Openish Thread: Should Immigration Reform Focus on the Highly Skilled?

April 26, 2010


Da Rulez: There will be no grandstanding, no swearing, no name-calling of any kind, no ad hominem attacks upon debaters or upon any politicians or public figures. You will read the post and the previous comments and respond to them, only. I will delete early and often. Capiche?

First, please read this article at ABC News, which restates some things many people have been thinking about in the immigration reform debate. The article addresses the issue of highly-skilled immigrants or foreign-born Americans, many of whom come to the U.S. to study and acquire college degrees, graduate degrees, and highly marketable skills in the U.S. In the past, these students and interns have often stayed in the U.S., since they've found greater opportunities here than in their countries of origin. And, in fact, many of the immigrants under discussion acquire their skills at home and bring them to the broader and higher-paying job markets in the U.S., as in the case of Filipina nurses. This has caused a "brain drain" in many countries of origin, in which their higher-class, educational elites have left, leaving the country more devoid of its professional class than before.

But a new trend is emerging: that of a "reverse brain drain," in which foreign-born graduates and entrepreneurs are leaving the U.S. after acquiring education and skills here, and taking them back to their countries of origin seeking greater opportunities. This is certainly owing to the economy, but much more so to the draconian immigration laws we've been seeing arise, one by one in every sector, since the dot com boom. It may be easier, and more lucrative, for some of the kinds of folks who've started our most innovative companies (like the foreign-born founders of Yahoo, Google, and eBay,) to take that know-how and energy away from the U.S.

A report conducted last year found that more foreign students than in the past wanted to return to their home countries after completing their education, worried about their visas and job opportunities. ... Another report by the Technology Policy Institute in 2009 found that in the absence of green card and H1B visa constraints, roughly 182,000 foreign graduates of U.S. colleges and universities in science, technology, engineering and math would have remained in the country.

H1B visas are temporary work visas that allow foreign workers to remain in the United States for six years. The study found that these workers would have earned roughly $13.6 billion in 2008, raised the gross domestic product by that amount and would have contributed $2.7 billion to $3.6 billion to the economy.

"Highly skilled immigrants contribute very strongly to economic activity and economic growth in particular in the innovation sectors," said senior fellow Arlene Holen, who directed the project. But because it's getting harder for this group of immigrants to stay in the United States legally, she said, "a lot of them come here and take higher education and then they leave. We don't let them stay. It's kind of a shooting yourself in the foot scenario."

The article goes on to say that some Dems are drafting legislation to address this problem by offering green cards to business and tech graduates or giving visas to entrepreneurs who can prove that they've attracted investors before they arrive in the country. But the approach is piecemeal and no one is sure if such an approach would work. And few lawmakers are eager to take on comprehensive immigration reform since the healthcare reform near-fiasco. Their political capital is spent.

And furthermore, many advocates are arguing that immigration reform is not just about highly-skilled workers. They're saying comprehensive reform is the only way to go since unskilled workers are also an important powerhouse in our economy, while others think comprehensive reform would simply turn everyone against the higher-skills workers.

I would add that we need to think about small entrepreneurs, who work with start-up capital in the low six figures or less. These are entrepreneurs who only create one or two or a handful of jobs at a time, but often by the dozens, and often in the neighborhoods that need them the most.

So what do you think about immigration reform and the highly skilled worker? Should we focus only on those people working in highly skilled, high-income fields? Should we focus on graduate students? What about small entrepreneurs and laborers? There's no question that small business owners and unskilled laborers contribute enormously to our economy. What should happen with them?

Please be thoughtful and polite!




