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vin13 07-27-2009 10:45 AM

Skilled Immigrants on Why They're Leaving the U.S.
Skilled Immigrants on Why They're Leaving the U.S.
A long wait for a green card, coupled with the soft U.S. economy, is prompting an exodus of some of the best and brightest
By Moira Herbst
Skilled Immigrants on Why They're Leaving the U.S. - BusinessWeek

Lured by the prospect of climbing to the top of his field, New Delhi native Swaroop Ganguly came to the U.S. 10 years ago and earned a PhD in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Texas at Austin in 2005. He became an expert in an emerging technology called spintronics, used to power semiconductors, and worked at several chip companies, including Freescale Semiconductor. But Ganguly, now 32, is moving back to India this summer. Although he has been doing postdoctoral work at the University of Texas, he figures his prospects for research and professional development are probably better in his home country. "I feel quite excited about going back," he says.

Ganguly has already accepted a job as a professor of electrical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. The position will pay a fraction of the salary he had been earning in the private sector—about $15,000 compared with $100,000—but it will offer considerably more job security and the freedom to do the exploratory research he wants to do. "The real lure of being in the U.S. is to do really innovative work, but the space for that seems to be shrinking," he says. "The Indian government is putting a huge amount of funding into science and technology, so even if they can't pay high salaries, it's an attractive prospect."

Ganguly is one of a number of highly skilled immigrants preparing to leave the U.S. as the nation's economy slows. With the U.S. unemployment rate approaching double digits, job opportunities are diminishing and calls to restrict immigration have gotten louder. Those who favor tightening the rules argue that U.S. citizens should get first priority for jobs.

A Blow to Prospects for Economic Recovery
But the issue is tricky when it comes to the most educated and skilled immigrants—people like Ganguly. When well-paid individuals leave the country, that cuts into already depleted tax revenues for state and local governments. The departure of top talent in technology and science may also undercut the prospects for a recovery in the U.S., many economists say. These immigrants often start companies and come up with technological breakthroughs, creating new job opportunities for all.

"We benefit from a flow of really smart people coming here to work in our companies and start new ones," says David Hart, a professor of public policy at George Mason University in Arlington, Va., who co-authored a study on immigrant entrepreneurship released this month. "It's important that the U.S. remain a magnet for people who fuel innovation and growth."

The Obama Administration has said it will push for comprehensive immigration reform later this year, but it's unclear if any legislation will pass or how it would affect skilled immigrants. One unresolved issue is how to define a "skilled" immigrant. While many politicians would support policies to attract the most educated and highly paid, there is more controversy over foreign workers who come into the U.S. on H-1B visas, which require only a bachelor's degree and, in many cases, modest salaries. Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Senate immigration subcommittee, said in June that U.S. policy will aim to "encourage the world's best and brightest individuals to come to the U.S. and create the new technologies and businesses…but must discourage businesses from using our immigration laws as a means to obtain temporary and less expensive foreign labor."
Other Lands of Opportunity: China and India
Advocates for skilled immigrants emphasize the value they create and warn against developing overly restrictive policies. Dr. Jan Vilcek, a professor of microbiology at New York University School of Medicine, defected from Czechoslovakia in 1964 and is now renowned in his field for treatments he developed for chronic illnesses such as Crohn's disease. He co-founded a New York-based nonprofit called the Vilcek Foundation to enhance the public profile of exceptional immigrants. "Foreign-born entrepreneurs and scientists are a tremendous asset to the U.S. economy," Vilcek says. "It is tragic that bureaucratic obstacles are preventing more talented and motivated people from helping to get us out of the economic slump."

For now, economic woes—and to a lesser extent, immigration policies—are the most acute problem driving departures from the U.S. A study by Duke University professor and Harvard researcher Vivek Wadhwa, for example, found that among Chinese nationals who emigrated to the U.S. and later returned home, 72% said they thought professional opportunities were better in China. Among Indians who returned home, 56% said the same of their country. Wadhwa estimates that as many as 200,000 skilled workers from India and China will go home over the next five years, compared with roughly 100,000 over the past 20 years.

