More debates about foreign technology workers (many of whom were foreign students) in the USA

nytimesdebateFurther to our 6 April entry ‘Debating the possible decline of the USA’s attractiveness to foreign students and highly skilled foreign professionals‘, the New York Times sponsored a related debate (‘Do We Need Foreign Technology Workers?‘) on 8 April.  The six contributors (and the titles of their statements) are:

  • Vivek Wadhwa, Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University (‘Our Real Problem Is the Brain Drain’)
  • Norman Matloff, computer science professor, U.C. Davis (‘Suppressing Wages With Younger Workers’)
  • Guillermina Jasso, sociology professor, N.Y.U. (‘A Work Force in Motion’)
  • Ron Hira, public policy professor, Rochester Institute of Technology (‘Training Your Own Replacement’)
  • Mark Heesen, National Venture Capital Association (‘Why Reject Entrepreneurial Spirit?’)
  • John Miano, lawyer and computer programmer (‘Low Salaries, Low Skill’)

The debate has generated nearly 400 comments within day 1, and many (well some…) are worth reading to acquire a sense of the complexity of the issue and the often divergent viewpoints that exist.  Recall that the outcome of such debates have huge implications for graduate education in US universities, as well as the associated processes of ‘brain circulation’, ‘brain drain’, ‘brain gain’, etc.

I should add that the New York Times has a truly excellent group of cartographers on staff (I am biased here…some have UW-Madison ties).  The team has developed an associated interactive map (‘Immigration and Jobs: Where U.S. Workers Come From‘), and one of the many maps they produced is pasted in below.

nytimesmap

Kris Olds

Debating the possible decline of the USA’s attractiveness to foreign students and highly skilled foreign professionals

The USA’s experience with the ongoing economic crisis has been generating some illuminating debates about the possible tightening of post-graduation options for foreign students (including in the STEM disciplines, as well as in Business).  Today’s Washington Post, for example, includes an article titled ‘U.S. visa limits hit Indian workers: job offers rescinded or hard to come by‘. The article includes these two segments:

As the U.S. economy slows, highly skilled foreign professionals seeking work under various visa programs are finding it harder to get jobs. President Obama’s stimulus package stops U.S. companies, largely in banking and financial services, that take federal bailout money from hiring H-1B visa holders for two years if they have laid off American workers in the previous six months. The administration has vowed to tighten restrictions and step up oversight of all work visa applications.

The H-1B program brings in about 85,000 skilled foreign workers every year, ostensibly to fill jobs that U.S. workers cannot or will not do. But some companies in the science and technology fields, afraid of a backlash over hiring foreign professionals rather than American ones, are rescinding job offers. Analysts say it is part of a wave of mounting anger in the United States over work visas, especially at a time when more than half a million Americans are being laid off every month.

“Hiring H-1B visa holders has become as toxic as giving out corporate bonuses,” said Vivek Wadhwa, a Duke University professor and Harvard University research fellow.

….

During the past several months, the largest banks in the United States have announced 100,000 job cuts, [Bernard] Sanders said. Those same banks, which are receiving $150 billion in a taxpayer-funded bailout package, requested visas for more than 21,800 foreign workers over the past six years for positions such as senior vice presidents, corporate lawyers and human resources specialists, Sanders said, citing an Associated Press review of visa applications that the banks filed with the Labor Department.

As the economy worsened last year and employees were laid off, the number of visas sought by the dozen banks in the AP analysis increased by nearly a third, from 3,258 in fiscal 2007 to 4,163 in fiscal 2008.

More than 5 million jobs have been lost since the U.S. economy fell into recession more than a year ago, according to the Labor Department.

But many immigration experts say shutting out the talent from abroad will only hurt U.S. competitiveness in the long run. “It’s really unfortunate because we will lose an entire generation of wonderful minds as a by-product,” Wadhwa said. “The next Google or Silicon Valley will be in Bangalore or Beijing.”

Nations such as Canada, Singapore and Australia have created “fast-track” immigration policies and incentives to attract foreign professionals.

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A 1 April 2009 article (‘A rush for work visas even as demand dips‘) in the New York Times covers similar terrain.

