With the economy in shambles, Washington policy-makers should resist the urge to shut out the world’s best and brightest talent by making our country’s already archaic immigration policies even more so. The anti-immigration crowd is louder and more invigorated than ever with the U.S. unemployment rate over 8% and heading higher. What we need now is courage from our government leaders if our country is to ever crawl out of its economic hole.
American innovation has long been without rival. However, it is now being challenged by countries like China, India, and South Korea who fully appreciate this fact: the team which educates and employs the smartest people will eventually win the game.
The globe’s brightest graduates working in this country don’t take jobs away from Americans; they create jobs. In this week’s Business Week, Vivek Wadhwa, underscores this point in ‘America’s Immigrant Brain Drain’ article: “Although [immigrants] represent just 12% of the U.S. population, they have started 52% of Silicon Valley’s tech companies and contributed to more than 25% of the U.S. global patents.”
Will we help the U.S. employee by turning away the top 100,000 foreign-born graduates each year in math, science, and engineering? American workers and our students need to be challenged by the globe’s very best. World-class athletes cannot be world-class without competing against the best in the world. And the same is true in business and education.
I know first-hand about the state of our global competitiveness. I came to this country 31 years ago as a high school exchange student from Tehran, and brought with me much stronger math and science skills compared to my 12th-grade Michigan classmates.
If our country does not move quickly to put smart policies in place to attract and keep the world’s smartest individuals–while better educating our own kids–we will not only lose our global innovative edge, we’ll never get it back.