on immigration and the global brain race

As aptly put by the Daily Kos: There goes the neighborhood! Increasing militarisation in the US (for the oil spill, the Mexican border, to quell waves of violent crime); the Arizona immigration law; then undocumented youths are marching on the Hill demanding their rights…

The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities Are Reshaping the World posits just one of the major reasons why smart immigration policy is needed:

…the competition for academic talent has gone global, with universities all over the world chasing the brightest students. Princeton, Harvard, Stanford, Oxford, and Cambridge are now competing with the Ecole Normale Supérieure, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, the Indian Institutes of Technology, and even the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, among others…

The international competition for the brightest minds illuminates a major problem with our immigration system: it is sometimes extraordinarily difficult for people we want to attract to work here to get visas. Whether it is a farmer who wants fruit pickers, an engineering firm that wants an engineer, or students who have graduated from U.S. universities with specialized skills, it often takes years to secure the right visa.

By making it difficult for these brilliant students to stay in America, Congress is dissipating the value America receives from taxpayers’ investments in research. For, the fact is that a significant fraction of graduate students in the United States are assisted financially with funds that come from the federal government, especially in science, technology, and engineering.

In 2007, the most recent data available, the federal government spent more than $55 billion on science and engineering research at American universities and research institutions. This funding helps finance PhD programs, which are heavily populated with foreign students.

Almost $29 billion of this research spending is health related. Other funders include the Defense Department, $6.5 billion, and the Department of Energy, $6 billion.

Our universities rely on graduate students for research assistance and technical expertise. Most research does not require security clearances, and little if any research is restricted to American students.

American universities are among the world’s leading research institutions, attracting the top minds, not only those from America but also from many other countries. National Science Foundation data show that 149,233 foreign graduate students studied science and engineering in American universities in 2007, up from the previous peak of 147,464 in 2003. As Wildavsky reports, other countries are trying to catch up.

The number and percentage of PhDs in science and engineering awarded to Americans and permanent residents have declined dramatically over the past decade. Fewer Americans, and more foreigners, are being awarded PhDs in scientific and engineering fields, even as the total number of new doctorates has increased.

In computer science, and engineering, more than half of PhDs are awarded to foreigners. In 1998, 59% of PhDs in physics were awarded to Americans. In 2008, the latest data available, it had fallen to 46%. In 1998, 57% of PhDs in computer sciences went to Americans – in 2008, this had declined to 36%. In 1998, 66% of chemistry PhDs went to Americans, compared to 55% in 2008.

America attracts the cream of international students, trains them at great expense to American taxpayers, and then asks many of them them to leave.

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