This debate is being entered from a variety of perspectives.  One that is particularly relevant to GlobalHigherEd was put forward by AnnaLee Saxenian in the Financial Times on 29 March 2009 in a piece titled ‘Soapbox: Cold welcome in the US‘. Saxenian, author of some key books on regional development (Regional Advantage: Culture and Competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128) as well as skilled migration (The New Argonauts), links the tightening of borders to the possible emergence of challenges to US universities to recruit the best and the brightest foreign students.  She frames the issue this way:

As policymakers in Europe and Asia create incentives to attract talented immigrants, there is growing resentment towards foreign workers in the US, based on the mistaken view that they displace native-born workers. In fact, foreign-born scientists have created hundreds of thousands of new jobs, billions of dollars of revenue and substantial wealth in the US, primarily in high-technology sectors.

It is natural that many immigrants wish to return home. And economies benefit from “brain circulation” and the global ties that highly skilled immigrants build with their home country counterparts. These “new Argonauts” have contributed to the emergence of dynamic new centres of entrepreneurship and innovation in developing regions from Taiwan and Israel to Bangalore and Shanghai.

But circulation is a two-way street. The survey suggests the US is losing the openness that made it a magnet for the most talented immigrants. The health of US universities depends on the economy. In coming years, even the greatest universities will be challenged as developing economies invest their own systems of higher education.

Saxenian’s article draws from collaborative work being supported by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation (see a recent report cover above).

Will the economic problems facing US university budgets also be matched by a decline in interest in coming to US universities given (a) concern about the lack of opportunity to acquire employment in the US after graduation, and (b) the emergence of more tantalizing and/or accessible higher education opportunities in other countries?

And what is being done to indirectly open up higher education systems, and post-graduation employment opportunities, in non-US countries such that they can take advantage of the political and economic challenges being faced in the US? Take note, for example, of the service sector impact figures I just reported on in Australia (see ‘Making sense of the economic contribution of international students in Australia (up to 2008)‘) that undeniably play a role in advocacy and lobbying to keep Australian borders open to foreign students, especially from countries like China and India (that have historically streamed towards the US).

The possible decline of the US as a key student migration destination, and subsequent place of employment, might be good or bad depending on which perspective one adopts, yet it is clearly worth thinking about given the unsettling effects it would have upon the global higher education landscape.

Kris Olds

Update: link here for the 31 March 2009 NAFSA Statement: H-1B Visas, which includes this segment:

As America and the world fall deeper into recession, it is important to break free of the rhetoric of the political debate and refocus on the fundamentals. One fundamental is that talent is always a scarce resource. There is not enough of it to go around, and every country needs more of it. Talent is also, in today’s world, highly mobile. Our economy is part of a global economy, and our job market is part of a global job market. In such a market, employers look for the talent they need wherever they can find it, and students and skilled workers look for the places to study and work that offer them the most opportunity.

To turn away individuals with skills that we need, who want to live and work in America, under the illusion that by doing so we are protecting our economy, is to deny ourselves a resource that we need to help pull us out of the recession and put our economy on a sound footing for the future. It will cost jobs, not save them.

Sweetening Canada’s offer in the race for global talent: a new immigration class eases the route to permanent residency for foreign students

International students are the focus of front-page news in Canada this week with the launch of the long-anticipated new immigration scheme, the “Canadian Experience Class.”

Intended to fast-track foreign students and skilled workers currently in Canada from temporary migrant to permanent resident status (and potentially to Canadian citizens), this new program continues a series of recent changes implemented by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) seeking to enhance Canada’s economic competitiveness through the attraction and retention of highly educated migrants. Details of the program are outlined here in the Canada Gazette.

Like the existing immigration points-based system, this new program evaluates applicants on a range of criteria. However unlike the traditional economic class route, this stream makes work or study experience in Canada a key factor in gaining admission. Now international students, along with workers in select skilled occupations and professions that have studied or worked for two years in Canada, may apply to become landed immigrants from within the country, no longer needing to leave to join the (backlogged) overseas queues after their studies.

As quoted in the Globe and Mail (Aug 13, 2008: a1), a CIC spokeswoman explained the change is part of revamping Canada’s immigration approach to compete with “rival destinations such as Australia and the United Kingdom.” This framing is significant for several reasons.

