Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Talent Migration Geopolitics: H-1B Visa

I think there is enough fodder out there to elevate talent migration geopolitics to a distinct subject that could support a blog dedicated to such issues. While thinking in these terms over the last few days, I've seen more than a few relevant articles. Today from Brookings:

Last year H1-B visas were not snapped up at the breakneck pace of previous years. The new fee structure should both fuel and inform the debate over whether immigrants “crowd out” jobs and reduce the wages of U.S.-born workers in the tech sector. Over the longer term, how will the industry adapt--by paying higher fees to continue to employ the same workers or will they begin hiring citizen workers (who, of course, may be foreign-born naturalized citizens)? Will they move operations out of the United States or not even bother considering starting up operations here? Will this type of protectionism in the name of border security (!) get in the way of US competitiveness and innovation capacity?

The greater expense for H-1B visas is supposed to pay for better US border security. The big picture has the United States turning its back on foreign born talent in order to placate angry voters. That has folks such as Richard Florida concerned about the American recovery, at least in the near term. Talent, companies and jobs will all head elsewhere (e.g. Canada).

US policymakers seem to be banking on the continuing attractiveness of the country. I think they are right and the Floridas are wrong. The tolerance for immigrants ebbs and flows, but they keep coming. The higher education industry will also have a thing or two to say about student visas, which is the primary farm system for H-1B talent. I can see policy liberalization on that front given the concerns about declining enrollments and the increasing importance of colleges and universities in regional economic development.

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