas. The wait time for some people ran longer than a decade. In
the meantime, these workers were trapped in "immigration limbo." If they
changed jobs or even took a promotion, they risked being pushed to the back
of the permanent residency queue. We predicted that skilled foreign
workerswould increasingly get fed up and return to countries like
India and China where the economies were booming.

Why should we care? Because immigrants are critical to the country's
long-term economic health. Despite the fact that they constitute only 12% of
the U.S. population, immigrants have started 52% of Silicon Valley's
technology companies and contributed to more than 25% of our global patents.
They make up 24% of the U.S. science and engineering workforce holding
degrees and 47% of science and engineering workers who have PhDs. Immigrants
have co-founded firms such as Google
Intel (NasdaqGS:INTC<http://us.rd.yahoo.com/dailynews/finance/bw/bs_bw/storytext/feb2009tc20090228990934/31164433/*http://finance.yahoo.com/q?s=intc>-
eBay (NasdaqGS:EBAY<http://us.rd.yahoo.com/dailynews/finance/bw/bs_bw/storytext/feb2009tc20090228990934/31164433/*http://finance.yahoo.com/q?s=ebay>-
and Yahoo! (NasdaqGS:YHOO<http://us.rd.yahoo.com/dailynews/finance/bw/bs_bw/storytext/feb2009tc20090228990934/31164433/*http://finance.yahoo.com/q?s=yhoo>-

Who Are They? Young and Well-Educated

We tried to find hard data on how many immigrants had returned to India and
China. No government authority seems to track these numbers. But human
resources directors in India and China told us that what was a trickle of
returnees a decade ago had become a flood. Job applications from the U.S.
had increased tenfold over the last few years, they said. To get an
understanding of how the returnees had fared and why they left the U.S., my
team at Duke, along with AnnaLee Saxenian of the University of California at
Berkeley and Richard Freeman of Harvard University, conducted a survey.
Through professional networking site LinkedIn, we tracked down 1,203 Indian
and Chinese immigrants who had worked or received education in the U.S. and
had returned to their home countries. This research was funded by the Kauffman

Our new paper, "America's Loss Is the World's Gain," finds that the vast
majority of these returnees were relatively young. The average age was 30
for Indian returnees, and 33 for Chinese. They were highly educated, with
degrees in management, technology, or science. Fifty-one percent of the
Chinese held master's degrees and 41% had PhDs. Sixty-six percent of the
Indians held a master's and 12.1% had PhDs. They were at very top of the
educational distribution for these highly educated immigrant groups --
precisely the kind of people who make the greatest contribution to the U.S.
economy and to business and job growth.

Nearly a third of the Chinese returnees and a fifth of the Indians came to
the U.S. on student visas. A fifth of the Chinese and nearly half of the
Indians entered on temporary work visas (such as the H-1B). The strongest
factor that brought them to the U.S. was professional and educational
development opportunities.

What They Miss: Family and Friends

They found life in the U.S. had many drawbacks. Returnees cited language
barriers, missing their family and friends at home, difficulty with cultural
assimilation, and care of parents and children as key issues. About a third
of the Indians and a fifth of the Chinese said that visas were a strong
factor in their decision to return home, but others left for opportunity and
to be close to family and friends. And it wasn't just new immigrants who
were returning. In fact, 30% of respondents held permanent resident
statusor were U.S. citizens.

Eighty-seven percent of Chinese and 79% of Indians said a strong factor in
their original decision to return home was the growing demand for their
skills in their home countries. Their instincts generally proved right.
Significant numbers moved up the organization chart. Among Indians the
percentage of respondents holding senior management positions increased from
10% in the U.S. to 44% in India, and among Chinese it increased from 9% in
the U.S. to 36% in China. Eighty-seven percent of Chinese and 62% of Indians
said they had better opportunities for longer-term professional growth in
their home countries than in the U.S. Additionally, nearly half were
considering launching businesses and said entrepreneurial opportunities were
better in their home countries than in the U.S.

Friends and family played an equally strong role for 88% of Indians and 77%
of Chinese. Care for aging parents was considered by 89% of Indians and 79%
of Chinese to be much better in their home countries. Nearly 80% of Indians
and 67% of Chinese said family values were better in their home countries.

More Options Back Home

Immigrants who have arrived at America's shores have always felt lonely and
homesick. They had to make big personal sacrifices to provide their children
with better opportunities than they had. But they never have had the option
to return home. Now they do, and they are leaving.

It isn't all rosy back home. Indians complained of traffic and congestion,
lack of infrastructure, excessive bureaucracy, and pollution. Chinese
complained of pollution, reverse culture shock, inferior education for
children, frustration with government bureaucracy, and the quality of health
care. Returnees said they were generally making less money in absolute
terms, but they also said they enjoyed a higher quality of life.

We may not need all these workers in the U.S. during the deepening
recession. But we will need them to help us recover from it. Right now, they
are taking their skills and ideas back to their home countries and are
unlikely to return, barring an extraordinary recruitment effort and major
changes to immigration policy. That hardly seems likely given the current
political climate. The policy focus now seems to be on doing whatever it
takes to retain existing American jobs -- even if it comes at the cost of
building a workforce for the future of America.
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