America's immigration, innovation problem

The United States is training highly-skilled workers, but out-of-date immigration policy means they don't stay. And other countries are glad to welcome them.

While places like Chile are putting millions of dollars into programs to attract highly-skilled workers and entrepreneurs, the United States is struggling to update restrictive immigration policies that make it difficult for even the most highly-talented immigrants to stay in the country.

The Washington Post sheds light on the United States' inability to enact immigration reform and how it's hurting businesses and innovation. The United States has what most countries can only dream of--some of the most prestigious universities in the world. Many talented people from around the world come to the U.S. for the higher education opportunities but the challenge has been retaining those people once they graduate. And it's costing the U.S., as the Post explains in this poignant example:

Leon Sandler, executive director of MIT’s Deshpande Center for Technical Innovation, said it costs about $250,000 to educate a single PhD student and the U.S. government pays for at least 80 percent of MIT’s graduate research.

“Essentially we are funding their research, spending a quarter-million dollars in taxpayer money; then we make it hard for these people to stay here,” said Sandler, whose group helps startups and provided nearly $150,000 to support Bajpayee and Narayan. “If you want more innovation in this country, fix the visa situation.”

It becomes even more clear how out-of-date the U.S. policy is toward highly-skilled immigrants when you see how much effort other countries are making to attract those same workers. Chile, for example, is luring highly-skilled entrepreneurs with $40,000 , office and living space, and visas. Singapore, with a population that's 40 percent immigrant already, is looking to expand that and attract entrepreneurs by making it easy to start a business. And in China, the government is offering as much as $150,000 for qualified expatriates to move back to China and is putting down millions to bring home high-achieving academics . Perhaps the most troubling for U.S. businesses who want to see friendlier policies for highly-skilled workers might be Canada's plan to provide startup visa for entrepreneurs that offers permanent residence.

President Barack Obama has proposed a similar startup visa program as Canada, but as with most legislation in the U.S., political differences on how to go about immigration reform -- for both documented and undocumented immigrants -- means that change may not come quickly, if at all. Meanwhile, other countries will gladly welcome all those U.S.-trained workers.

Other countries court skilled immigrants frustrated by U.S. visa laws [Washington Post]

Photo: Flickr/swanksalot

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