For decades, college-educated professionals from developing nations have left home for opportunities in the West. But this “brain drain” is reversing as stricter immigration laws and weakening economies make Western countries less hospitable to immigrants. In the U.S., Silicon Valley is the hardest hit, with fewer immigrants starting companies. We explore the reverse brain drain and find out how it’s impacting our area.


  • Demetrios Papademetriou President and Board Member, Migration Policy Institute
  • Vivek Wadhwa Director of Research, Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at the Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University; author of "The Immigrant Exodus: Why America is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent"


  • 12:20:42

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFor more than 200 years, the U.S. has welcomed the best and brightest immigrants to study, work and create businesses here with almost incalculable benefits. The innovation and entrepreneurship these talented foreigners bring to the U.S. economy can be found in everything from the diagnostic tools in your doctor's office to the patent-pending seal on a mobile gadget.

  • 12:21:05

    MR. KOJO NNAMDILast year, 76 percent of patents from our top 10 patent-generating universities had a foreign-born inventor. But tough immigration laws coupled with the economic downturn are driving these highly skilled professionals away, causing a so-called reverse brain drain that has lawmakers and business leaders both worried.

  • 12:21:25

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIThey warn that, unless we revise our visa system, these skilled workers will take their talents abroad where they'll create firms that will compete with American companies. So how serious is reverse brain drain and how could it impact our economy? Joining us in studio to discuss this is Demetrios Papademetriou. He is president of the Migration Policy Institute. Demetrios, always a pleasure.

  • 12:21:52


  • 12:21:53

    NNAMDIAnd joining us from the studios of Home Planet Productions in Santa Barbara, Calif. is Vivek Wadhwa, director of research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering. He's also a columnist with The Washington Post and author of the "The Immigrant Exodus: Why America is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent." Vivek Wadhwa, thank for joining us.

  • 12:22:18

    MR. VIVEK WADHWANo, thank you for having me.

  • 12:22:19

    NNAMDIVivek, this economic slowdown combined with aggressive immigration controls have brought illegal immigration to this country down to levels we haven't seen in nearly 40 years. But how are these factors impacting the tide of highly skilled foreign workers who've come to this country in the last decade or more?

  • 12:22:39

    WADHWAYou have to spend some time in Silicon Valley to understand the pain the technology companies are feeling. They have a very hard time finding good technical staff. And then you meet lots of entrepreneurs who want to be starting companies over here, who happen to be visiting or who are at the universities, and they can't start their companies. So people are getting frustrated and going abroad.

  • 12:23:00

    WADHWAAmerican companies are hiring people abroad. Entrepreneurs are starting their companies abroad. Students are now automatically going back home after they graduate. It's a big loss for the U.S. We could be having more economic growth and a lot more innovation happening here than we do if we could only fix our policies.

  • 12:23:19

    NNAMDIDemetrios, does what we're seeing in this country reflect what's happening in other, well, high-income countries that have been hit by the global recession?

  • 12:23:27

    PAPADEMETRIOUWell, yes and no. Most of the high-income countries do not have an organized way for attracting and retaining foreign talent, with a few exceptions. They tend to be the English-speaking countries. You have Canada, Australia and increasingly New Zealand and other -- Hong Kong and other places that are very aggressive in trying to identify the most talented people, bring them to their countries and create opportunities for them and through them for themselves.

  • 12:24:02

    NNAMDI800-433-8850 is our number here if you'd like to join the conversation. Do you know someone who is leaving the U.S. to find opportunities elsewhere? Have you seen professionals at your workplace pull up stakes and return home? 800-433-8850. You can send email to You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or go to our website,, and ask a question or make a comment there. Demetrios, if both skilled and unskilled immigrants are deciding to stay away from high-income countries like ours, where are they going instead?

  • 12:24:37

    PAPADEMETRIOUWell, we're still the major immigrant-receiving country on Earth. By most calculations, somewhere between half and two-thirds of all skilled immigrants still find their way in the United States. So this is not about a catastrophe that is upon us.

  • 12:24:56

    PAPADEMETRIOUThis is about being smart and rebuilding our immigration system to make sure, you know, that the most talented people that we produce as it were, you know, through our universities, the people who have already contributed to some of our most competitive companies, to be able to stay here. So this is as much a problem with the dysfunctional immigration system as anything else. But we also should not exaggerate, you know, the, you know, sort of the degree of this.

