American immigration policy and global talent

In 2016 I posted on global talent flows. Where does American immigration policy now stand on these flows?

If Trump is not re-elected, we may see a return of immigration policy that is friendly to talent, but will face challenges: (1) the pandemic’s disruption of travel, which may translate into changes in employment location, (2) a great imbalance of talented immigration into a relatively few metros, (3) the chronic resistance of both parties to workforce planning, which makes it very difficult to forge intelligent immigration reform.

The American economy participants in the global talent flow in three channels: as a desired location of getting advanced degrees; for temporary employment; and for permanent immigration. One channel cannot be cut off without adversely affecting the others.

Advanced degrees: According to a 2013 article, “Over the last half century, the United States has been the most important training ground for the global supply of science and engineering talent. Where S&E PhDs choose to locate after they have completed their education is likely to affect the global distribution of innovative capacity. “77% of foreign-born S&E PhDs state that they plan to stay in the United States.”

The higher education industry is the U.S. has become financial dependent on these students. “As of 2017, 81% of full-time graduate students in electrical and petroleum engineering programs at U.S. universities are international students, and 79% in computer science are. National Foundation for American Policy report in 2017 said that “both majors and graduate programs could not be maintained without international students.”

This flow of students to the U.S. is being diverted to Canada and other English speaking countries, but not to China.

Non-academic immigrants, temporary and permanent: Foreign workers make up about half of some STEM workforces in the U.S. This is part of a dramatic global migration of highly educated workers. The number of migrants with a tertiary degree rose nearly 130 percent from 1990 to 2010, while low skilled (primary educated) migrants increased by only 40 percent during that time. Then flow has headed to English speaking countries.

For the U.S. and other recipient countries, high-skilled immigration is linked to clusters of technology and knowledge production. The H-1B visa program is the nation’s largest temporary employment visa program. The visa holders are concentrated in metro areas of New York City, Dallas, Washington, Boston, and San Jose. These markets have depended on temporary and permanent foreign stem workers for their growth of knowledge industries.  Most areas of the country do not experience the flourishing of the knowledge economy and its foreign workers (as does the Boulder CO area to which I recently moved from Vermont).

The student flow and non-academic flows are intertwined. In San Diego, 28% of H-1B temporary visas went to foreign workers with advanced degrees from a U.S. university or college

Source of some data: Sari Pekkala Kerr, William Kerr, Çaǧlar Özden and Christopher Parsons. Global Talent Flows, Working Paper 22715. NBER, October 2016

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