Make It Easier For Highly Skilled Foreign Workers To Stay Here

June 22, 2009

T.A. Frank writes in Washington Monthly that we need to overhaul the current H1-B visa system and make it easier for foreign graduates of our top universities to stay here. Right now, we’re giving people top-notch educations and advanced degrees from places like Yale and Princeton and then sending them to China and India by erecting formidable obstacles to their staying here. If they do stay here, they’re dependent on their employers for their visas, and therefore at their mercy. They can be exploited, and their wages are depressed. This is madness. We bend over backward to make sure foreign basketball and baseball players can come into the US and stay here because of their athletic skills, but we don’t do the same for the world’s brightest minds and sharpest innovators.

This reminds me of something I came across recently while reading Thomas Reed’s and Danny Stillman’s The Nuclear Express (strongly recommended, btw). China built its nuclear program on the foundation of Western-educated scientists, many of whom received their degrees in the United States at places like MIT and Berkeley. In particular, they tell the story of Qian Xuesen, one of the fathers of China’s rocket program:

“One golden apple fell off the tree in 1955, for in that year Qian Xuesen, a twenty-year veteran of work at the cutting edge of American and German rocket science, returned to China. In 1936, Qian had been sent to the United States as a student. He received his Ph.D. from Caltech in 1939. In 1943, he proposed the organization of what became that institute’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. At the end of World War II, Qin, holding a U.S. Army commission as a full colonel, was debriefing captured Nazi rocket scientists. In conjunction with those interviews he was laying out plans for early American rocket work. But then, with the advent of the war in Korea, Qian was considered a security risk. His clearances were lifted, and he remained under virtual house arrest at Caltech until he was deported in 1955 as part of the Korean postwar prisoner exchange. Qian was welcomed home with open arms. Within a few months he had been installed as the leader of China’s Fifth Academy, the organization pulling together China’s missile and space program. The Silkworm anti-ship weapon, Dong Feng ballistic missiles, and China’s first satellite launch (in 1970) were all Qian Xuesen’s doing. He retired within China, decades later, as a national hero.”

But he had a funny name, so we don’t want people like that staying here.

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