  • 12:25:28

    PAPADEMETRIOUBut in -- on immigration matters, whether it's low-skill immigration, mid-skill immigration or high-skill immigration, unfortunately, we have all learned that unless you basically exaggerate the point, unless you, you know, you speak in hyperbole, nobody will listen to you. Because, ultimately, you know, people understand that Washington will not do anything unless sort of a catastrophe is up on it. I am not going to argue that we don't or we do have a catastrophe upon us. But I think everybody agrees that we must do something about it and do it sooner rather than later.

  • 12:26:08

    NNAMDIThat, if we don't have a major problem now, we could be looking at one in the future. Vivek, have emerging economies like China and India drawn highly skilled U.S. and European citizens away from their own homelands, too?

  • 12:26:21

    WADHWAChina is working very hard on it. They have all sorts of incentive schemes to get Chinese to come back home and even to get Westerners to come over there. They have a dire shortage of middle management and of scientists and engineers. So they're throwing lots of money at it. The Indian government doesn't do anything.

  • 12:26:37

    WADHWAHowever, Indians who are frustrated here go back home, and the majority that have gone back home have told us they are doing better back home. And it's a much more natural path for them to go back there. So when they can't stay here, they're going back there. Others are seeing economic opportunity, and they're going back there.

  • 12:26:56

    WADHWABut if you go to the technology centers in India and China, one thing you see is that a significant proportion of them, 30, 40 percent of the startups over there are founded by returnee entrepreneurs from the U.S.A. and from Europe. So you're seeing a boost in entrepreneurship in other countries, which, you know, some people will say is very good. It's very good for India and China, but it's a loss for us.

  • 12:27:20

    NNAMDIDemetrios, can you help us to visualize, if you will, the visa system that skilled foreign workers face here? You say we need to think of it like a funnel?

  • 12:27:30

    PAPADEMETRIOUYes, sort of like the funnel that we use in the kitchen. There are all sorts of opportunities for people to sort of come in on a temporary visas, and we have a rather elaborated, highly articulated, you know, extensive temporary visa system. And then after people, you know, work for a period of time, they demonstrate that their ability to contribute enormously to their employers and more broadly, you know, for the economy of our country and they are asked to be made permanent, will have the other end of that funnel that's tiny.

  • 12:28:10

    PAPADEMETRIOUSo a big part of the problem is that we need to expand that part of the funnel. This way, we can actually have many more people who have demonstrated their abilities to be able to get green cards. And the biggest problem that we have is really not enough green cards rather than not enough initial visas for people to work in the United States.

  • 12:28:37

    WADHWAI agree with that.

  • 12:28:38

    NNAMDI800-433-8850. Did you come to the U.S. to work in science or technology? Was your experience getting -- what was your experience getting residency here? 800-433-8850. I'm glad you said you agree with that, Vivek, because you spent time documenting the stories of dozens of entrepreneurs who wanted to stay in the U.S. but couldn't because of immigration complications. Could you share a story or two with us?

  • 12:29:03

    WADHWAI mean, you know, in Silicon Valley, it's almost -- you know, you -- there's not one story. There are thousands of stories. You meet entrepreneurs all the time. You go to Stanford University. You have these brilliant students with great ideas. They have been working with others in coming up with amazing ideas to startup companies. They want to stay here. They can't.

  • 12:29:23

    WADHWAAnd then in my book, I documented the story, for example, of Hardik Desai, who was at Northwestern University, who basically had a great idea for some diagnostic medical software. He won a business plan contest. He wanted to start it. When it came time to starting it, he couldn't get a visa. So he ended up not starting a company. There are others who started companies over here, employed American workers, started generating a lot of money and paying taxes.

  • 12:29:50

    WADHWAAnd the U.S. government decided that, well, no, we won't give them a visa. And, you know, he's stuck in India. So there's story after story after story after story in the tech industry of very promising entrepreneurs who could be starting companies in the U.S.A. that have the potential to grow into a Google or a Microsoft, that can be employing thousands of Americans, who we won't allow to stay, and that -- it doesn't make sense. I mean, why wouldn't we want job creators doing their magic in the U.S.A.?

