A Reverse Brain Drain


A Reverse Brain Drain

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The United States, long the beneficiary of talented immigrants, needs to act quickly to keep these valuable workers from leaving to pursue expanding opportunities in their home countries.

Although most of the national immigration debate originates with those who want to limit immigration, U.S. policymakers should be focusing on the more important task of attracting and keeping more highly skilled foreign-born scientists and engineers. The future strength of the nation's economy will depend on the creation of vibrant new companies, and the development of innovative products and services will be produced by well-paid workers. In recent years, immigrants have been playing a rapidly expanding role as high-tech entrepreneurs and inventors, providing an essential service to the country.

The danger is that the United States is taking this immigrant contribution for granted at a time when changes in the global economy are providing alternative career opportunities for the most talented people. In the past, the United States was clearly the best place for the most talented scientists and engineers to work, and there was no need to do anything special to attract them. Those days are gone, and the United States must begin paying more attention to what is necessary to attract foreign talent and taking steps to eliminate barriers to immigration.

This paper, is a summary of work by a team which includes Gary Gereffi of Duke University, AnnaLee Saxenian of University of California at Berkeley, Richard Freeman of Harvard University, Ben Rissing of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Guillermina Jasso of New York University. They spent three years conducting multiple surveys of thousands of technology and engineering start-up companies, interviewed hundreds of company founders, surveyed more than 1,000 foreign students and more than 1,000 returnees, and made several trips to India and China to understand the on-the-ground realities in those countries.