Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Global Talent Convergence

Because the world is ruled by mesofacts, migration is a lagging indicator. A big shift in reputation, place brand, is a game-changer. We're seeing a restructuring of global talent migration. The macroeconomic forces shaping these new patterns are at least a few years old. People are responding to a morphing landscape:

Other countries, meanwhile, have positioned themselves to benefit from the talent we’re turning away. Australia allows in almost as many skilled workers annually as the U.S., despite having a fraction of the population, and Canada has aggressively courted the highly skilled, nearly quadrupling the percentage of permanent visas it grants for employment.

Emphasis added. The author of the above is trying to persuade readers to loosen up US immigration policy. Ironically, the first two paragraphs push the argument in the opposite direction:

If one of the big stories of this year’s Olympics was Team U.S.A.’s return to the top of the medal charts, London also showcased another impressive American feat: we trained many of the best athletes who competed against us. Nearly four hundred Olympians who this year represented other countries went to school in the U.S., and many other foreign athletes live and train here—like the British runner Mo Farah, who won gold medals in the five and ten thousand metres after moving to Portland last year to work with the legendary marathoner Alberto Salazar. In effect, the U.S. helps global talent develop the skills needed to beat us.

This is not a phenomenon confined to the Olympics. The U.S. is the world’s most popular destination for foreign students, hundreds of thousands of whom go to college and graduate school here. This is all to the good: just as the Olympics are more exciting when lots of countries have top-level competitors, the global economy is more dynamic when knowledge is more widely distributed. But there’s also a missed opportunity for the U.S.: many of these foreign students would prefer to stay and put their skills to work here after they graduate, but they can’t get work visas. What’s more, studies estimate that hundreds of thousands of highly skilled immigrants already working here find themselves stuck in immigration limbo for years, waiting for visa and green-card applications to be approved. These are well-educated, motivated workers who want to play for our side. Yet we’re making it difficult for them to do so.

Emphasis added. Talent migration is converging. Innovation is diffusing. Talent production is still diverging. If you want to develop your talent, you do it in the United States. Tuition is skyrocketing  The foreign born keep coming to our universities. So what if the sea turtles make their way back to China? So much the better, for both countries.

America's competitive edge is in higher education, not innovation. The Innovation Economy will continue to converge. The appeal of geographic arbitrage will grow. Talent production is king.

Yes, "the U.S. helps global talent develop the skills needed to beat us." That's true for innovation. If the Innovation Economy were still diverging, I'd be worried. I'm not worried. Global return migration favors the United States. Domestic return migration favors the Rust Belt. I think I will live to read and hear, "We don't innovate here any more."

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