Magazine article ASEE Prism

Our Reverse Brain Drain

Magazine article ASEE Prism

Our Reverse Brain Drain

Article excerpt

"It breaks my heart when some of our brightest students - who graduated from the top of their classes in countries like India and China-are forced to leave. There aren't enough work visas for them, and even when companies want to hire them, the arduous procedure of sponsoring them for a special exemption discourages them from doing so. And if the students want to start their own companies, the chance of approval has been historically even more slim. J have also noticed a distinct change over the last decade in what they say about their opportunities back home. Before, most considered the United States their only option. Now they have good opportunities back home." This is what Tom Katsouleas, dean of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University, told me when I interviewed him for my book.

Yannis C. Yortsos, dean of the Viterbi School of Engineering at the University of Southern California, added that most of his school's foreign students express a strong desire to stay in the United States for at least a few years after they graduate. But the tide is turning. "We have noted a trend for some Chinese students, particularly those from large cities, to return home as soon as they have good job opportunities at home. Similarly, students from India are also increasingly returning home after they have some work experience," said Yortsos.

These comments explain the findings of our latest research on immigrant entrepreneurship.

In 1998, AnnaLee Saxenian, now dean of the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, documented that Chinese and Indian computer scientists and engineers were running one quarter of Silicon Valley's tech firms. I worked with Saxenian in 2006 to update this research. We found that from 1995 to 2005, the proportion of immigrantfounded start-ups in Silicon Valley had increased to 52.4 percent. And the trend that began in Silicon Valley had become a nationwide phenomenon, with 25.3 percent of the nation's engineering firms being started by immigrants. We also documented an alarming increase in the backlog of skilled immigrants waiting for permanent resident visas: more than 1 million in line as of October 2006. The problem is a shortage of these visas - only 140,000 are available every year for skilled workers of all nationalities. …

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