"We're in a recession, and there is enough good talent now [in the U.S.], but long term, it will hurt like you won't believe," says Wadhwa, who is also a columnist. "Losing critical talent means arming the U.S.'s competition. The next Google (GOOG), Microsoft (MSFT), or Apple (AAPL) could be launched in Shanghai or Bangalore."

Green Card Applicants Have a Long Wait
Kapil, a 33-year-old software consultant for IBM (IBM) in Silicon Valley, shares Vilcek's frustration. (Kapil asked that his last name not be used out of concern for his job.) He joined IBM in 2001 with the hope of gaining permanent residency in the U.S. so he could ultimately start his own company. IBM filed an application for his green card for permanent residence in 2004, and he has yet to receive it. Due to limits that allow for just 9,800 green cards per year per country, the wait for people from India and China can be up to 10 years. Kapil estimates that his five-year wait could stretch into 7 or 10. In the meantime, he remains on an H-1B visa tied to IBM, where he must keep the same position to remain in the green card queue. He's earning six figures now, he says, but suspects he could earn more if he had the freedom to change jobs. "I'm not allowed to advance, and it's really frustrating," says Kapil. "At this point, I'm losing my patience."

Kapil is eager to found a startup. He has developed the technology for an online job-search engine that taps into social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. He says he is considering launching it from India. "Most likely, I am heading back," he says. "In a way, I feel cheated. I've contributed, paid taxes, and even picked up a California accent. But it's not enough."

Arun Kumar, 30, is also in the U.S. on an H-1B visa and is considering moving to Canada. Kumar, who lives just north of Philadelphia, works for a U.S. bank and is helping to develop a startup within the company. His employer, the name of which he asked not be used, put in his application for a green card last year. Kumar realizes that it could take years for his application to move through the queue, and he's growing restless to start his own business. He has the capital to launch his product, an educational tool to help sixth- to eighth-graders learn math and science. But he doesn't want to do so in the U.S. because assuming a new job or even changing titles within his own company would nullify his existing green card application. Kumar and his wife are now considering moving to Toronto, where they could more quickly become permanent residents.

"I feel restricted here," says Kumar. "I understand the U.S. has a responsibility to its citizens, and I understand its dilemma. But the country would be better off if it could isolate and identify skilled workers who want to come here and build things and welcome them in."

rockstart 07-27-2009 11:22 AM

Nice Article. To the point and highlights woes of Legal Immigration does not convolute it by adding references to family immigration or Illegal immigration or other issues. I mean these issues have their own importance but these are completely seperate issues, with only common link being the word immigration. Other than that unless we drive this point that we are here for a completely different cause we can never make any progress since most people just link immigration to either illegal or family.

dummgelauft 07-27-2009 11:33 AM

Couple of things
(1) I have been here in US for 12 years (no GC yet, of course), but I have yet to see anybody leave, barring a couple of guys who HAD to move due to family realted issues.

(2) This is a lame effort by Moira Herbst and BW to clean-up her racist image. Where is the apology from her, for using the kind of language she did, in her previous article..

gauravster 07-27-2009 11:42 AM

Seen many go back
I have seen 4 of my close friends go back in the last 3 years. Mostly because their wifes could not work and a secondary reason to have the flexibility to do something of their own. I also know(hear of) of many more people who have been going back esp in the last couple of years.

I myself will probably wait another 2-3(or maybe 4) years and move back if it nothing happens, life is too short to waste precious energetic years in limbo.

gc28262 07-27-2009 11:46 AM

Moira Herbst hasn't lost her sense completely. Good article by Moira.

Devils_Advocate 07-27-2009 11:47 AM

I personally have one close friend moving back home this year, because of the immigration turmoil, and he was SUPER smart, didn't want to waste his most productive years in a straight jacket.

I suggest all to go to the comments section and put in your bit about maybe your own experience or a friends, it helps strengthen the article and gives alot of positive visibility in this time of political pre CIR debate ( apart from drowning those loser Anti's crap propaganda ;) )

hpandey 07-27-2009 11:49 AM

My experience

Originally Posted by dummgelauft (Post 552147)
(1) I have been here in US for 12 years (no GC yet, of course), but I have yet to see anybody leave, barring a couple of guys who HAD to move due to family realted issues.

(2) This is a lame effort by Moira Herbst and BW to clean-up her racist image. Where is the apology from her, for using the kind of language she did, in her previous article..

