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April 11, 2007

Richard Florida

Creative Class Lockout

« Divided America | Main | Oprah Does Place »

That's what they're talking about over at Mom and Pop Investors:

"With all the recent talk of immigration reform and problems with visas since 9/11 (after the Patriot Act made it harder to get into the country)- rarely does anyone talk about the brain drain out of country and into our competitors because of these policies."

Yep. And if our immigration restrictions make it for talented people to come or stay here, not only will they leave, companies will then be forced to out-source and off-shore their work to get access to them. Talk about vicious cycle. 

I’m not talking about keeping the Mexican farm workers out. I’m talking about keeping the Indian, Chinese and French scientists in. But our policies are converging to make us non-competitive on the global stage.

One of America’s greatest strengths has been in attracting the best minds from around the world. If you have a chance, check out the recent movie “The Namesake” which portrays a young Indian couple who give up the life they’ve known specifically to come to New York and live the American Dream. They’re smart and they contribute to society. (And, then, their children do the same.) But what if they had stayed in India instead? What would be lost to our economy?

On April 2, the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (part of the Department of Homeland Security) announced it was closing the deadline for H1-B petitions after receiving 150,000 in the first few hours of the first day you could file- for only 65,000 visas for 2008. The H1-B are the highly technical visas for foreign workers to come or remain in the United States. ...Microsoft, Oracle and other tech companies have made personal pleas to their Congressmen, Senators and on Capitol Hill for the small quota to be raised. Think about it for a minute. 65,000 a year. Over 22,000 teenagers applied just to Harvard this year alone. 65,000 visas is nothing. In years past, the government has pushed up the quota to as high as 110,000. This still would not cover the 150,000 that applied for 2008 before the government stopped accepting applications. H1-B visas rarely fill jobs that Americans can otherwise fill. They are considered specialty slots. If they don’t work here in the United States, they will certainly work for one of our competitors. Canada, Australia, and Great Britain are consistently ranked among the best countries in the world in which to live (with Sydney and Vancouver ranked among the best cities.)

It doesn’t take much to make great foreign-born talent decide to go to Sydney instead of San Francisco. If we can’t home grow the best workers here, let them in from abroad. After all, what would Google be if Sergey Brin’s family (his father, a Russian citizen, was a mathematics professor at the University of Maryland) were not allowed to come to the United States in the 1970s? Yet another great American success story. America cannot afford to lose its edge. It must remain the nation of first choice for the creative class. Our immigration policies are making it harder to remain that first choice.



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Michael Wells

Absolutely, but I think H-1B's is too narrow a focus. In Portland, a few well known immigrants include Columbia Sportswear chairwoman Gert Boyle ("Tough Mother" if you've seen the ads); Junki Yoshida, whose many companies include soy sauce, graphics, real estate and sports equipment; Sohrab Vossoughi, founder of Ziba Design; and my last two congresspeople, Elizabeth Furse a white South African activist and David Wu a Taiwanese lawyer. None of them PhDs, etc. but all contributors. And the Northwest pear crop is in danger of rotting on the ground because of keeping those Mexican farmworkers out -- as well as their kids. Of the above, Boyle and Vossoughi came here as children with their immigrant parents.

The Namesake is fabulous. I have an Indian son in law and think the cultural issues were right on (actually Indian heritage, he was born in Canada.)


My girlfriend was one of the lucky ones who not only got her H-1B in on the first day but is part of the advanced cap (the extra 20,000) so she should be ok, but many of her friends will graduate in May with little hope to stay in the US.

In fact as things stand right now thousands of potential H-1B immigrants who will be graduating from US Universities will have no choice but to leave the US. Yup the cap basically says please go away we don't want highly educated workers. Have we forgotten that this country was built on immigration?

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