Message in a Bottle: Make Room For More High-Tech Workers

Remember those entrepreneurs who were planning to moor a cruise ship off the California coast, just outside the territorial limit, to serve as a floating hotel-cum-business-incubator for techies who couldn’t get a U.S. visa? [See Comprehensive Immigration Reform Remains an Unmet Need, MurthyBlog (17.Nov. 2011).] Never mind the naysayers, they’re going full speed ahead with their project, called Blueseed, which aims to have 1,800 foreign high-tech workers living offshore – just offshore – from the Silicon Valley by 2013. [See Blueseed ‘Googleplex of the Sea’ Highlights Need for Visa Reform,” by Sam Gustin, Time (09.Jul.2012).]

This is not exactly a sign of the apocalypse, but we shouldn’t miss the clear message, droning through the fog of election-year politics: our immigration system needs basic and thoroughgoing reform to bring it more in line with the needs of our economy. Blueseed is symptomatic of a larger problem. Although America hasn’t quite rolled up the welcome mat for the world’s best and brightest, our system often makes it so difficult to get in that at least some of these people will take their talents elsewhere. This is precisely the point of a recent study from the Partnership for a New American Economy (PNAE), arguing that:

“U.S. immigration laws have failed to keep pace with the country’s changing economic needs. Artificially low limits on the number of visas and serious bureaucratic obstacles prevent employers from hiring the people they need — and drive entrepreneurs to other countries, who are quick to welcome them. In fact, other nations have witnessed the importance of immigrants to the American economy and are employing aggressive recruitment strategies to attract the key high-and low-skilled workers their economies need to compete and grow. In the 21st century global economy, the stakes in the global talent rush are only increasing, and our loss has been the rest of the world’s gain.” [See Not Coming to America: Why the U.S. is Falling Behind in the Global Race for Talent, Partnership for a New American Economy (May 2012).]

What to do? Among other things, PNAE recommends providing more visas to foreign entrepreneurs and STEM grads of American universities, awarding more green cards based on economic needs, and making it easier to hire low-skilled foreign workers when labor-intensive industries – like agriculture – cannot find enough Americans to fill jobs. The problem is, we’re unlikely to see any Congressional action on immigration until after the election. The PNAE study makes clear: we really can’t afford to wait.

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