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.
Actually, it’s wonderful news that they now have opportunities elsewhere. But unless he’s talking about a handful of Norwegian immigrants, his claim that they are “returning to enjoy a better quality of life” is laughable.
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 would increasingly get fed up and return to countries like India and China where the economies were booming.
The contradiction here is obvious. If conditions in India and China are now so desirable, why were they so desperate to escape to America in the first place? And the fact that the U.S. hadn’t thrown open its borders to everyone who wanted in was evidence that some “crisis was brewing”? A crisis for whom? Certainly not for American workers.
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 and 47% of science and engineering workers who have PhDs. Immigrants have co-founded firms such as (NasdaqGS:GOOG – News), Intel (NasdaqGS:INTC – News), (NasdaqGS:EBAY – News), and ! (NasdaqGS:YHOO – News).
Of course immigrants have racked up these impressive statistics. It’s because these high tech companies exclude American workers and have scammed Congress into boosting H-1B visa allotments on the bogus premise that they can’t find American workers. When you staff your companies with nothing but immigrants, of course their patents will all be filed by immigrants. There is an implication here that Americans themselves aren’t capable of these feats, a slap in the face to American workers and thinly-veiled bigotry toward Americans.
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.
This conclusion is utter nonsense. The greatest contribution to the U.S. economy and to business and job growth comes from small businesses. How many of these are owned and operated by Chinese and Indian immigrants with MBAs and PhDs? At this point, you begin to understand Wadhwa’s real concern: that academics like him are starting to feel the pressure of a glut of labor in the world of academia.
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 onvisas (such as the H-1B). The strongest factor that brought them to the U.S. was professional and educational development opportunities.
This is one of the key points I made about immigration in Five Short Blasts. The quickest way to begin making real progress on reducing immigration is to dramatically cut student visas and temporary work permits. It’s not as though we’re hurting for students to fill seats at our universities or for American workers to fill these jobs. It’s no wonder that universities can boost tuitions far beyond the rate of inflation when they artificially prop up demand for their products by flooding their campuses with immigrants!
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.
Gee, I wonder if it’s possible that they really return home because global corporations have brought them over here to learn the business and then, with their knowledge of the corporate culture instilled in them, are sent back home to run their corporation’s operations in their homelands – the jobs that those corporations outsourced?
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.
More bigotry against Americans. We need the smart PhD Indian and Chinese immigrants to help us recover, because we’re too dumb to do it on our own. It begs an obvious question: if these people are so smart, why is the recession in their own countries even worse than it is here?
What we really need is a restoration of balance in the supply and demand equation for labor. We don’t get that by flooding the labor force with more and more immigrant labor.