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Make the U.S. competitive or protect jobs for Americans? Bill to increase visas to foreign workers in U.S.

Ayah Bdeir, of Lebanon, takes a picture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) commencement ceremony.
Ayah Bdeir, of Lebanon, takes a picture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) commencement ceremony.

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The first “brain drain” we heard about was the most intelligent, skilled individuals of other countries leaving and coming to the United States. Foreign students would come to the U.S. for higher education and then stay (or try to) and use their degree to get a job here. This left developing countries, in particular, struggling to further develop and become competitive without their best and brightest. Now, we’re seeing a brain drain out of the U.S., leaving the U.S. in the same predicament, particularly in science and engineering. Foreign students—many from China and India—come to the U.S. for higher education and, now, take the degree to work back at home. U.S. policy has been: “get an education here and then leave.” So, because they don’t have visas and because China and India now have just as many—if not more—science and engineering jobs, the graduates take their talent to our competitors.

To prevent this, CA Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren has introduced a bill to keep foreign-born workers in the country by increasing the number of H1B visas granted. Lofgren argues that the measure will bring money into the U.S. and make the country more competitive. Lofgren is responding to American companies, like Intel, Google, and Oracle, who say they face a serious shortage of talent and need to hire the very best to be competitive. The bill has been met by strong resistance from Republicans and others who point to statistics that the U.S. is producing more than enough American science and engineering grads, and we should be protecting jobs for American. In response, Lofgren and proponents say that even if we don’t increase the number of visas granted, American jobs will not be protected because the U.S. companies are following the U.S.-educated best and the brightest back to their home countries to set up shop. Should we increase the number of visas allowing foreigners to work here? Will such a measure make U.S. companies and/or the U.S. more competitive? Or, during this post-recession period of high unemployment, should we be protecting jobs for Americans?


Vivek Wadhwa, director of research, Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization, & exec in residence, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University; senior research associate, Labor and Worklife Program, Harvard Law School; visiting scholar, School of Information, UC Berkeley

Paul Kostek, independent consultant in engineering; past president of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers USA; past chair of the American Association of Engineering Societies