RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Foreign entrepreneurs, scientists, skilled workers and students are growingly increasingly frustrated with U.S. immigration laws, and many are returning home, a new study shows.

The result: The United States is facing what the researchers call a “reverse brain drain.”

That’s the bottom line in a new report written in part by Triangle entrepreneur Vivek Wadhwa and other researchers at the Kauffman Foundation and other universities.

“For the first time in its history, the United States faces the prospect of a reverse brain-drain,” Wadhwa said in a letter that addressed highlights of the study. “So far, the U.S. has the benefit of attracting the worlds best and brightest. They have typically come here for the freedom and economic opportunities that America offers.

“Now, because of our flawed immigration policies, we have set the stage for the departure of hundreds of thousands of highly skilled professionals – who we have trained in our technology, techniques and markets and made even more valuable,” he added. “This is lose-lose for the U.S.. Our corporations lose key talent that is contributing to innovation and competitiveness, and we end up creating potential competitors.”

Wadhwa, an executive in residence at Duke and a fellow at the Harvard Law School, has spearheaded research into the immigration problems and the challenge the U.S. faces in recruiting and training engineers.
He is quick to point out that he’s not an advocate for increasing the number of visas for highly skilled workers (H-1Bs). Rather, he and other members of the research team advocate changes in policy to make it easier for these highly skilled immigrants to stay, work and thus contribute to the U.S. economy. Too much attention is being paid to the status of unskilled and illegal foreign workers rather than the potential impact of losing the people discovering new technology and building new companies,Wadhwa said.

“I am by no means advocating that we expand the numbers of H-1B visas. In fact, part of this problem has been created by our expanding the numbers of temporary workers we admit and not increasing the numbers of permanent resident visas,” he wrote. “If the U.S. needs skilled immigrants, we should bring them here to stay – not as temporary workers.”

Delays in processing have triggered an increasing number of immigrants deciding to return home, he said.

“I was shocked to learn that there were over a million skilled immigrants in what I call ‘immigration limbo.’ I had previously heard numbers in the 200-300 range and thought these numbers were very high,” Wadhwa said. “I doubt that political leaders in the U.S. are aware that there are so many skilled workers waiting in line – and that we may lose many of these.”

And what are the consequences of losing so many skilled workers? According to the study, they contribute a tremendous amount of patented products and services.

“The focus of the immigration has been on the plight of the unskilled
workers who have entered the country illegally,” Wadhwa said. “We do need many of these workers and we need to develop a humane and fair solution to this problem. If we wait 5 years to reform the immigration system, the illegal and unskilled will still be here – these poor people have few options.

“But the highly educated and skilled – who are fueling economic growth and contributing significantly to U.S. global competitiveness will be long gone,” he warned. “They are in even more demand in countries like India and China than they are in the U.S. Our loss will be the gain of their home countries.”

To view the study in its entirety, see the Web link with this story.