It is time for immigration reform that will keep more top technical talent in the United States. Today, American colleges and universities are educating foreign nationals who come here to earn advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM fields). We educate them, and then U.S. immigration regulations force them to leave our country to return home, where they contribute to economic growth and the success of our competitors overseas. That has to change.
When allowed to remain in the U.S., foreign nationals with STEM degrees earned at American schools have gone on to become some of our most distinguished engineers and researchers. They add value to our economy and our companies. They generate new insights and contribute to innovations that change the way the industry addresses previously unsolved problems. Yet, U.S. employers face greater demand for STEM skills than the supply of STEM graduates. And the lack of immigration reform is constricting the pipeline of technical talent.
The 2009 study, Losing the World’s Best and Brightest (funded by the Kauffman Foundation, in collaboration with Harvard Law School, Duke University’s School of Engineering, U.C. School of Information, and Harvard Law School), found that “foreign national students… are planning to leave the U.S. after graduation in numbers that appear to be higher than the historical norm as measured in STEM disciplines. A significant number of these students also say they intend to open businesses in the future.”
According to the study, foreign national students claim their reason for leaving the U.S. after graduation is because they “are very worried about obtaining the work visa required to pursue employment in the U.S. (a major concern for over 70% of respondents) and about the difficulties of obtaining permanent residency (a major concern for over 50% of respondents from China and Europe).” After coming to the U.S. to learn, they don’t want to have to wait a decade or longer just to receive Permanent Resident status and the security of knowing that they can continue to pursue their career in the U.S., employed by American firms, where they would contribute to U.S. economic growth.
In addition to the trouble of retaining STEM graduates in the U.S., EMC and other leading employers in the U.S. face enormous obstacles when we try to relocate top technical talent from abroad into the United States. For example, take the L-1B visa, which allows employers to bring tenured employees to the U.S. to perform work utilizing their specialized knowledge of proprietary products and processes of the sponsoring employer. This kind of employer-based nonimmigrant petitions were granted routinely in the past. They are now being audited or denied, even though the regulations governing submissions have not changed. According to the National Foundation for American Policy, denial rates for L-1B petitions filed with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services rose from 7% in fiscal year 2007 to 27% in fiscal year 2011.
Immigration reform that brings more technical talent to the U.S. will make the American economy and U.S. companies more competitive on the global stage. More competitive U.S. employers, in turn, will be the ones that create more jobs for others to fill.
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