I often wonder about America's priorities with immigration reform. As in the past, the current administration's efforts appear to focus first and most prominently on the nettlesome issue of illegal immigration. Yes, I realize undocumented immigrants put a strain on our country. Such immigrants pay no taxes yet partake of health care, education and other social services.
But what about the problem of skilled immigrants who come to the United States to perform research or other sophisticated tasks and then can't get a green card? Earlier this year, Duke University's Vivek Wadhwa published a report showing that increasing number of skilled immigrants, frustrated at the green card backlog, are opting to return to their home countries rather than stay here.
BusinessWeek referred to the study in an article on immigration, in which Wadhwa says politicians and companies alike now appear more focused on coming out of the current recession than on the long-term implications of losing such talent. He believes some 200,000 skilled workers from India and China will return home over the next five years while approximately 100,000 have done so over the past 20 years. That has something to do with strengthening economies and a growing entrepreneurial culture in those countries. But restrictive immigration requirements don't help.
The article also shares the experiences of three skilled immigrants. One of them, a 33-year-old software consultant for IBM who came to the United States in hopes of starting a business, has been waiting five years for a green card and is considering returning to his home country of India, says:
Most likely, I am heading back. In a way, I feel cheated. I've contributed, paid taxes, and even picked up a California accent. But it's not enough.
Another, a 30-year-old Indian who works for a bank and is in the United States on an H-1B visa, is mulling a move to Canada to launch a product he's developed and for which he's already secured funding, a tool to help sixth- to eighth-graders learn math and science. He says:
I feel restricted here. I understand the U.S. has a responsibility to its citizens, and I understand its dilemma. But the country would be better off if it could isolate and identify skilled workers who want to come here and build things and welcome them in.
He may not find the environment much more welcoming in Canada, which some experts say is creating a demand for short-term foreign workers rather than permanent residents with recent changes to its immigration policy. Maybe he should try Australia, which has been working hard to attract skilled immigrants.
The United States is certainly not the only country to struggle with immigration issuesas this post from last spring shows. And legislators' attention is obviously focused on health care these days. But wouldn't it be great if the federal government could put the need for attracting and retaining skilled immigrants to the U.S. on their agendas? Cities like Cleveland are involved in efforts to attract skilled immigrants,although it's not yet clear if those effrots are paying off.