Noel Marie Laplume

06/16/11

While some choose to perpetuate the myth that immigrants are not needed in our economy and that they take jobs and hurt American workers, research has shown that immigrants are an integral part of our current economy since they help to promote growth and job creation, and are part of the solution to our economic problems- not, contrary to popular belief, the problem itself. However, due to our complicated and dysfunctional immigration system, statistics show that immigrants are choosing to opt for creating jobs and starting new businesses in countries other than the United States, and are becoming our strongest competition in doing so.

The Kauffman Foundation, which recently released “The Grass is Indeed Greener in India and China for Returnee Entrepreneurs” is the latest to shed light on this issue. In this report, Vivek Wadhwa, an entrepreneur and academic, along with his colleagues from Duke, Harvard, and UC Berkeley, looked into an astonishing new trend that involves highly-educated and skilled immigrants who get their specialized degrees in the U.S. and who subsequently chose to return to their home countries to start successful businesses. According to Mr. Wadhwa, “Innovation that would otherwise be happening here is going abroad. Without realizing it, we are exporting our prosperity and strengthening our competitors.” The report estimates that tens of thousands of skilled immigrants are returning to their home countries every year, and the trend keeps accelerating.

One reason for this is due to the outdated U.S. legal immigration process that has a limit of 120,000 permanent visas to give out each year for employment-based immigrants, which does not represent and indeed falls far behind the current demand. As a result, more than 1 million skilled immigrants and their families are in a backlog, waiting for their green cards. Furthermore, they cannot get jobs or- if they have one- they cannot change jobs or be promoted because of their visa restrictions. Nevertheless, however counter-intuitive and astonishing it may be, the most significant reason for which immigrants chose to utilize their skills elsewhere is due to the career opportunities and the quality of life that their home countries offer. The immigrants surveyed wanted to start businesses within five years and felt their home countries provided the best opportunity to do so. In fact, 72% of Indian and 81% of Chinese returnees said the opportunities to start their own businesses were better or in some instances were even considered to be much better in their home countries than in the United States. Some of the advantages in India and China include lower operating costs, access to local markets, and business networks.

Surely the data provided in this report is alarming, to say the least. While the country continues to argue over ways to deal with our immense immigrant population, while the policies that compose our immigration system are-for all intent and purposes- left unchanged and outdated, and just as it would occur with the pipe framework of a twenty-five year old house that has not been improved, our immigration framework has corroded nearly to the point of complete functional obsolescence. As the conditions brought on by the new world order, otherwise known as globalization, have steepened the competition and increased the required standards of performance for success, the United States has tangled itself in a semantic debate that has stymied its power to influence the world and secure its predominance within it. Meanwhile, the neglected pipe fixtures of the immigration system has relieved its mounting pressure by forming cracks through which skilled and entrepreneurial immigrants are seeping right through, unnoticed. And although the U.S. does not have this pool of workers under their sphere of influence any longer, the news is not all bad since these immigrants who leave help develop their home countries’ infrastructure and economy, thereby shaping the foreign playing field and making room to conduct more business with the U.S. by securing a consumer that will buy the goods they will create and export. Therefore, while it is true that the U.S. still stands to gain from this situation, it is also painfully true that it has put itself in a second-rate position in which its loses far surpass its gains. This is due to the substantial loss in tax revenue, manufacturing contracts that put Americans at work, and that gives them the upper hand in the world of innovation.

For these reasons, the United States should reconsider its strategy on immigration policy to make it easier for educated immigrants to legally remain in the country so that their skills are used for our collective benefit rather than to our detriment.