Flagging prospects and a lumbering US bureaucracy are pushing away talented immigrants back home to India and China after 40 years of a major brain drain, the author of a new study said.
"Over the past four decades, India and China suffered a major 'brain drain' as tens of thousands of talented people made their way here, dreaming the American dream," says Vivek Wadhwa, author of the study.
"But burgeoning new economies abroad and flagging prospects in the United States have changed everything," notes the Indian-American technology entrepreneur turned academic in an article in the Washington Post on Sunday.
"And as opportunities pull immigrants home, the lumbering US immigration bureaucracy helps push them away," said Delhi-born Wadhwa, a senior research associate at Harvard Law School and executive in residence at Duke University.
Wadhwa recently surveyed 1,200 Indians and Chinese who worked or studied in the US and then returned home, for the Kaufmann Foundation.
"When smart young foreigners leave these shores, they take with them the seeds of tomorrow's innovation," he said noting, "Almost 25 percent of all international patent applications filed from the US in 2006 named foreign nationals as inventors."
Immigrants founded a quarter of all US engineering and technology companies started between 1995 and 2005, including half of those in Silicon Valley. In 2005 alone, immigrants' businesses generated $52 billion in sales and employed 450,000 workers.
"Yet rather than welcome these entrepreneurs, the US government is confining many of them to a painful purgatory," Wadhwa said.
As of September 30, 2006, more than a million people were waiting for the 120,000 permanent-resident visas granted each year to skilled workers and their family members.
An analysis of the 2000 Census showed that although immigrants accounted for only 12 per cent of the US workforce, they made up 47 per cent of all scientists and engineers with doctorates.
What's more, 67 per cent of all those who entered the fields of science and engineering between 1995 and 2006 were immigrants.
"What will happen to America's competitive edge when these people go home?" wondered Wadhwa and suggested: "Immigrants who leave the United States will launch companies, file patents and fill the intellectual coffers of other countries.
"Their talents will benefit nations such as India, China and Canada, not the US. America's loss will be the world's gain," he said.