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Putting a plug in America’s brain drain

Entrepreneurship and technological innovation are both key to America’s economic future. But as Brianna Lee noted back in August, the “country’s economic downturn and the American immigration system seem to be driving away many of the very innovators needed” to secure growth.

Here in the U.S., we’ve begun to see both “brain drain,” the emigration of American talent to foreign countries, and “reverse brain drain,” where immigrants educated in the U.S. return to their countries of origin. With opportunities in countries such as China and Brazil, it has become a challenge for American employers to retain top-tier talent.

There are two key factors to take into consideration. The first of which is the issue of how best to retain talented immigrants, who often study in the U.S. The visa to remain employed in America, the H1 B, is limited both in quantity and scope. Plus, the number granted has actually decreased in recent years. The New York Times reported, “Since 2004, there has been a growing gap between the number of H-1B visas sought and those granted, through a lottery. In 2008, companies made 163,000 applications for the 65,000 slots.”

The other factor important to the conversation is that American students continue to lag behind their global counterparts in Asia and Europe, especially in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Scores from the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) confirmed this achievement gap: out of 34 countries, the U.S. ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math.

The Economist looked at the resulting “talent mismatch” last fall, in an effort to explain the seemingly paradoxical trend where unemployment remains high, but skilled workers are in short supply. “Globalization and technological innovation are bringing about long-term changes in the world economy that are altering the structure of the labor market,” wrote Matthew Bishop.

So, readers: How do we spur innovation at home? And how do we stay competitive in the global race for talent?





  • pete pifer

    Maybee if we put 5% of the $ earmarked for weaponry and the “black budget” into our education system this discussion wouldn’t be taking place!

  • Anonymous

    How do we spur innovation at home? Stabilize the economy so people can get back to work.
    And how do we stay competitive in the global race for talent?  Stop legislating us into disadvantage by flooding our labor market.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe being a little more accurate in reporting would help. If you remove schools receiving extensive free lunches (i.e. poverty), American schools rank in the top 5 in most subjects. Plus the PISA tests you quote are self selected and self scored by each country. For example China tested only select students in wealthy cities. Uneducated peasants are not included. If we want to improve our competitiveness, value teachers rather than demonize them. For every 1 success story there are 1000 American high tech workers mostly over 50 who are out of work or seeing massive pays cuts because of H1bs given preference in hiring.

  • Spaul

    We do not need to be a cyber-economy, but can open up small stores and companies in our neighborhood.  We need to promote in the news media a sense of local community and buy local.  That will mean all across the country small communities will try to be self-sufficient and communities within cities can do the same.  We can create a healthy mix of modern technology and local business, creating work and product bought and used by the local or near local community. Repeated all accross the USA this will provide many new production centers and work for the local people.   People will not get super wealthy this way, but do we need to?  Just being well in the middle class should suffice and satisfy.  Knowing who makes your product also promotes quality since one can complain very easily when a product is shoddy.  Centralized international business promotes greed and makes it easier to be immune to the needs of a community, the final end user.  Voting with your money also becomes ineffective since other markets will counter balance the loss of revenue.  As you can see by the increased revenue of large companies, revenues not created in the USA, but in forein nations.   Refusing to purchase a product in the USA will not make much of a difference to the stock market as long as the corporation hase many off shore markets.