October 22, 2011
US Is Losing Ground in Global Competition for Talent
As a result, more than a third of the current US science and engineering work force that has a doctorate was born outside the United States.
These highly skilled immigrants make huge contributions to the US economy. Intel was founded by a Hungarian immigrant. Google was co-founded by a Russian emigre.
Jennifer Hunt, an economics professor at McGill University in Montreal, has found that immigrants to the United States were far more likely to have published an academic article or to have commercialized a patent than a native-born American.
But now such contributions may be fleeting. Gallup surveyed people in 148 nations between 2007 and 2009, asking those who said they would like to leave their native country permanently about a preference for emigration. Only 9 percent of those with at least four years of post-secondary education worldwide preferred the United States.
Already a not-insignificant portion of foreign-born scientists and engineers trained in the United States eventually go home or elsewhere to pursue their careers. Among the temporary foreign residents who received their doctorates in the physical sciences in the United States in 2002, 22 percent left immediately and another 8 percent left by 2007.
Moreover, this reversal of the brain drain may soon accelerate. China is on a crash course to build world-class universities. And, while today it is actually much harder to win a coveted place at Peking University than it is to get into MIT, that capacity constraint may ease over time. More of China’s most promising scientists and engineers may soon wish to stay home for education and work.
In addition, returning to China or to other emerging markets after completing studies in the United States is bound to get ever more attractive.
Patrick Gaule, a post-doctoral research fellow at MIT, has shown that a $1,000 increase in per capita income in the native country increases the odds of a person returning home by about 20 percent. China’s per capita income of $7,600 has increased by $4,000 in the last decade from $3,600 in 2000.
With the median pay for software engineers in China having risen by 67 percent in the last four years and with the Chinese economy growing four times faster than that of the United States, the allure of an American salary may no longer outweigh the benefits of going home for many young, bright Chinese. In fact, this may already be seen in the behavior of Korean-born, US-trained scientists and engineers. They are far more likely to return home than are their Chinese and Indian counterparts.
This new reluctance among the best educated to come to the United States and stay may, in part, reflect an appreciation of just how hard Washington makes it to establish residency.
Only about one in seven legal permanent entrants into the United States receive a green card for economic reasons, and about half of those are for their family members. By comparison, two-thirds of Australia’s immigrants and two-fifths of immigrants to Britain are admitted for economic reasons.
And while America attracts far more foreign students than any other country, these numbers are deceptive. The United States has more institutions of higher education than other nations. When measured relative to the size of its own student-aged population, the United States attracts only 2.8 foreigners per 100, while Britain attracts three times as many foreign students per capita and Australia more than five times as many.
A number of other industrial countries now have immigration policies specifically designed to attract and keep skilled immigrants.
Australia has had favored skilled migration with a points system since 1999. Even after a tightening of the criteria in the wake of the global economic downturn, immigrants are still given preference if they have skills that are in short supply, if that short supply imposes a cost on the economy or if their skills take a long time to learn.
Canada has also recently curtailed its admissions practices, but still maintains a list of 29 occupations with a skill shortage, and each year up to 1,000 immigrants per occupation are given preference up to a total of 20,000 people.
A nation can never have too much talent. But in a global economy the best and the brightest are increasingly mobile. The first real competition for such skilled workers is about to begin. And the United States faces the real prospect that it could lose that contest.
Bruce Stokes is a trans-Atlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
Source: Jakarta Globe