  • 12:30:20

    NNAMDIHere maybe is a personal experience from Paul in Frederick, Md. Paul, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:30:27

    PAULWell, hi. It's Paul here. I could say, being a Canadian citizen, having worked in the states since 1999 with a wife and five children is one of the most frustrating experiences. I'm still in a queue hoping that some time a green card will become available so that my wife can work and my children can work. However, most -- a lot of them have grown up, gone back to Canada. One's a pharmacist in Canada now, you know.

  • 12:30:58

    PAULAnd it's just been a real -- it just boggles the mind that my kids pay, you know, out-of-state tuition. It's a nightmare to get a driver's license if you don't have Social Security number and, you know, all of the little hassles you have. And it just seems -- obviously, the system's been broken for many years. And I'm sitting here in a queue that -- we're waiting since -- last time we're waiting is -- 2007, we were given a -- basically, we're in the queue since 2007 for a green card permit which now we're waiting for.

  • 12:31:36

    PAULAnd maybe next year, you know, it might become available. Until then, my wife can't work, you know? And at the same time, you're hearing stories about, you know, illegal immigrants being able to get in-state tuition under certain conditions, and I'm thinking, what's wrong with this system? We can't -- you know, let's fix the -- let's get the system fixed.

  • 12:31:56

    NNAMDIDemetrios Papademetriou, we hear a great deal about the need for immigration reform. This aspect of immigration reform is one thing we don't hear a great deal about. So maybe the case for saying that there's a catastrophe coming is the only way it'll get attention.

  • 12:32:12

    PAPADEMETRIOUIt may very well be, Kojo. It is -- it should be the easiest part of the immigration system to fix. There seems to be, you know, a widespread agreement that we ought to do something about it. The solutions are all on the table. This is not nuclear science. The tradeoffs make solutions more difficult because other people are trying to add to this bill parts that would be unacceptable to the first group.

  • 12:32:45

    NNAMDIYeah, because of theory. It's not a tough thing to do, but in the reality when that bill comes up, it's got all kinds of stuff in it that in the last case, Democrats objected to it.

  • 12:32:54

    PAPADEMETRIOUExactly right, you know. And, of course, that Congress, because it legislates some difficult matters too infrequently, it creates Christmas trees out of these pieces of legislation, at the end of which, you know, what you have with is a completely ugly duckling that many people walk away from it. But the solutions are there, and there are even interim solutions.

  • 12:33:21

    PAPADEMETRIOUWith regard to what the gentleman from Canada said a minute ago, you know, it's not nuclear science that we should allow, you know, the spouses of these highly-qualified people to actually be able to work in the United States at the same time. You know, in all probability, in the overwhelming cases, a number of cases, you know, people who are scientists and engineers and very successful tend to be married to people who also have qualifications.

  • 12:33:51

    PAPADEMETRIOUSo a very small thing, you know, like, you know, after a couple of years -- I don't see why we shouldn't do it immediately. But let's say after a couple of years, for spouses to be able to also work would take care of a small part of the problem, and then it -- you know, we always pilot things. We always create demonstrations, et cetera, et cetera. Let's test some of these ideas, and if the sky doesn't fall, let's just make them permanent.

  • 12:34:21

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Paul. Vivek, you looked at immigrants who had founded companies in the U.S., and you found that apparently an exception to this reverse brain drain was Indian and Chinese entrepreneurs. Why is that?

  • 12:34:38

    WADHWAWell, my theory is that the crop that came in before -- see, when I came here in 1980, it took me 18 months to get a green card. And I became, you know, in all -- for all intents and purposes, I became an American the day I got my green card. I started thinking like an American. This is going to be my home forever. And about 10 years later, I founded my first company.

  • 12:34:56

    WADHWAMy first company employed 1,000 workers. We took it public with $100 million in revenue. Five years later, I was a big success, and then I founded another company. But my -- so during the '80s, it was relatively easy for people from India and China and most countries to come here and get green cards if they were highly skilled.

  • 12:35:25

    WADHWASo my theory is that that crop has become more productive, more entrepreneurial, that that's why the immigrant number increased because the newer crop that came in the '90s, most of them are still stuck in limbo. They haven't gotten green cards, so they can't start companies. So, you know, this is why we're basically holding people, the newer crop, back while the old crop is becoming more productive.