First, CIC’s language acknowledges a shift in immigration policy logic from one based on broad nation building to one based on keeping pace with other countries competing to gain advantage in their ability to attract migrants for the knowledge economy. As political scientist Ayelet Shachar (2006) has argued, the policy framework of many immigrant-receiving countries is no longer driven primarily to meet domestic needs, but to keep up with the offer on hand from other countries also trying to become the next “IQ magnet” in the ever-spiralling global race for ‘talent’. The rationale is that if international students can become permanent residents immediately after their studies, then this may have the desired effect of increasing the likelihood that many will remain post-graduation and contribute to the Canadian economy, as well as making Canada a more appealing educational destination for young migrants at the outset.

Second, from a national perspective, international student mobility has historically served a multifaceted role as both an element of international political relations (think of programs such as the Fulbright and Commonwealth Scholarships), and as an increasingly lucrative industry.

In recent years, however, many governments have also begun to place greater emphasis on the innovation and labour market potential inherent in mobile students and researchers. Canada’s new scheme – along with the recent announcement that post-graduation work permits for students would be extended to a three-year duration – indicate the heightened interest placed by the Canadian government on the potential longer-term economic contributions that foreign students can make.

So what to make of these developments?

On one hand, they certainly fit with contemporary theories in economic development planning that emphasize the importance of developing a diverse, educated and skilled labour force as a necessary context for sustained economic vitality, and the ability for universities to feed into this process at a local scale. International graduates can make particularly valued contributions to such strategies through their different academic and cultural traditions as well as transnational research and social networks. Advocates of international students will likely also laud this new initiative for enabling those already in Canada who have established ties and made intellectual, economic, and social contributions to remain with greater security, if they so choose.

On the other hand, however, there are several concerns and potential consequences worth considering.

First, this new class does not address – and may further exacerbate – existing problems of excessively long waiting lists for overseas immigration applicants.

Second, and even more disquieting, this new ‘class’ promotes unequal access to the protection and rights attributed to Canadian permanent residents by excluding lower-skilled labourers who also make important contributions to the Canadian economy and society and who comprise the majority of temporary permit holders.  It is important to ask whether Canada wants to advance a system with differential paths to citizenship based largely on the fluctuating economic valuation of certain types of knowledge.

Lastly, it also seems probable that this new fast-track scheme will become an admissions strategy for young migrants able to afford the expense of studying as an international student in Canada. While the financial picture for international students is complex, varying from high tuition fees for most undergraduate studies to receiving scholarships for funded graduate students, the financial accessibility to this potential route to citizenship complicates the already unclear picture wherein international students are desired for their future ambassadorial roles, for their financial contributions to individual institutions, and/or for their potential economic input as desired young researchers and future ‘knowledge workers’.

Time will tell if these various objectives can succeed in co-mingling or if tensions and contradictions in the diverse strategies involving the spheres of higher education, research, immigration, and economic development will emerge.

Reference

Shachar, A. 2006. The race for talent: Highly skilled migrants and competitive immigration regimes. New York University Law Review, 8(April): 148-206.

Kate Geddie

The National Academies’ International Visitors Office: strategic communications while institutionalizing mobility

nalogo.jpgThe National Academies is a US-based institution that is made up of representatives from the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council. This institution was created by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 and has evolved into a key stakeholder in debates about the globalization of higher education, especially with respect to science and technological matters. The activities of the Policy and Global Affairs Division should be of particular interest to GlobalHigherEd readers. Approximately 1,100 staff work at the National Academies’ offices in Washington DC.

ivo-bisologo.jpgThe National Academies’ Board on International Scientific Organizations has just released a podcast that explains what role their International Visitors Office plays in facilitating the movement of scientists and foreign students to the United States in the “fundamentally” transformed post-9/11 era.

The office, which was set up in 2003, seeks to facilitate human mobility but in a manner that is less problematic when the “national security interests” of the US can sometimes “alienate” the “skilled migrants” who play a critically important role in meeting the science and technology needs of the US. Thus the initiative also has diplomatic (aka strategic communications) objectives associated with it. The podcast is approximately five minutes long.

