Back in July I wrote about the need for immigration reform, citing a recent study by Duke University's Vivek Wadhwa, which found that an increasing number of people who come to America to get their PhDs and other advanced degrees choose to go back to their home countries rather than remain in the U.S. due to the difficulty in obtaining a green card.
The reaction of quite a few people, of course, is good riddance. As you can see from the comments on my post, many readers seem to connect this study with H-1B visas rather than the separate issue of incredibly bright folks who want to live and work in the U.S. for a long time, maybe permanently. As one commenter wrote:
India needs talented people -- why do they come here? Build your own countries first, we do not elect a president, govenor, mayor-etc to worry about foreign workers. This is the last thing that we should worry about. AMERICA UNITE AGAINT BOTH LEGAL & ILLEGAL WORKERS.
Yet it's hard to ignore the fact that many exceptional people, most of our ancestors included, came here from somewhere else. For proof, look no further than this year's Nobel Prize winners. Yes, six of them are American, but four of them weren't born here, points out Mercury News columnist Chris O'Brien. One of them, Australian native Elizabeth Blackburn, a professor at the University of California-San Francisco, who shared the Nobel Prize for medicine with two other researchers, said "... the flow of intellectual ideas is crucial. To have borders for it seems counterproductive."
This is an especially important issue in Silicon Valley, the epicenter of the technology industry, because it "has been a bigger beneficiary of this influx of brains and talent than perhaps any other region in the U.S.," writes O'Brien. According to a study produced by Wadhwa and other researchers from Duke University and the University of California-Berkeley, 52 percent of Silicon Valley companies have at least one foreign-born founder.
Yes, the number of U.S. college students majoring in computer science grew in 2008 for the first time since the dot-com bust, and that's a great thing. Some of those students will undoubtedly go on to be quite successful, perhaps even some of them on Blackburn's level. We should do all we can to put more U.S. children on that path. But does it make sense to make it tough on talented foreigners who want to relocate here, as we do now? Other countries are trying points-based immigration programs and systems that focus on desired job skills. Could an approach like that work here?
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