H1-B is indeed a double edged sword. On one hand I would totally agree that everyone in Tech industry is crying that there is a shortage of Tech workers! but the wages don't increase, which is so contrary to Adam's invisible hand phenomenon. However one need to remember that all the Management cares is to get the most bangs for the money and to maximize profit and cut cost. So if wage continues to increase then jobs will not only be outsourced but also generated abroad. To give a perspective IBM increased its head count from 5k to 80K just in India in past 5 years.  Many of the big chip manufacturing companies are opening DEVELOPMENT CENTERS abroad now.. So they are not outsourcing but generating high end jobs as well.. IBM SRDC, INTEL, TI, Micron, Freescale, Cypress design and R&D centers with all high end jobs.. Ironically they mostly hire either from top Engineering colleges or a US Graduate who has returned to his/her perspective country. In fact these companies have started to encourage foreign students on US university campuses to return to the home country and work for them from there. Almost all my classmates who chose to return were trained in US and have US Grad degree.. Unfortunately quite a lot of them had full scholarship and stipend support like me, probably from US tax payer dollars through NSF grants.. Moreover in High Engineering across the board you will not see a lot of US citizen going for Advanced degrees. Masters are flooded with Indians and P.hDs by Chinese students. My reputable College hired 5 Professors recently of which 2 were Chinese, 1 Indian, 1 European and 1 American.. Great diversity..    If innovative and high end industry such as chip design and manufacturing is moving to Asia because they are able to find good people at less cost it shouldn't be surprising if other industries follow the trend with their high end jobs.. 
On contrary if the immigration and H1-B were more liberal then the companies would have been encouraged to stay here and hire those foreign students as well as deplete other countries of their top talent and in turn help maintain US supremacy, it would have come with deflated wage though.... Having said that H1-B is indeed a fiasco.. I went to a great School in US as well as in my own country had perfect GRE scores in Quant got full scholarship with Stipend not for P.hD but just for Masters.. Currently I work in one of the best US company and have a great career path..  However this whole H1-B uncertainty drains me out to so much that I have started looking for opportunities outside US.. It will be a compromise on life style but much more mental peace.. 12 Years to Green card and 17 years to citizen ship!! One downturn and you get laid off and you are shattered.. Pack your bag and leave the county in less than 30 days or look for another job in that stress in 30 days.. It’s better to pack your bag at your pace than in Government or any restricted mode..   I am aware of many people who are in same situation as me and belong to my league of nomadic generation… I am also unsure if it is indeed reverse brain drain or an invisible balancing act for other countries to get their share of human capital pie …..

The "reverse brain" drain concept is a myth. U.S. policy, as embodied in the statutes, is that students are supposed to return home after completing their studies. What we are seeing now is a push by universities (assisted by businesses) to transform themselves into the gatekeepers of the immigration system.

The ability to confer green cards as well as diplomas would be a huge plus for the foreign student business but would be disasterous for immigration policy.

We invest in foreign students as ambassadors. We do not do it for immigration.

The US immigration laws are very loosey-goosey (with excessive and soft limits, lots of huge loop-holes), and rarely enforced to the letter, anyway. They should be both tighter and more consistently and conscientiously enforced. The "reverse brain drain" problem we have is that gifted US citizens are unemployed, hundreds of thousands if not millions, and even more are under-employed. That a few temporary guests are leaving is not a problem. We've got former software architects who are pet-sitting, raking leaves, serving coffee and such. But I have to agree with the title. Reform should focus on reducing low-skill immigration and controlling high-skill immigration: applying some respectable minimum standards; conducting reasonable background investigations on applicants to determine whether they're in the habit of initiating force and fraud, or apt to be; charging something remotely resembling market prices for visas (as it is the fees only cover a fraction of the costs); controlling the borders and ports; and tracking visa grantees well enough to know whether they're in the USA or not. SS, it's been shown that H-1B and L (and even F) visas are used to facilitate off-shoring, and do not serve to "keep jobs in the USA". Is that remotely surprising, when you consider that the student is coming into the USA to learn both knowledge and methods of obtaining knowledge, when students in internships and co-ops have access to the latest research methods, and when requirements for experienced US STEM workers to train guest-workers are referred to as "knowledge transfer"? Giving out green cards in even more excessive numbers would only make matters worse for the USA, though it would relieve certain kinds of abuses of some guest-workers.

Employers can legally discriminate against qualified Americans by firing them without cause and recruiting only H-1B guest-workers to replace them. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has said: “H-1B workers may be hired even when a qualified U.S. worker wants the job, and a U.S. worker can be displaced from the job in favor of a foreign worker.” Some companies that discriminate against American workers are so brazen that their job advertisements say “H-1B visa holders only.” And some companies in the United States have workforces that consist almost entirely of H-1B guest-workers.