That's not true at all ... I have seen five of my friends leave in the last two years and all of them had GC's for several years.. in fact one of them even got citizenship. They wanted to go back not because of family reasons because they thought there are better oppurtunities in India ( of course having family and relatives nearby is an added advantage ).

abhi_022001 07-27-2009 11:52 AM

Two Years back I myself was ready to move to UK, where you can secure citizenship after six years without any hassle..I even acquired HSMP visa sitting in US and started selling my furniture etc...

But just then in July'07 dates got current and couple of my friends told me that after filing I-485, within a year or two GC would there is no scene..

newuser 07-27-2009 12:05 PM

I have to thank Moria for finally taking up the high skilled EB immigration issue. But she didn't mention or quote IV anywhere in her article but had references to anti website's and guys in here previous article. I still refuse to read BW until she quotes IV and the covers the real facts, not just some random people interviews.

Don't get fooled by Moria and BW of what they did in there last articles.

vin13 07-27-2009 12:05 PM

Related Article - (July 2008)
US High-Skilled Immigration Policy: A Self-Inflicted Wound

by Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, Peterson Institute for International Economics

Article in YaleGlobal Online
July 1, 2008
Article: US High-Skilled Immigration Policy: A Self-Inflicted Wound

America rose to global economic prominence, superpower status, and victory in the Cold War on the shoulders of the most highly skilled workforce in the world. However, America's global "skills leadership" is now under challenge. An increasingly vicious combination of long-term trends in the form of retiring baby boomers and stagnating US educational attainment, combined with increasingly restrictive laws on high-skilled immigration increasingly undermines the US position. This will seriously jeopardize long-term economic growth opportunities, especially for US high-tech sectors

Aging US baby boomers were the best-educated workers in the world when they entered the workforce 30-some years ago. Building on visionary policies like the GI Bill of 1944, college-level graduation rates for US baby boomers reached almost 40 percent during this period, far exceeding graduation rates of 20 to 25 percent enjoyed by contemporary British, French, German, or Japanese baby boom generations in the late 1960s and 1970s. The year 2008 is the first in which Americans born after World War II can retire with public pensions—hence, the loss of large numbers of well-educated baby boomers will be more severely felt in the United States than among other major industrialized economies.

Another long-term worry is the stagnation seen in the average educational attainment of Americans in recent decades. Almost unique in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the tertiary-level graduation rates among present-day US labor market entrants, aged 25 to 34, is the same as that of their baby boomer parents, aged 55 to 64—stuck below 40 percent. Hence, there's a risk in coming years that as many high-skilled Americans will retire as will enter the workforce. The century-long continuous compositional skills improvement of America's workforce may soon end.

Moreover, while America failed to continue to improve broad educational standards during the last 30 years, the rest of the world has not stood still. Today, over 50 percent of young Canadians, Japanese, and Koreans obtain tertiary education representing a vast educational advancement relative to their parents' generation. American labor market entrants today barely make the global skills top-10 list. As a direct result, for the first time in generations, the US risks becoming less skill-abundant than an increasing number of its global economic competitors.

US and Canadian baby boomers, aged 55 to 64, were indeed the "brightest kids on the global trading block," when they entered the workforce and rapidly globalizing marketplace. Thus baby boomers were ready to take advantage of trade liberalization and the opening of global markets during the last part of the 20th century, far less true for today's American youth.

Policymakers cannot stop the graying of the US population or the imminent retirement of baby boomers. Similarly, successful overhaul of the US education sector could only begin to reverse more than 30 years of educational stagnation over the long term. Improving the education system is hardly a realistic or quick solution to forestalling broad skill shortages in the US economy over the next decade.

US policymakers can only hope to counter these long-term phenomena in a timely manner by reforming high-skilled immigration policies and facilitating the continued and increasingly economically necessary inflow of high-skilled workers from abroad.

Instead, US high-skilled immigration policies have in recent years become tangibly more restrictive—waylaid by wider congressional gridlock on immigration and political emphasis on indiscriminate enforcement. This restrictiveness is relative to earlier periods in US history and, more importantly, other industrialized countries today.

