US losing skilled American immigrants say experts

- Posted in America by Visa Bureauon 24 June 2009

Reuters reported that the silicon Valley is facing a brain drain of high-achieving foreign-born students, more of whom are leaving in the face of a chilly local immigration environment.

It is a trend experts say will hurt US high-tech industry competitiveness in the long run.

A more attractive employment environment overseas and a bad local economy are increasingly prompting graduates to head home in search of rosier prospects. This is depriving the Valley of the fresh blood it needs to remain at the vanguard of hot new industries such as clean technology.

"I believe we are going to innovate our way out of the economic woes we have, and in order to do that you need innovators," Representative Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat who chairs the House Judiciary immigration subcommittee, said by telephone.

"It means not sending out people who are innovators who want to become Americans," said Lofgren, one of the congressional leaders who will meet this week to discuss the matter with President Barack Obama.

More than half the start-ups that emerged from 1995 to 2005 in Silicon Valley - the area near Stanford University in Northern California that spawned the likes of Intel and Apple - had a founder who was a foreign-born national, according to a 2007 study by Duke University professor Vivek Wadhwa.

But many US skilled immigrants now face a long wait for permanent residence and have come to believe that will never change.

Ken Wilcox, president of Silicon Valley Bank in Santa Clara, said the United States now faces an imperative to help talented American immigrants stay.

"We're simply not producing, in relative terms, significant numbers of engineers or scientists from people who have already been here for a number of generations," said Wilcox, who specializes in helping the start-ups that gave his bank its name. "You've got to bring them in from the outside."

American immigrants earn half the masters degrees and 71 percent of the doctorates in electrical engineering at US universities, according to the House immigration subcommittee.

But they are increasingly unlikely to stay. Duke University's Wadwha said the US lost 100,000 highly educated foreigners over the last 20 years, but faces accelerating losses of 100,000 to 200,000 in the next five years.

"The United States is experiencing a brain drain and doesn't even know what that means," he said

The combination of better job climates in India and China and seemingly interminable waits for US permanent resident status has changed the calculus for most students, he said.

Aman Kapoor, head of the lobbying group Immigration Voice, said people are starting to leave in higher numbers because they have come to believe Congress will not fix the problem.

"They are giving up. And when they go they are taking their jobs with them," he said. "In time, Silicon Valley will no longer be in Northern California."

President Obama made a promise to tackle immigration reform during his first year in office.


The American Visa Bureau is an independent consulting company specialising in American visa and immigration services.