  • 12:35:38

    NNAMDIThere are several objections to the arguments that are being made here. One comes from an email from Jim in Silver Spring, who says, "So why is that a bad thing? Their home countries need these highly educated folks for their own development and governance, and shame on the U.S. for arguing that talented Americans are not sufficiently available to meet our needs. Is that really so with the large number of well-educated people looking for work? I don't believe it for a minute."

  • 12:36:06

    NNAMDIThen we got an email from Constance in Silver Spring, who says, "Any email list or bulletin board for scientists, engineers and programmers, you'll find the same story. Perfectly qualified U.S. candidates are being rejected in favor of foreign applicants because, in spite of legal requirements, the foreign workers can be paid less and are totally dependent on their current employer. If the foreigners complain or ask for more, they get fired and deported." To what which you say what, Demetrios?

  • 12:36:33

    PAPADEMETRIOUWell, you know, there is part of this argument that's legitimate and part of it that is, again, a hyperbole. All the evidence that we have is that the occupations that we're talking about, scientists, engineers, you know, professionals in the IT sector, et cetera, et cetera, are not -- are producing more jobs than their applicants, number one. Number two, there is somehow a sense that because someone, you know, holds a degree that they may have gotten, you know, some time in the past in anything approaching these occupations, somehow they're eligible and qualified to take these jobs.

  • 12:37:14

    PAPADEMETRIOUNow, in our own way, we're all employers. And we all get hundreds of applications, all of whom think that they're qualified to actually work at whatever institutions, you know, we're involved with. In reality, there are very few applicants that fit the criteria. And these fields are changing so quickly that I suspect that steals the grade rather very quickly. So the appearance may be that there are plenty of scientists and engineers or mathematicians that may be unemployed or want to change jobs.

  • 12:37:51

    PAPADEMETRIOUBut in reality, they may not fit the requirements of the company. One last thing, you know, which is, you know, must also mention: It is OK for people to be going back. That's what education is all about. That's what a cultural exchange is all about. But I don't think the United States should be doing anything to be pushing these people to go back.

  • 12:38:18

    PAPADEMETRIOUWe should be creating a level playing field so those people who want to leave, go back to their country or to another country because the rewards are better or they think that the rewards are better in these places they should go. But legislation should be able to say to people that if you're good enough, if you have an employer who wants to play by the rules and you want to stay here, you should be able to stay.

  • 12:38:51

    NNAMDIVivek, Constance's email goes on, "To get a foreign worker, all the employer has to do is to say that the U.S. applicants lack one tiny credential or skill which could probably be acquired in a short period of training. The employer then applies for an H1B, hires the foreigner and sends the U.S. citizens or permanent residents to the unemployment office or the fast food counter. Right now, the next generation of U.S. scientists, inventors and computer entrepreneurs are serving you hamburgers and fries while their professional skills deteriorate." What do you say, Vivek?

  • 12:39:22

    WADHWAWell, you know, if you look at a silicon -- from the Silicon Valley point of view, the Google and the Microsofts and the, you know, these companies, they just want the best talent. They would rather not hire a foreigner if they had the choice because there's so much hassle in it, and they get so much grief for hiring foreign nationals. So they hire the best that they can. It's -- in the technology field, in particular, it's all competitive. It's all about getting the best and the brightest and being able to innovate and think outside the box and so on.

  • 12:39:51

    WADHWAYou just can't hire any person who claims to have the right skills as Demetrios described. And just because they have that degree or they claim to have the skills, they become the right person for the job. That's not how America works. This is what makes this country what it is. It's fierce competition, the best and the brightest succeeding and survival of the fittest. We want more of that. We don't want less of that. We don't want to become a socialist country and now be hiring people just because they have some arbitrary degrees. We want competition.

  • 12:40:19

    NNAMDIIndeed, Microsoft's top lawyer was up on Capitol Hill this fall, lobbying for more H1B visas because he said Microsoft did not have enough qualified applicants to fill its job openings. The company wants Congress to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in science and technology education.

  • 12:40:35

    NNAMDIAnd to help pay for this, Microsoft proposes adding an additional 20,000 H1B visas to allow high school foreign nationals to work here, and Microsoft would pay up to $15,000 apiece for each visa. What do you hear from your Silicon Valley contacts, Vivek? Is the talent pool in such dire straits that companies and even startups are willing to pay such high prices for talent?

