U.S. businesses could be hurt by a reverse brain drain as skilled foreigners with temporary H-1B work visas depart the country and set up competing companies in their homelands, warns Duke University professor Vivek Wadhwa. "We are shipping off our economic stimulus and arming our competition," he says.
Companies such as Google and Microsoft prefer that foreign workers stay, because the United States does not turn out enough citizens with specialized degrees for posts that require a high level of skills. However, competition for the limited number of available H-1B visas is fierce and their supply is limited. A recent study from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation found that businesses want the H-1B cap lifted out of concern that the United States is losing its competitive edge. Stuart Anderson of the National Foundation for American Policy says the cap on H-1Bs forces businesses to reject up to 75 percent of potential hires.
The National Science Foundation estimates that foreign students receive approximately 60 percent of all engineering doctorates awarded each year and more than 50 percent of doctorates awarded in math, computer science, physics, and economics. Anderson's foundation says that each position filled by an H-1B worker at a technology firm with less than 5,000 employees produces 7.5 new U.S. hires thanks to the new products and programs they create, while Compete America estimates that immigrants have founded a quarter of U.S. venture capital-backed public companies in the last 15 years.
"I'd say in the next five years we'll see about 100,000 [skilled foreigners] return to India and China," Wadhwa says. "We educate them, train them, and teach them about our markets. They'll be going home with lots of money, where they'll innovate and file patents."
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