Immigration Policies and Long-Term Competitiveness

21 Apr

Mr. Mavinkurve, a 28-year-old Indian immigrant who helped lay the foundation for Facebook while a student at Harvard, instead works out of a Google sales office in Toronto, a lone engineer among marketers.
Excerpted from “Tech Recruiting Clashes With Immigration Rules ” by Matt Richtel (New York Times, April 11, 2009)

This Google engineer lives in Canada because his wife does not have a work visa that would make her eligible to work in the US. Every year, many highly talented people are forced to leave the US and return to their home countries or go to other countries because of arcane immigration laws in the US. When immigration bills are discussed, legal and illegal immigration are always clubbed together, which results in the bills not getting the approval of the house and the senate. Nobody likes illegal immigrants in their countries though millions of illegal immigrants have lived in the US for a long time and make an honest living working here.

Every year, thousands of international students graduate from American universities. Some voluntarily return to their home countries, while some are forced to return because they are not able to find an employer who is willing to sponsor a H1B work visa for them. The students get a one year optional practical training period after graduation to practice the skills they have learned in their study programs. This one year period is essentially becomes a narrow window for finding a job. The petitions for H1B visas are filed starting April 1. The number of applications received by the USCIS is much more than the annual quota of 65,000, and this quota is filled within a few days, sometimes on the very first day itself. If someone’s application is not files on April 1, chances are slim that s/he will be able to work in the US.

Silicon valley is long considered a hub of innovation. Sun, Yahoo, Google, Intel, HP, the list of valley companies is endless. These companies started as a typical startup and grew and provided employment to thousands. Many of the founders of these innovative companies were immigrants or children of immigrants. In fact, more than 5o% of the startups in silicon valley were launched by immigrants.  A high percentage of employees, who helped grow these companies, were also immigrants – highly educated, higly talented.

If these talented people were forced to leave the US, it would be difficult to imagine the innovative culture of silicon valley as it is today. If we put everyone in one of five categories, say 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, in increasing order of talent or capabilities, should the companies hire only people with a rank of 5? No, because there would not be that many people available. If companies hire people with ranks 4 and 5, these highly talented employees would help develop new products, create great services, and therefore help grow the companies they work for. These companies would then need more workers and they would be forced to hire people with ranks of 3, 2, and 1.However, if the companies start hiring rank 1, 2, and 3 people before rank 4 and 5, it’s anybody’s guess what’s going to happen to those companies. In the short-term, more people will get employment, but in the long-term, growth will stagnate or become negative, thereby resulting in decreased revenues, layoffs, and rising unemployment.

The Obama administration, by restricting companies that receive federal bailout money from hiring foreign nationals, has created exactly the situation explained above. What these companies need right now is the best people to help tide over the economic crisis. A much less publicized fact is that the USCIS has said that this restriction will be valid for only two years. The impact of this policy is difficult to measure but the damage to these companies would surely be done.

Should the government allow a free flow of immigrants? Of course not. This would lead to chaos and misuse of the system. But allowing the best people to live and work in the US without any restriction would help the country with maintaining the competitive edge, which many believe the US is losing to other countries.

My situation? I have a master’s degree from Stanford University. I’d rank myself 4 (if not 5). I work for a major publishing company and I’m happy with my job. However, if I want to leave my job to take a long vacation or become a stay-at-home dad, I can’t. Because I have a H1B work visa from my company. I can’t remain jobless even if I choose to. I have to be in another job or I’ll have to leave the US. Permanent residency (green card) takes many years to get. My options? I don’t have any.

Additional Readings
What U.S. immigration policies mean to Google
Bill Gates Says Immigration, Education Reform Needed For U.S. To Compete


2 Responses to “Immigration Policies and Long-Term Competitiveness”

  1. H1Bvisas May 1, 2009 at 9:37 pm #

    yes, look at the H1Bs – Check this


  1. What Makes a Person Employable? « In the Arena - July 17, 2009

    […] By Deepak Kumar In my last two posts, I wrote about the length of school year and immigration policies with regard to competitiveness. In this post, I’m going to write about the differences […]

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