  • 12:40:59

    WADHWAYes. The -- they're in dire straits. You should see salaries in Silicon Valley, the way they have to fight for talent, and the way they're offering six-figure salaries, 100, $150,000 bonuses, even, to get the right people. But, you know, that $15,000 is fine for Microsoft, but for startups, they don't have that kind of money.

  • 12:41:15

    WADHWABecause if you -- when you -- you know, look at the way Facebook was started in a garage. Look at the way Instagram was started. Look at the way these great companies are started. The entrepreneurs are living off savings. They're living in small, little apartments. They can't afford $15,000, $20,000 legal fees. So we're hurting startups by limiting their ability to hire good people.

  • 12:41:40

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. We'll get to your call. The number is 800-433-8850. Are you stuck in immigration limbo? How is it affecting your outlook for staying here? 800-433-8850. You can also send email to or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:43:51

    NNAMDI...Wadhwa who is director of research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering. He's a columnist with The Washington Post and author of "The Immigrant Exodus: Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent." He joins us from studios in -- at the Home Planet Productions in Santa Barbara, Calif.

  • 12:44:15

    NNAMDIAnd Demetrios Papademetriou is in our Washington studio. He's president of the Migration Policy Institute. Demetrios, after the conversation we had about Microsoft, a notable exception apparently in this push to give permanent visas to graduates in science, technology, engineering and math, the so-called STEM subjects, are those who get degrees in life sciences. Why exclude life sciences graduates?

  • 12:44:43

    PAPADEMETRIOUWell, there are a number of reasons for that -- and I'm speculating here perhaps -- but one of them is because graduates in life sciences encounter much higher unemployment rates of graduates in the other occupations, the STEM occupations that we've been discussing. Second reason might be because, you know, the -- there was not a -- an organized lobby or at least not organized enough to be able to sort of make the case with, you know, the Congress.

  • 12:45:19

    PAPADEMETRIOUAnd we have had extraordinary infatuation, for a very good reason, with the STEM occupations. So you put those things together and you basically have one of the sciences sort of lagging far behind where the rest of the sciences are. It's something that, I think, people are trying to, you know, to fix, and depending on when there may be legislation, maybe we'll see certain parts of the life sciences being added to this.

  • 12:45:53

    NNAMDIBack to the phones. Here's James in Kensington, Md. James, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:45:59

    JAMESHow're you doing, Kojo?

  • 12:46:00

    NNAMDIDoing well, James.

  • 12:46:02

    JAMESWell, you know what, I sort of dabble in the immigration area, and I'll say this: I don't really agree with our guests. I think that the United States is doing a very good job of bringing in talented workers but that we also have a responsibility to the children or, I should say, the young workers or the workers here in the United States, that we need to educate them. I'm sort of appalled with this idea that, you know, we need to do everything possible to bring talent in.

  • 12:46:32

    JAMESYou know, that's assuming that talent is absolute, that, you know, that their backgrounds don't ever come into question. This idea that, you know, this person has the credentials that you can't find in the United States, to me I find interesting. You know, I think we do have talented people here who can contribute.

  • 12:46:51

    JAMESAnd another point is that, you know, I have a friend who works in the tech industry, and he says his experience has been that there are talented people or skilled people who do come from abroad. But at the same time, there are people who are coming from abroad who aren't talented and who are sort of, how do I say, they're insulated...

  • 12:47:11

    NNAMDIWell, James, before I ask our panelists to respond, I don't know if you heard at the beginning of this show. How do you argue with this statistic? Last year, 76 percent of patents from our top 10 patent-generating universities had a foreign-born inventor.

  • 12:47:31

    JAMESYou say how do I argue that?

  • 12:47:33


  • 12:47:33

    JAMESI don't argue. I think that, yeah, definitely there's truth to that. But at the same time, what do we continue to do? Bring people in from overseas, or do we look at the grassroots and try to educate kids at a young level and get -- and teach them that, hey, math is fun, science is fun and that you can compete as well? This idea that we can just keep bringing people in, I just disagree with wholeheartedly on, and I think we need...

  • 12:47:59


  • 12:47:59 focus on kids here.

  • 12:48:00

    NNAMDI…you seem to be suggesting that we can't walk and chew gum at the same time, so allow me to have Vivek Wadhwa respond. Vivek?