In April 2008, for instance, about half of 163,000 US businesses wishing to hire a foreign high-skilled worker on H-1B visas were denied this opportunity by the annual quota of 85,000 available visas2 (65,000 plus 20,000 available to foreign graduates with advanced degrees from US universities).

The immigration policy undermines the economic characteristics—entrepreneurial vitality and mastery of new advanced technologies—that make the United States the envy of the world. Just like Google, eBay, and Yahoo, more than half of engineering and technology companies founded in Silicon Valley from 1995 to 2005 had at least one foreign-born founder.3 More than a third of US venture capital–backed technology firms report shifting investments and jobs outside the country due to restrictive regulation,4 and America's largest, most competitive companies cannot get visas for foreign high-skilled workers they want to hire.

Meanwhile, contours of the global battlefield for talent are rapidly changing. The recent proposal for an EU "Blue Card" would allow high-skilled workers from outside the European Union to work in multiple EU countries, just one example of a new trend across the OECD. Affected by more rapid population aging than the United States, other OECD countries aggressively work to liberalize their high-skilled immigration laws, while simultaneously tightening regulation of low-skilled and humanitarian-based immigration. Ironically, the other nations frequently copy US policies, particularly those that attract and retain foreign students.

Equally worrisome for the United States, the top countries of origin for high-skilled migrants—fast-growing China and India—offer incentives for skilled workers to return home. In 2007, China launched its "green passage" initiative, aimed at luring back tens of thousands of acclaimed overseas Chinese scientists, engineers, and executives with promises of guaranteed university places for their children, exemption from household-residence registration—or hokou—requirements, and tax benefits.5

The United States—historically the world's country of choice for foreign high-skilled workers—has the most to lose from any change in these human-capital flows. While the rest of the rich world has caught up in welcoming high-skilled foreigners, the United States could soon struggle to attract global talent.

With the skill-base of the US workforce declining at an accelerating pace relative to the rest of the world, America in the 21st century will need foreign high-skilled workers more than ever. At stake is the ability of the US economy to thrive in the global marketplace

go_guy123 07-27-2009 12:14 PM


Originally Posted by dummgelauft (Post 552147)
(1) I have been here in US for 12 years (no GC yet, of course), but I have yet to see anybody leave, barring a couple of guys who HAD to move due to family related issues.

(2) This is a lame effort by Moira Herbst and BW to clean-up her racist image. Where is the apology from her, for using the kind of language she did, in her previous article..

Actually I moved from US to Canada in 2007 and I did interview for BusinessWeek.
I don't recollect the reporter name. I also know friends who went back (had no option but to go back). A lot of people who left for "family reasons", probably GC problems was also a part of that which they did not acknowledge.

Leo07 07-27-2009 01:34 PM

Thank you note to Moira?
Nice article.
We have been critical about her last time, but she proved she could see both sides of the coin.

Shouldn't we send a note appreciating the article to her and her boss @ BW?

newuser 07-27-2009 01:58 PM


Originally Posted by Leo07 (Post 552639)
Nice article.
We have been critical about her last time, but she proved she could see both sides of the coin.

Shouldn't we send a note appreciating the article to her and her boss @ BW?

Its too early to know her real intentions.

She didn't mention anything about IV nor apolozied for her last article.

BTW, there are some anti sharks scouting IV forums.

kalyan 07-27-2009 02:16 PM


I was making 100K in US for the last 2.5 years. Because of H1B rejection during the transfer, i moved back to India this july and making 20K + in India.

I am living example. I know 4 of us who were making 100k moved back all, because of Visa rejection during the transfer.

Open your eyes. The Story is true.

I paid taxes for 27 quarters . Never been on bench.

Open your eyes

svn 07-27-2009 02:21 PM

Definitely a good counterbalance to the anti-immigrant article posted earlier - even calls out the country limits in the current process.

Does this mean Moira is going to stop compiling anti-immigration articles? I would suspect not, given that journalists by definition like to keep presenting both sides of an argument. However, I do believe Moira has shown the ability to clearly present our perspective and we should express our appreciation on this article, just like we expressed our dissatisfaction of the one-sidee article earlier. While I am not sure why she did not contact IV directly and I don't believe we should let that stand in the way - we need to realize that our goal of shining light on our plight is most important here.

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