Highly-skilled immigrants as low hanging fruit

May 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

Slate has a short piece addressing Cowen’s The Great Stagnation, in particular the idea of “low hanging fruit.” The author here argues that highly-skilled immigrants may serve as another source of stimulation for the economy while the US tries to figure out how to move forward into the future. As an immigrant myself, my family and I have lived through the naturalization process that this article describes. I think the introduction of working visas and paths to citizenship for entrepreneurs is definitely very interesting and a worthwhile endeavor, although these critiques hold pretty true as well –

The legislation provides a few new paths to permanent residency for entrepreneurs. For instance, a prospective immigrant could win a temporary visa if she raises at least $100,000 from a qualified investor for a new business. Her visa would become permanent if, within two years, her business created five jobs and raised $500,000 in additional investment, or had sales of $500,000. The bill also encourages entrepreneurs on temporary and education visas to stay, and foreign business owners to move and expand operations here.

It is a good idea, but perhaps still too restrictive. For one, the Startup Visa has inflexible rules about sales, capital investment, and job creation. What if a foreign-born computer scientist created the next Google in her garage, but by the end of two years only had a few thousand dollars in investment and one other worker? Second, the bill does not recognize the importance of failure. Most new businesses don’t make it off the ground. But many entrepreneurs try again, and some succeed the second or third or 20th time around. Better to keep those aspirational workers on our shores. Third, and most important, the bill does not actually expand the number of available visas, just 9,940 in the relevant program. It just makes them easier for entrepreneurs to get.

I think dis-aggregating the issue of immigration is one of the most difficult tasks in moving this issue forward, especially from a public opinion perspective. Its hard to bring up policy concerns and have fruitful conversations about this topic because its so often mired in debates about illegality, resource draining, racism and so on.

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