  • 12:48:08

    WADHWAWell, first of all, I agree that we should educate our children and we should invest more in them and we should encourage our kids to do math and science. I agree with all of that. But the problem is that if we wait for our children to fix our economy -- we're talking about 15 or 20 years from now -- by that time the innovation would have moved abroad. And the problem we'll have is that we'll be back on this show 15 years from now, saying, why are our children leaving to go and work in India or China or Brazil?

  • 12:48:32

    WADHWAWe want them to stay over here because the jobs will be abroad. Right now, we want to bring in the best and the brightest from all over the world to come here and compete with Americans to uplift our economy, to make it bigger, to make the pie bigger, to create the jobs here so that there are jobs for our children over here. That's what we're talking about, is making America even more competitive.

  • 12:48:52

    WADHWANot to say that if we don't bring anyone in from abroad, we won't be competitive. We still have a lot going for us over here. America's still the most amazing place on this planet, but we want more of it. We want, you know, we want to now be leading the world in innovation in many, many, many different fields. So that's why we want them to come here as well as educating our children.

  • 12:49:12

    NNAMDIJames, thank you very much for your call. Demetrios, what kinds of incentives are countries like China, India, Brazil and South Africa offering to these skilled workers?

  • 12:49:20

    PAPADEMETRIOUWell, you know, if they really want somebody who is highly talented, whoever that Chinese person might be, they will put on the table whatever is necessary. So if you're, you know, a hotshot nuclear physicist and you want a lab to be created for you, this way, you know, then you can build a team of Chinese and others that will make the next advances in innovating whatever it is that the, you know, the field would be, they will put a lab on the table.

  • 12:49:51

    PAPADEMETRIOUThere are all sorts of ways that you can handle this, you know, in terms of subsistence kinds of things, you know, in terms of the ability to protect yourself from the vicissitudes of the political ones at least, you know, of working in China, et cetera. And again, you know, countries now are thinking in competitive terms, you know, and it's not just China.

  • 12:50:19

    PAPADEMETRIOURemember the idea of brain drain was coined by the royal society in the U.K. in the 19 -- late 1950s. And the royal society was concerned that they were losing their most talented people to the United States. And only about a week or two ago, there was another report, this time from the Home Office, that raised again the issue of brain drain out of the U.K. Now, we're typically the beneficiary of this brain drain particularly when it comes to Europeans.

  • 12:50:54

    PAPADEMETRIOUBut over time, we will see that the most talented people will belong primarily to themselves because they have earned the credentials understanding that they have. And they are likely to go to where they can advance themselves, their family can be safe, opportunities for the family members are going to be highest and where there are critical masses of similarly talented people. And I -- Vivek did not mention this, but I think that's the biggest advantage of the United States.

  • 12:51:28

    WADHWAI agree with you, by the way.

  • 12:51:28

    NNAMDIAnd indeed, Vivek, if an entrepreneur wants to launch a text startup in a country like Chile, Canada or China, what kinds of incentives are offered?

  • 12:51:37

    WADHWAWell, I helped Chile design the program by which they offer you $40,000 just to come and live there for six months. And then they give you free office space, Internet access, all the facilities you need to start a company, so they're very eager to bring these entrepreneurs in. And what Chile has found in a very short period of time, they have a buzzing ecosystem.

  • 12:51:55

    WADHWAThey have amazing startups right now in Santiago from all over the world, starting companies. It's like a mini Silicon Valley that happened very fast because of the incentives that they offer to entrepreneurs who come there. And they offer them visas. You can stay as long as you want to in Chile if you're a skilled immigrant.

  • 12:52:13

    NNAMDIOn to the telephones again. Here is Sam in Washington, D.C. Sam, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:52:21

    SAMHi, Kojo and guests. This is a great topic. It's very close to my heart. I just had two points to make I was hoping would be addressed by your panel. The first, I do have a lot of sympathy for the, I guess, as your guest called it entrepreneur in limbo. I think of myself as one of these. I came over in the late '90s on a student visa. I've been highly educated by the U.S. educational system, went to law school, became a patent attorney, and now I'm in a position where I can't start my own law firm and hire young associates.

