Vivek Wadhwa’s Seven Fixes to the Problems Underlying the Immigrant Exodus

    Whether you agree with it or not, there is a body of thought that insists that there is an unhealthy exodus of skilled immigrants from the United States, and that this exodus is harmful to the U.S. economy and to the country’s ability to compete on a very competitive global playing field. There is probably no more vocal espouser of this position than Vivek Wadhwa.

    Wadhwa, director of research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering, is the author of “The Immigrant Exodus: Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent,” which was released earlier this week. In the book, Wadhwa lists seven fixes to what he sees as the problems underlying this exodus, fixes he says would drive significant economic growth in the United States, while costing U.S. taxpayers “next to nothing.” Here, excerpted with Wadhwa’s permission, are those fixes:

    Increase the number of green cards available to skilled immigrants. If the United States was to increase by three or four times the number of employment-based green cards issued per annum and simultaneously eliminate the 7 percent-per-country limit that I discuss in No. 7, the bottleneck for green cards would instantly disappear.

    Allow spouses of H-1B visa holders to work. Just as training top STEM students in U.S. universities and then forcing them to leave is senseless, so too is preventing the spouses of H-1B holders from working and enjoying the same rights as anyone in the United States.

    Target immigration based on required skills. In principle, the U.S. workforce should be able to retrain quickly to meet skill needs in industries that are growing rapidly and require specific technical acumen. The reality is quite different. Demand for mobile phone developers (particularly for iPhone developers) has far outstripped supply, leading salaries to skyrocket and recruitment to bottleneck at companies seeking to build mobile apps, for example.

    Untether the H-1B worker from the employer. In the United States, H-1B holders cannot change jobs without getting government-sponsorship approval. This is a lengthy and risky bureaucratic process that often leads to rejection. Making a change to allow the H-1B holder to work for any employer would have a number of positive impacts. First, it would allow talented H-1B holders to obtain salaries on par with their peers, eliminating wage compression for this group. Second, it would allow these workers to more easily switch their jobs and advance their careers in the United States while improving their skills and responding to market signals

    Permanently extend the term of OPT for foreign students from one to four years. A single year of OPT is barely enough to get started on work and prove your mettle. In some cases, OPT can be extended to 29 months, as per changes initiated under the administration of President George W. Bush. But this covers only a restricted list of specialties and does not cover startup formation. I propose extending the work term for immigrant graduates of U.S. universities and colleges to surpass Canada’s term of three years.

    Institute a startup visa. This has been the number one demand from Silicon Valley and the venture capital community. The stories of immigrant entrepreneurs either suffering significant delays in getting work visas or having to leave the United States due to visa issues are now legion. The Startup Visa Act would provide a solution to this problem.

    Remove the country caps on green cards. Because of the 7 percent per-country limits, workers from high-population countries have to wait many times longer than workers from low-population countries to get permanent-resident visas. India gets the same quota as Iceland and China the same as Mongolia. This is what is contributing the most to the painful purgatory that immigrants from India and China face, and why their wait times stretch longer than a decade.

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