By Lex, Posted on March 13, 2007
The US is a post-industrial, knowledge-based economy with a vast appetite for the kinds of specialized intellectual skills that help entrepreneurs take risks, and innovate – the driving forces behind the continued success of our economy and our national prosperity.
While the parlous state of our secondary school system remains a concern, our first tier universities continue to be the laboratories wherein the best minds are lit ablaze. Often these minds arrive from developing countries overseas, the Asian Rim and India – people drawn to the opportunity our first tier schools represent. The loss their home countries suffer from this brain drain is at least partly offset by the fact that in a global economy, a rising intellectual tide lifts all boats – here, intellectual dynamism can be directly linked to high tech production. The fact of the matter is that it may well be cheaper for us to import brilliance than it is to create it: Too few native born Americans are choosing to pursue careers in the hard sciences, or in the engineering disciplines. Too few, at least to satisfy the demand.
To look at the staff roster of major urban – and especially, rural – hospitals is to be educated in the rhythms and cadences of Southeast Asia, while those names also grace, in combination with Chinese and Korean surnames, the most challenging fields of applied mathematics and science. Those minds were brought here because schools like MIT, RPI and Stanford offered them a chance to realize their full intellectual potential, while an economy that rewards excellence offered them a chance to improve their lives.
The problem, as an editorial in today’s WaPo rightly points out, is that is now our de facto public policy, having educated the Yu’s, and Kims and Chakravarthy’s of the world – and having filled significant portions of the most precious intellectual real estate our country possesses to do so – we are denying them visas to work here. We’re showing them the door. We’re sending them home, or on to other, more welcoming societies – countries that compete with us.
ONE OF the more self-defeating aspects of this nation’s immigration policy is its insistence on denying work visas to thousands of the world’s most sought-after doctors, scientists, engineers and technical specialists, including those finishing their degrees at American universities. Understandably, U.S. technological corporations, which, unlike Congress, live in the real world of innovation and cutthroat competition for skilled workers, are furious that their own government’s visa policies give foreign firms a leg up. As Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft Corp., told a Senate committee last week, “America will find it infinitely more difficult to maintain its technological leadership if it shuts out the very people who are most able to help us compete.”
That, unfortunately, is precisely the effect of current policy, which for the past few years has limited the number of visas reserved for skilled workers to 65,000 annually — many fewer than American firms would like to hire. The immigration legislation passed by the Senate last year would have increased that number to 115,000, but the bill died in the House. As a result, it is a certainty that thousands of highly trained workers, their hopes of staying and working in America dashed, are now giving firms in Europe or Japan a competitive advantage in some of the world’s most cutting-edge industries.
It is the nature of a MilBlogger to concern himself more with military strength than the educational system, and I will leave it to others more clever than myself to figure out a way to reach into our school systems and incentivize more brilliant minds to pursue practical careers – after all, how many more lawyers do we really need?
The national defense rests on a foundation of economic strength, which in turn rests in the labor of many hard working, clever people. Many of these people are immigrants who would choose to share their talents alongside us if we would only let them. These are people whom we as a nation should reward, and given the continued preference of college students for education in the humanities, they are also the only source of seed corn for our best universities’ future academic crop.
It is inevitable that the world marketplace will reward excellence – what isn’t inevitable is that it will reward it here.