  • 12:53:01

    SAMSo basically I'm kind of dispel the notion that this is solely an employment-based program where workers are brought in. It's more of an opportunity program where we can actually create jobs. So I could be a job creator in a few years if this process was a little more available to me. And it's a little tied in to my second point, which is that the system as it is, you're talking about it being broken. It's actually being exploited by a lot of different interest groups.

  • 12:53:33

    SAMOne of -- the biggest one being the government itself, you know? The immigration is a massive bureaucracy, USCIS and Homeland Security and all that stuff. And it's kind of this notion that is lumping together border security with legal immigration. That's a whole another topic, but I guess what I'm trying to get at is there's no -- I'd like to dispel the notion that you're trying to bring people in because you don't have to bring people in if the barriers...

  • 12:54:02

    NNAMDIWell, allow me to deal with the first part of that question first. Demetrios, anti-immigration groups have long questioned whether more high school visas would mean fewer jobs for American-born workers. What do the statistics show?

  • 12:54:16

    PAPADEMETRIOUThat the people who argue that point were right perhaps in the 1950s, but they couldn't be anymore wrong in the year 2012. All the estimates that we have -- and it's very difficult to count person per person -- are that people in these positions create more jobs than they take away. And I am not talking about pizza delivery people -- and they create jobs in that sector, too -- but jobs of other people like them.

  • 12:54:49

    PAPADEMETRIOUThis has been put to bed, you know, perhaps not to the satisfaction of, you know, of advocates of people who have been hurt in the process, but nonetheless, you know, the evidence is essentially fairly and equivocal. On -- as to whether the system is exploited, not just broken, you know, I think that at very often we conflate, you know, efforts that the United States has to make to make sure that the people who come in, you know, do not wish us ill from, you know, with border controls.

  • 12:55:24

    PAPADEMETRIOUI don't think that, you know, the people we are discussing, you know, are trying to sneak in the country by coming across the border. But I think we have to be responsible to make sure that none of these people who are coming in through the front door, at the front gate as it were, do not wish us ill. That's legitimate. We now do it as a matter of course. It is now a heck of a lot easier and faster than it has been at any time in the past decade. But I think that our conversations will continue to conflate it to when we shouldn't.

  • 12:55:55

    NNAMDISam, thank you very much for your call. We got a tweet from Skip, who says, "Anyone can start a company in the U.S.A. Residency is not required. and business travel is easy. That does not stop startups." Vivek, have you found examples of successful entrepreneurs living abroad who wanted to start a company in the U.S. or tried to but could not?

  • 12:56:14

    WADHWAHere's the irony. True, anyone can start a company here, but you can't work for the company you start. So it's the funny thing is that you have all these students who, you know, at Stanford and Duke and so on who may start a company. But when they apply for a visa to work for the company, they -- it gets rejected. So this happens over and over again, so foreign entrepreneurs really are in the same boat as the people already over here.

  • 12:56:39

    NNAMDIOn to Aklilu (sp?) in Fairfax County, Va. Aklilu, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:56:45

    AKLILUYes, Kojo. Thank you for giving me an opportunity. I immigrated to United States from Ethiopia in 2002. Actually, I was an Israeli. I got an opportunity to bring my family, but I came as a nurse. I worked as registered nurse, where United States have a big shortage, but, you know, it's about eight years that I couldn't be able to get a green card. I'm just trying to support a caller who was before me.

  • 12:57:18

    AKLILUYou know, it's the immigration bureaucracy. Even if -- where they have a big shortage, we're unable to just, you know, get in a system where we can be part of United States. So what -- my question here is: What is our expectation as an immigrant from the Congress...

  • 12:57:36

    NNAMDIGlad you brought that up because we only have about 30 seconds left. What we can we look forward to in the future?

  • 12:57:42

    PAPADEMETRIOUWell, I think that, you know, when we reform the system, we have to actually create visas for those mid-skills, you know, whether it's nurses and all of these other occupations because now the system basically bifurcates very low-skilled people, very few, very high-skilled people, quite a few, but not enough green visas for them, the green cards for them.

  • 12:58:05

    NNAMDIDemetrios Papademetriou is president of the Migration Policy Institute. Vivek Wadhwa is director of research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering. He's a columnist with The Washington Post and author of "The Immigrant Exodus: Why America is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent." Thank you both for joining us.

  • 12:58:27


  • 12:58:27

    NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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