America’s ‘National Suicide’ [Newsweek][T]he United States, a country built by generations of ambitious, hardworking newcomers, no longer wants to attract skilled immigrants. “We educate the best and brightest from around the world, and then we tell our companies that they can’t hire them,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said, describing current immigration policy as “a form of national suicide.” “We ship them home, where they can take what they learned here and use it to create companies and products that compete with ours. The rest of the world is thanking us. They’re doing everything they can to attract those very people—and we’re doing our best to help them.”
While there has been much debate about how to secure the southern border against illegal immigration, the deterioration of the system for attracting and retaining skilled immigrants has received scant notice, though the consequences for the U.S. economy are far more significant. Since much manufacturing and back-office work has been sent overseas, what the United States has left is its brains and still-unmatched ability to design and market the next big thing. In a country where economic success depends largely on innovation, it is worth noting that foreign-born researchers account for a quarter of all patents earned by American companies, and that nearly half the Ph.D. scientists and engineers working in the U.S. were born abroad. Furthermore, between 1995 and 2005 more than a quarter of the technology companies launched in the United States had a key founder who was foreign-born; in Silicon Valley that number was more than half. At General Electric, 64 percent of researchers weren’t born in America; at Qualcomm, the figure is close to 72 percent.
Not surprisingly, many young would-be immigrants are turning their backs on the U.S. Vivek Wadhwa, a Duke University professor, and AnnaLee Saxenian, from the University of California, Berkeley, interviewed more than 1,000 foreign students at American universities in 2008. The results were alarming. Only 6 percent of the Indians and 10 percent of the Chinese said they planned to remain in the U.S. Three quarters of those surveyed said they feared they could not obtain a visa.
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