I am on H4 visa, My wife is high school special aid science teacher. For past 6 years we are trying to get our Green Card file, But the backlog is so huge, And DOL try to find small small problem in our application and deny it. We invest in Buying Home, so we not just Pay Tax from Job or buying goods, but also take care of Escrow Tax, buy car. If by any chance we have to leave the country then what will happen to our Home, and all the assets we have here, This will not only be lose of Bank if we have to leave the country but also for Govt. What happen to the Kids of school were my wife teaches, if she have to leave the country in the middle of terms, than who will be responsible for kids education. See my all life saving, I invested in this country been optimistic that once we file our GC application things should be ok. But it was a mistake. If High skilled people treated in this way, than they want even feel secure investing in this country. Because of H1 visa we have Google, yahoo, ebay, amazon, facebook and tons of business which creates 16% of total jobs in usa.

So having 60000 quota for h1 is not ever .3 of total job market in usa. So h1b visa is a lot more valuable for USA. I will request that if you don't want this people to come in this country legally. Then don't sponsor them, cause Americans are the one sponsoring them. But once they come don't put there life in 15 to 20 years backlog that there family members dose not have even right to work for their half of the life.

Immigration is an interesting tool for developed countries to keep their might and compete with the fast developing nations like India, China, Brazil, Russia, EU etc (By the way these countries are no more called third world). The reality of world has been changing so rapidly that the once underdeveloped/third-world countries are competing to get the share of globalization ( Yet another tool that was brought up by the developed nations to market their high-value products and ofcourse like any other great ideas it is now opening road other way for the deveoping nations to get a peice of the pie as well).
Nations like Canada, Australia, Spain etc are now revamping their age old immigration policies to attract the so called high-skilled talent pool. Canada in particular has passed a resolution to in-take 3times the level of high-skilled immigrants since 2008. Canada has particularly made a provision to tap and award the H1 B high skilled labor currently working or previously worked in the US, permanent residency equivalent to the US Green Cards without the need to have an employer sponsoring one. I suppose Canadian policy makers are understand the reality of today's world and want to move away from the mining/drilling based economy to high-tech based economy much to the loss of countries like the US & UK.
From the initial estimates atleast 35k-40k of H1 B visa holders working in the US who have been waiting for their Green Cards for almost a decade have overwhelmingly applied for the Canadian Federal High Skilled Worker program and Alberta Skilled Worker programs etc. Out of these 50-60% of the applicants have received the advanced degrees from the US universities.
Even though these events might not be appearing in the mainstream news networks this could potentially a big “brain-drain” issue to the US.
If congress does not act fast and address the green card issue for highly skilled with advanced degrees from the US universities this soft asset who have silently been contributing to the recession gripped US economy for a while could be other countries asset pretty soon.

I’m not arguing on whether H1B is advantages or otherwise, but I’m going to tell the side of my story. I came in 2006 for Manufacturing Engineering degree and now doing my Master of Engineering Management part time and currently on H1B visa. If given the chance, I would like to stay here but the need to go through Green Card process is draining me mentally. I pay my due to federal and state taxes, social security and medicare (which I will never be entitled). I consider myself highly skilled and if the process of applying for Green Card is simple and quick, I would be buying a house and atleast help out in the housing bubble now. However, due to the uncertainty in my immigration status, I’m just saving my paycheck and living in an apartment. I don’t know what will be my status tomorrow. If I have to leave the country, I have no problem and just take all my paycheck and leave. Also, I have an idea on doing a business now but due to the constraint on H1B visa, I’m not allowed to pursue my dream. I can’t promise that the business will be successful but if it does, a potential job creation. On the other side of story, Alberta Canada passed a law last year to attract current H1B visa immigrant to Alberta by giving us Green Card immediately even if we do not have a job or sponsor. I guess you know why they did that – to attract talent!( This is just about me, if those 85,000 H1B each year… and a percentage of them have the same idea as myself, you can see the larger effect. Enough said, period. You can decide whether how far this immigration reform should go….

Here's a past article about TARP legislation forcing talented workers back home:

From the article:

"In 2005, a National Science Foundation study found that 59 percent of all American doctoral degrees and 43 percent of all higher-education degrees in engineering and science were given to non-American, temporary residents."

Many a times, it'd so happen that you could not qualify for the grant and during such times, can perform surely opt is very much habitual other option. You need to go through a lot of processes for the application to be considered and granted.