Editor’s note: Vivek Wadhwa is a fellow with the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School and executive in residence/adjunct professor at the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University. He is a serial entrepreneur, including the founding of Cary-based Relativity Technologies. This article is reprinted with permission of BusinessWeek Online.

DURHAM, N.C. – As the debate over H-1B workers and skilled immigrants intensifies, we are losing sight of one important fact: The U.S. is no longer the only land of opportunity.

If we don’t want the immigrants who have fueled our innovation and economic growth, they now have options elsewhere. Immigrants are returning home in greater numbers. And to enjoy a better quality of life, better career prospects, and the comfort of being close to family and friends.

Earlier research by my team suggested that At the end of 2006, more than 1 million skilled professionals (engineers, scientists, doctors, researchers) and their families were in line for a yearly allotment of only 120,000 permanent resident visas. The wait time for some people ran longer than a decade. In the meantime, these workers were trapped in "immigration limbo." If they changed jobs or even took a promotion, they risked being pushed to the back of the permanent residency queue. We predicted that skilled foreign workers would increasingly get fed up and return to countries like India and China where the economies were booming.

Why should we care? Because Despite the fact that they constitute only 12% of the U.S. population, immigrants have started 52% of Silicon Valley’s technology companies and contributed to more than 25% of our global patents. They make up 24% of the U.S. science and engineering workforce holding bachelor’s degrees and 47% of science and engineering workers who have PhDs. Immigrants have co-founded firms such as Google, Intel, eBay, and Yahoo!

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