Debate Club

The U.S. Must Attract and Retain Global Talent to Stay Competitive

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There aren't many issues in politics that are so obvious they shouldn't need debating. But attracting and retaining skilled knowledge workers is surely one of them. It's like motherhood and apple pie—a total no-brainer.

Economists, left, right, and center, agree: In today's globalized, technology-driven world, innovation is the key to economic success, and human talent is the key to superior innovation. This is true in high-tech fields like computing and cybersecurity, but also in humbler, seemingly traditional realms like banking and manufacturing. Innovation is what makes a product competitive. It's what puts a company ahead of its rivals. It's what creates jobs, both in existing firms and start-ups. And no country in the world produces enough innovators—that's why we're all competing to attract them.

[Check out the U.S. News STEM education blog.]

Study after study has quantified the boost. One recent report from the American Enterprise Institute and the Partnership for a New American Economy found that 100 foreign-born workers with STEM degrees create an average 262 additional jobs for native-born workers. Another study, of the technology businesses started in Silicon Valley in the dot-com era, found that Chinese and Indian engineers managed nearly a quarter of the total. Still other research found that foreign innovators and entrepreneurs were behind a quarter of the engineering and technology companies launched across the United States from 1995 to 2005.

The only thing that's inexplicable is why the United States isn't using every possible tool to attract and retain more global talent. We ought to be making it easier for science and math students to study here. Skilled workers doing needed jobs should have no trouble getting temporary visas. When those temporary visas run out, successful innovators and entrepreneurs should be allowed to stay permanently. We ought to be doing everything possible to streamline bureaucracy and increase quotas—to help people feel wanted and welcome and make it easy for them to choose America.

[See a collection of political cartoons on immigration.]

Goodness knows, our competitors are doing this. Most of the countries in Europe have overhauled their high-skilled visa programs in recent years. Canada and Australia have long been more welcoming. Even places like Chile and Singapore are catching up. More ominous still, as conditions in China and India improve, increasing numbers of STEM students from both countries are returning home with advanced degrees from U.S. universities—taking skills learned at American taxpayers' expense to advance and enrich our competitors.

Why can't we get this right? It comes up every year in Congress, but no laws are passed. Lawmakers need to hear from voters who think it matters. This isn't about immigrants—it's about America.

Tamar Jacoby

About Tamar Jacoby President of ImmigrationWorks USA

STEM education
immigration reform

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