Kris Olds

Diaspora strategies for the knowledge economy

Governments around the world are beginning to think about their expatriate populations in new ways. Rather than expatriate business, cultural, scientific and policy actors being understood as ‘lost’ to their countries of origin, active efforts are now being made to identify and link highly skilled offshore citizens to national economic development projects through initiatives such as formal mentoring programmes, international advisory boards, and investment programmes. Diaspora Strategies are most often found in those countries that have experienced ‘brain drain’ and so are having difficulty accessing the capital and skills needed to succeed in the global economy. Today these countries include not only the developing countries of the so-called ‘South’ in which diasporic relationships have long been part of development strategies, but also ‘middling’ developed countries of the so-called ‘North’ such as New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa, Canada, Australia, Singapore and Ireland.

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The active building of formal relationships between expatriate experts and economic development projects originated in developing countries during the post-war period, and was subsequently institutionalised in the UNDP initiated Transfer of Knowledge through Expatriate Nationals (TOKTEN) programme. Still in operation, this programme has projects in over thirty countries, and involves experts who volunteer to go back to their countries of origin for periods usually ranging from one to six months. A more economistic understanding of the role of expatriates began to emerge in the 1960s, marked most notably with the emergence of the term ‘brain drain’ based on the human capital approach of Gary Becker (Meyer and Brown 1999). So-called ‘brain drain’ policies involve efforts to prevent or regulate flows of scientific and technological expertise from developing to developed countries. The challenge for policy makers was how to run ‘brain drain’ into ‘brain gain’ by encouraging highly skilled migrants to return home.

Today it is argued that ‘brain gain’ strategies have largely failed (World Bank 2005). Consequently many governments have begun to explore new policy measures that encourage expatriates to participate in their countries of origin without requiring them to return home. No longer is the diaspora simply the concern of migration officials, rather economic development agencies have become central, assisted in some cases by the efforts of international organisations. For example, the World Bank recently held a technical workshop in Latin America that focused on the design of Diaspora Strategies and contextualised these in the need for new forms of industrial policy predicated on high productivity employment. The result is active mobilisation of expatriates through initiatives such as investment conferences, industry and sector specific web links, the creation of expert databases, direct appeals by national leaders, short term visits by academics, mentors and industry specialists, and the explicit targeting of financial, market and technical expertise. It is in this context that expatriate presence in all OECD countries has also been measured for the first time (Dumont and Lemaitre 2005).

Unlike earlier diasporic networks that privileged cultural and educational relationships (such as embassy groups and alumni programmes), the primary aim of the formal Diaspora Strategies is to facilitate the transfer of advice, technical skills, finance, and market knowledge (market standards, financial practices, corporate governance) allowing more ready access into offshore markets. There is an explicit discussion about the need for Diaspora Strategies to distinguish between ‘alumni models’ that involve mass mobilization and the ‘overachievers model’ that focus on elite actors and target those who can influence corporate investment and decision making processes. In many cases, efforts to use Diaspora Strategies to help build a ‘knowledge based economy’ are also explicitly linked to new understandings of the role of universities and the establishment of business incubators in which connections can be made between fledgling businesses and expatriate networks (Lalkaka 2003).

The rise of Diaspora Strategies is significant because it demonstrates how state agencies, policy makers and individual citizens themselves have begun to think beyond national borders and are make efforts to generate non-territorial forms of organisation. However, to date the vocabulary of these strategies is that of the knowledge economy. Expatriates are being cast as new sources of financial, human and social capital. It is competitiveness, growth, skills, entrepreneurship and innovation that is privileged, and only rarely community and identity. Whether or not this in sustainable longer term remains to be seen.

References

Dumont J-C and G Lemaitre 2005 Counting Immigrants and Expatriates in OECD Countries: A New Perspective. OECD Directorate for Employment Labour and Social Affairs.

Lalkaka R 2003 Business Incubators in Developing Countries: characteristics and performance. International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management 3(1/2), 31-55.

Larner, W 2007 Expatriate experts and globalising governmentalities: the New Zealand diaspora strategy. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 32 (3), 331–345.

Meyer J-B and M Brown 1999 Scientific Diasporas: A New Approach to the Brain Drain. Paris: UNESCO MOST Discussion paper No 41.

World Bank 2005 Transforming Brain Drain into Brain Gain: Diaspora networks of highly skilled for the benefits of countries of origin Workshop for public and private sector leaders, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 26-27 April.

Wendy Larner