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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?